The world is at the advent of the 4th industrial revolution. The technologies are defined, the stage is set and both society and industry alike are rising up to adapt and implement the benefits that comes with this Industry 4.0. As per the previous revolutions, this industry 4.0 is set to shake the world. Most industry players are aware of the need to evolve. Either evolve fast enough, or risk falling behind.
The Rocket Worked Perfectly Except..
However, in our haste to adopt the breakthrough techs introduced in Industry 4.0, sometimes its good to “look behind” and see the impact it has on society in general. If we observe every past scientific breakthrough, it has always results in a direct or indirect socio-economic impact. For example, the invention of the printing press results in an increase in education level of society; The invention of the telephone results in an increase in trade over long distances; These are some that left good impacts.
But some of these seemingly good inventions and technologies may also indirectly become a catalyst of something more sinister. Such as the printing press catalyzing the spread of ideas which would lead to many world changing events such as the Reformation. The invention of dynamite that increases mining productivity was later used heavily as devices of war.
We see inventors who lamented the (often times unintentional) consequences of their inventions such as Alfred Nobel, who invented the dynamite, deciding to setup the Nobel Prize as a way to redeem his legacy, or even the famous quote:
The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet.
by Von Braun, the inventor of the V-2 rocket when his aspired space-fearing invention was instead used as a weapon in WW2. Examples like these serves as reminder for us to reflect responsibly on our adoption of technologies.
So, coming back to Industry 4.0. In order to understand the cautions needed, is best we look back in time, back to the first 3 industrial revolutions. How does these revolutions affected the socio-economic development? Is there a lesson we need to learn moving forward?
1st Industrial Revolution (1760–1840)
In the first industrial revolution, we see the introduction of steam power, the invention of mechanical machine tools that is more precise, efficient compared with manual handcrafted works. Factory system also arise that centralized production into a concentrated district.
What are the impacts?
Communities undergoes a major upheaval as society shifted from a mainly farming, subsistence based society to an industrial society. Cottage industries that thrive before the 1st industrial revolution is rendered obsolete by factory system. Mass production with consistent quality also means artisan trades undergoes a devaluation. A skill that requires a lifetime of learning and mastering can now be easily replicated by machines operated by a relatively unskilled hands.
The shock of urbanization also means society in general is not prepared for the mass concentration of humans in a crowded environment. Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) was still in its early stage which resulted in poor working and living conditions.
2nd Industrial Revolution (1870–1914)
These are mostly resolved moving into the 2nd Industrial Revolution, also known as the Technological Revolution. Its in this stage where we see the introduction of electricity and various civil infrastructures such as railroad system, national healthcare system and even formation of labor unions. The standard of living massively improves during this revolution and the society benefits greatly.
In this period, the concept of assembly lines are also being introduced into the factory system. Production boomed with easier manufacturing process and goods become abundant for consumers. This further cement big stakeholders as the main production powerhouse. Unfortunately, many smaller business that cannot keep up are forced to close. Explosion in production capacity also undercut prices and ultimately contributes to economic recessions. The most notable one being the Great Depression of 1930s.
Besides, the introduction of assembly line means that a worker only need to focus on one small task in the entire production chain. Workers are expected to only do a single task and nothing else. In the long term, workers do not develop much skills needed to advance in their job. This, as we all know, is not a good thing should people wanna advance in their career.
3rd Industrial Revolution (1947-present)
The effect of the division of labor in the 2nd industrial revolution is a coming storm which endangers job securities of many of the unskilled labor force across all industries. They are often easily replaceable and given the least thoughts when an industry or company evolves. So when robotics, automations and computers are introduced in the 3rd Industrial Revolution, also called the Digital Revolution, unskilled labor experienced a further devaluation as they are replaced by automation process.
This trend means that skillsets and education become increasingly important to be able to secure a good job. Thus we see job requirements increasingly demanding higher level certification, and we see more and more families pushing for children to obtain a higher education in hope of securing a job for their future. Take a walk on the street today and you would probably encounter a PhD holder compared to 50 years ago.
On the other hand, the 3rd Industrial Revolution also introduced the concept of globalization. Breakthrough in communication technologies, flight and the internet suddenly means the whole world is connected. The market is now the whole world, and quality products are no longer limited to a local context. Societies in general starts to enjoy luxuries, goods, services and information at a level never seen before in history.
The Good and The Bad
Now take a pause and ponder. What have we seen so far? It seems that there is a pattern. At each Industrial Revolution, we see quality of life slowly improving. Technologies and breakthroughs has undoubtedly benefited industries and societies. Production process becomes increasingly efficient, which translates into increased revenue. And societies benefited from the technologies and breakthrough in terms of increased amenities.
But we also see an increasing rift happening in the workforce that splits people into skilled and unskilled category. And if we observe carefully, even the rich and the poor. The rich being the people who has the resources to easily adapt to the technologies and trends introduced, the poor being people who are forced out of businesses and jobs because they do not possess the capability to adapt their business and skillsets to the current trend.
Loss of Jobs? Or Change of Jobs?
So entering into Industry 4.0, we are expecting the trend to continue. In fact, one of the major concern is that with the increased capability of AI, the concept of smart factory and system integration, many workers from the unskilled category are expected to take a hit with their jobs being replaced by automations.
This is a partial truth.
When we look at pass industrial revolutions, rarely do we see a reduction in job opportunities, but more of a change of jobs available. In Industry 4.0, we expect the same thing to happen, and if following the trend, more demand in skill-based jobs instead of the other. We expect jobs requiring new skill sets to arise to replace jobs that are taken over by automations.
Here’s the catch, how is the industry and government preparing for the shift? As industries adapt to the technologies of Industry 4.0, they can response in two ways to their labor forces. The first is to:
This method is what the society fear the most. Where companies simply discard workers who have lose their value to them. But this does not have to be the case. Instead, companies can choose to:
2. Train obsolete workers to adapt into new roles and job scopes.
Take for example the agriculture industry. Workers are being replaced by drones to monitor the crop conditions. Instead of simply laying off the workers, a company can choose to train existing workers to be drone handlers and maintenances.
In Jack Ma’s debate with Elon Musk about the threat of AI to job opportunities, Jack Ma reasoned that it is impossible for AI to render job obsoletes, but recognize that there’s a need for us to get “more creative and constructive” in preparing for jobs in the future
Towards Malaysia 4.0
Nowadays in Malaysia, we have many organizations that are actively assisting societies in developing new skill sets such as Penang Skills Development Center (PSDC). They even provide programs and services that companies and industry can rely on to retrain their workforce. Therefore companies can easily access these services if they want to.
In FILPAL, we believe in training up and empowering human resources that are capable in adapting to the Industry 4.0 scene in the world, not just understanding the needs, but to be capable of contributing to research and design of technologies related to it, in our case, 5G. For we believe that true Industry 4.0 adoption must also be followed up by human resources capable of stewarding it.
Once again, the stage is set. It is now up to each nation to setup policies and edicts that will help their general populace ease into the shift expected in Industry 4.0.
Originally published at http://filpal.wordpress.com on May 16, 2021.