Last Updated: August 13, 2020
The fourth industrial revolution is arguably the ultimate in the 21st-century digital revolution. It embodies NEW possibilities in communication and productivity. The aim is to unite the human, the physical, and digital components into ONE experience. It is designed to disrupt and yet enhance our social, political, economic, and cultural existence like never before.
But first, let’s go down the memory lane to find out how long it has taken to reach where we are today.
Preparations for the modern-day digital ecosystem started a long time ago in the 1700s. In what was arguably the first industrial revolution, iron was used as standard raw material to enhance productivity and human livelihood. It was replaced by the second, third, and ultimately, the fourth industrial revolutions. Each of the revolutions lasted approximately 100 years.
Below are the different industrial revolutions in some detail:
1. The iron and textile revolution
The first industrial revolution was a new direction the new world was taking to mechanize production. It replaced the age-long Stone and Bronze Ages. It was a phenomenon experienced mainly in Europe and the Americas, where Britain was very much in charge of world affairs.
The period lasted through the 18th and 19th Centuries between the 1760s to 1850s.
The 1IR was marked with rural societies becoming urban, and agrarian existence transforming to industrial societies. Industrial production was powered primarily by steam-based engines to improve coal extraction and create steam-powered cars and trains. This was an upgrade from rudimentary water pumps and lifting contraptions.
The iron and textile contraptions such as cotton mills and Spinning Jenny which were invented by James Hargreaves in 1964, were the predominant equipment used to enhance productivity. While weaving was previously done at the household level, the emergence of cotton mills ushered in factories for mass production of cotton by-products.
2. Steel, oil & electricity revolution
The second industrial revolution started 100 years later in the 19th Century, between the 1870s to early 1900s to be specific. This was just before the First World War.
It was characterized by improved industrial mechanization and new innovations in steel, electricity, and oil. Electricity soon became the most important tool for mass production.
Other advances and innovations happened in the following sectors:
- Internal combustion engine
- Light bulb
There was exponential growth as the world embraced the concept of large factories and assembly lines to serve the increasing numbers of consumers, resulting from urbanization.
3. The Digital Revolution
The 3rd industrial revolution took shape 100 years later in the 20th Century, in the 1970s and 1980s. Its hallmarks are till much at play even in the 21st Century just as it is evolving.
Also called the digital revolution, 3IR pioneered the mass use of digital equipment for mass production and communication. The digital evolution saw a remarkable shift in industrialization from analog and mechanical equipment, to electronic computers powered by transistors and microprocessors.
Electronic computers ranging from the massive supercomputer, down to the personal computer, were and are still used today to supercharge economies all around the world.
The following are the landmarks of the digital revolution:
- Personal computers
- Mobile gadgets
- 3D printing
4. The 4th Industrial Revolution
The fourth industrial revolution is an evolution of sorts of the digital revolution. Its implementation is taking shape in the 21st century much as its roots can be traced as far back as the 20th Century.
The 4IR is basically an evolution in communication and connectivity, designed to embrace the power of 5G to revolutionize how we live and work.
It bridges three aspects of human existence: the physical, digital, and biological realms in what is now known as cyber-physical systems. It is a fusion of computer-based algorithms with the internet and working closely with humans and other digital equipment.
Exploration in the fourth industrial revolution is happening in the following areas:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Quantum computing
- Internet of Things
- 3D Printing
- Autonomous vehicles
- Virtual reality