Digital Transformation
Apr 03, 2018

The fifth industrial revolution

When humans and machines combine

History books refer to such radical movements as Industrial Revolutions. To date, we've experienced three. Now, the world is in the middle of its fourth — and beginning its fifth.

The mechanization of the textile industry and the advent of steam power ushered in the first Industrial Revolution. Electric power, which enabled the mass production of goods, sparked the second one. More recently, the third saw breakthroughs like the integration of computers and automated technologies into production processes, which created new efficiencies.

Now, the convergence of some of today's leading internet-connected technologies is spurring a fourth Industrial Revolution — Industry 4.0. These technologies include:

  1. The internet of things (IoT)
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Big data
  4. Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)

What's the result of this convergence? Digital transformation.

Companies can now digitize once-manual and paper-based processes to achieve a digital manufacturing enterprise—something Deloitte defines as an enterprise that is “not only interconnected, but also communicates, analyzes and uses information to drive further intelligent action back in the physical world." These enterprises can easily automate, standardize, and control their most critical business processes to drive quality improvement, regulatory compliance, agility, and productivity.

That sounds good. But a chief concern of such a digital and system-centric business model is the diminishing role of humans. Naturally, software and robotics have superseded humans on the assembly line because they can outpace them on repetitive tasks. But recent strides in AI and cognitive computing mean systems can exploit data to complete more complex functions, such as problem solving, once believed to be the exclusive domain of the human mind.

Does this mean that machines will eventually outsmart and displace humans as they do on the HBO series Westworld?