Why Coronavirus will Accelerate the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The pandemic’s silver lining is the chance to experiment with technologies and co-operative approaches across borders that could lead to safer, more sustainable and more inclusive global futures.

The theory of punctuated equilibrium, proposed in 1972 by biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, holds that populations of living organisms tend to experience a significant amount of evolutionary change in short, stressful bursts of time. Gould and Eldredge argued that evolution isn’t a constant, gradual process—it occurs during episodes when species are in environments of high tension or especially crisis.

The human species is going through such a period right now: the Covid-19 pandemic. The profound pressures that individuals, organizations and societies face in this crisis are accelerating the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. The current state of emergency compels us to consider the necessity of structural shifts in our relationship with the environment and how we conduct ourselves as a global community.

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Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution could spell more jobs – not fewer

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Automated packaging at an Italian factory.

If automation drives down prices, the result could be a net increase in jobs.

Ever since Homo erectus carved a piece of stone into a tool, the welfare of humanity has been on the increase. This technological breakthrough led first to the hand axe, and eventually to the iPhone. We have found it convenient to organize the most dramatic period of change between these two inventions – beginning roughly in the year 1760 – into four industrial revolutions.

As each revolution unfolded, dire predictions of massive job losses ensued, increasing each time. The first three are over, and these concerns were clearly misplaced. The number of jobs increased each time, as did living standards and every other social indicator.

McKinsey predicts that 800 million workers could be displaced in 42 countries, or a third of the workforce, because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). When reminded of the experience with the previous revolutions, the comeback is often that this one is different. Although this has been said at the onset of each revolution, could there be something more to it this time?

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Future of jobs 2018 – Reports- World Economic Forum

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Strategic Drivers of New Business Models

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, companies are seeking to harness new and emerging technologies to reach higher levels of efficiency of production and consumption, expand into new markets, and compete on new products for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital natives. More and more, employers are therefore also seeking workers with new skills from further afield to retain a competitive edge for their enterprises and expand their workforce productivity. Some workers are experiencing rapidly expanding opportunities in a variety of new and emerging job roles, while others are experiencing a rapidly declining outlook in a range of job roles traditionally considered ‘safe bets’ and gateways to a lifetime career.

Even as technological advancements pose challenges to existing business models and practices, over the coming years, these same dynamics of technological change are set to become the primary drivers of opportunities for new growth. For example, based on one recent estimate, even a somewhat moderately paced rollout of new automation technologies over the next 10 to 20 years would lead to an investment surge of up to US$8 trillion in the United States alone.

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