The Fourth Industrial Revolution – a book review

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum (2017), 192pp.*

The Fourth Industrial Revolution explores how new technologies are increasing, merging the physical, biological and digital worlds in ways that create ‘both huge promise and potential peril.’ The speed, breadth and depth of these developments will increasingly – and urgently – force us to rethink key issues around how countries operate, how organizations (and governments) create value, as well as what it means to be human.

Klaus Schwab, is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and he has been at the centre of global affairs for over 40 years. He is well (perhaps even uniquely?) qualified to both observe past trends and future possibilities. Schwab argues that: ‘if we take collective responsibility for creating a future in which innovation and technology serve people, we can lift humanity to new levels of moral consciousness.’

The book outlines ways in which new forms of collaboration and governance, accompanied by a positive approach can help shape this new revolution to the benefit of all. It starts by exploring the historical context, drivers of change, and potential tipping points; before discussing impacts on the economy, business, national and global, society and the individual. The final section (10 pages) on ‘The Way Forward’ deserves to be widely read and discussed (and acted on) by corporate and political leaders. However, although the role of values and wisdom, were implicitly covered in this section, there would be merit in giving these areas greater explicit attention in any future edition.

The final 50 pages cover 23 appendices briefly covering details of specific areas of technological development from Implantable Technologies and Ubiquitous Computing, through Smart Cities and Driverless Cars, to Neurotechnologies (a word my computer considers incorrectly spelled and can offer ‘No spelling suggestions’!!) and Designer Beings. Any omissions? Perhaps a section on ‘Controlling Ageing’?

Also, while the technological developments themselves are reasonably predictable, the human/societal implications – and the outcomes of ethical challenges – are much less so.

This is a small (paperback) book, with small type, but it is full of big, and important messages. It is an invaluable starting point for anyone with a serious interest in our future, and it merits a much wider readership than you might get from its somewhat low-key physical presentation. The implications of the recent American and other elections remain to be seen, and these developments (among others) strongly support the case for using this study as the basis for an annual review of progress – or not. Therein will lie its real value.

Reviewed by Dr Bruce Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University.

*The 2016 edition was reviewed by Dr Lloyd.