This is an excerpt from my book ‘Understanding the 4th Industrial Revolution & Innovation Easily.’ It is available on Amazon, in South African bookstores, and on my website.

Fourth Industrial Revolution - Graphic by Christoph Roser at www.AllAboutLean.com
Fourth Industrial Revolution – Graphic by Christoph Roser at www.AllAboutLean.com

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (abbreviated 4IR, and also called the Digital Revolution and Industry 4.0) is nothing but innovation moving forward, in the manners detailed throughout this book, as it was with all past categories of Industrial Revolutions:

  • First Industrial Revolution (breakthrough technologies included mechanisation, water power, steam power)
  • Second Industrial Revolution (breakthrough technologies included mass production, assembly lines)
  • Third Industrial Revolution (breakthrough technologies included computers and automation).
  • Innovation is the stacking of two or more objects or properties to produce more agile tools or products:
  • Like combining video and the internet to establish YouTube.
  • Utilising wood and geometry to create a wooden chair.
  • Using wood, steel and geometry to make a wooden steel chair.
  • Or mixing electronics with biology to create a heart/cardiac pacemaker to save lives.

Let’s briefly look at a standard definition of the 4IR (on Wikipedia): The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in several fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), decentralized consensus, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.

Simply, it means there have been breakthroughs in various novel fields such as biotechnology, 3D printing and nanotechnology. These breakthroughs are what compelled the recognition of a new Industrial Revolution. The innovations which characterise the 4IR are distinguishable from, and arguably superior to, innovations made in the Third Industrial Revolution, and are thus deserving of a separate identity.

Novel innovation is mixing or stacking up old and/or new innovations together to obtain more variety and agility. The 4IR, as an innovation construct, entails mixing up such ideas and discoveries.

The recent breakthroughs are identified as new innovations. This means that further innovations are possible. The pool of innovation grows constantly with new ideas and breakthrough discoveries.

All components/spheres of innovation in the world are being fused, be it physical, digital or biological; hence the movement is defined as a ‘fusion’ and ‘blurring’ of lines.

Let me give you an absurd example of how innovation happens or is made possible

Nanotechnology is a breakthrough. 3D printing is a breakthrough. These two technologies are, or at least seem, very different. Original innovation is about bringing together, and/or inter-stacking, existing innovations and components to bring into being new or improved innovations.

Imagine the possibility of mixing 3D printing with nanotechnology. (A nano is one billionth of a metre, i.e. the measurement metre zoomed into a billion times – it is microscopically tiny). We may be able to produce, and reproduce, something that is able to enter the human body to kill off cancer cells. N.B. This may currently seem impossible and absurd but, although it may not be possible within this (Fourth) Industrial Revolution, it may become viable in another.

The story above is simply to illustrate that an Industrial Revolution is made up of stacking existing innovations to produce newer, more agile innovations. It follows the basic model of creating new-innovation – i.e. stacking innovations. Innovation cannot be created from nothing; it stems from existing components.

A few examples of modern (4IR) Innovation:

Their newness/novelty is rooted in the stacking up of prior innovations:

(a).     Smart refrigerators

Source – Wikipedia: The LG Internet Digital DIOS smart refrigerator. It provides information such as inside temperature, the freshness of stored foods, nutrition information and recipes. Other features include a webcam that is used as a scanner and tracks what is inside the refrigerator. In addition, the electricity consumption is half the level of conventional refrigerators.

Smart refrigerators stack-up existing refrigeration engineering, new power-saving technology, camera technology, and other innovations.

(b).      Virtual assistants

Source – Wikipedia: Amazon Alexa virtual assistant. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, sports, and other real-time information, such as news. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system.

Virtual assistants stack up voice recognition, Wi-Fi, and other innovations.

(c).       Cryptocurrencies

Source – Wikipedia: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency; a form of electronic cash. It is a decentralized digital currency without a central bank or single administrator that can be sent from user to user on the peer-to-peer bitcoin network without the need for intermediaries. Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain.

Cryptocurrency fuses money with blockchain technology, crowdsourcing, and other innovations.

(d).     Genetic testing

Source – Wikipedia: 23andMe offers DNA ancestry testing and other health diagnoses.

With just your saliva, predictions can be made about your vulnerability to inherited diseases. If it can be predicted, it can be treated.

Genetic testing fuses microarray chips, data, and other innovations.

In closing

The examples above are a combination, and/or inter-combination, of existing innovations; some new and some old. The whole point is to achieve more up-to-date agility, use, effectiveness and efficiency.

The reason is that human beings have an inherent desire to push innovation further and further. If you don’t, someone else out there does. It is a competitive environment.

The rest is for you to brainstorm what new-innovations are possible, and then maybe create them.

A day will come where more breakthroughs emerge and a Fifth Industrial Revolution is named.