The Fourth Industrial Revolution - the theme of Davos 2016

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Jan 21, 2016

This week, the helicopters are buzzing around Davos in Switzerland carrying some of the movers and shakers of the world to and from the 46th Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum. The theme of the meeting is "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution". So now that, at last, some snow has arrived in the Alps this year, let's go skiing and off piste, metaphorically at least!

Scope and theme of Davos 2016

To get a sense of its subjects and scope, you might like to look at this overview of the meeting: What is the theme of Davos 2016?

However, let's focus on the theme "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution" and base our chat this week on some of the wide ranging points made by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his article: The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond.

Industrial revolutions

Klaus Schwab's overall point is about the nature of this industrial revolution and the immensity of its impact:

"We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before."

He describes the series of industrial revolutions as

  • 1st - mechanized production
  • 2nd - mass production
  • 3rd - automated production
  • 4th - fused technologies

at the times and based on technologies in this table:

For the 4th revolution, I was expecting something to do with production! Maybe that will yet happen. Might its effect be to customize production, not only in terms of specification, but also of time and place of production? Time will tell.

In particular, Klaus Schwab points out:

"There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent."

This is interesting. It is definitely true that digitization and ubiquitous communication have increased the scope of the changes, and the speed of some things has increased. As to whether the speed is unprecendented, I am not so sure about that, … although maybe it has simply overtaken me!

Areas of Impact

In more detail, he discusses a wide range of challenges and opportunities to raise global income levels and improve quality of life. And he focusses on the impact on:


"there are four main effects … - on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms"


"legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope."


"the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries."

Shaping the future

And he concludes with a section on shaping the future:

"In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them."

These are only a few points and quotes plucked from this substantial article on the impacts of the current round of changes, which is set in the much broader context of a series of industrial revolutions.

I highly recommend that you read Klaus Schwab's article in full.


Let's discuss some of the issues raised by this article during #innochat on Thursday January 21st, 2016 at 12pm Eastern time, prompted by the following questions:

  1. In what sense do you think that this is a 4th industrial revolution and what characterizes it?
  2. For businesses, how do you think it will affect collaborative innovation and organizational forms?
  3. Will governments be unable to cope? If so, what will result from that?
  4. For people, what impact are these developments having on our private and public selves?
  5. Are we able to shape the future? And what will the 5th industrial revolution look like?



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