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Inevitable questions, concerns, and inequalities in the fourth industrial revolution

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    12th January, 2021
Inevitable questions, concerns, and inequalities in the fourth industrial revolution


  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another.
  • It is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions.
  • These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential peril.
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about more than just technology-driven change; it is an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policy-makers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centred future.
  • We have already begun cultivating the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4th IR) via the Internet of things (IoT) devices, but we have only seen the beginning of its technological and global ascent.
  • The real opportunity is to look beyond technology, and find ways to give the greatest number of people the ability to positively impact their families, organisations and communities.
  • Devices connected via mobile networks and cloud technology, smart factories, and wearable tech have already found their way into our everyday lives.

What is fourth Industrial revolution?

  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution(or Industry 4.0) is the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology. Large-scale machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the internet of things (IoT) are integrated for increased automation, improved communication and self-monitoring, and production of smart machines that can analyze and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention

There are four design principles identified as integral to Industry 4.0:

  • Interconnection — the ability of machines, devices, sensors, and people to connect and communicate with each other via the Internet of things, or the internet of people (IoP)
  • Information transparency — the transparency afforded by Industry 4.0 technology provides operators with comprehensive information to make decisions. Inter-connectivity allows operators to collect immense amounts of data and information from all points in the manufacturing process, identify key areas that can benefit from improvement to increase functionality
  • Technical assistance — the technological facility of systems to assist humans in decision-making and problem-solving, and the ability to help humans with difficult or unsafe tasks
  • Decentralized decisions — the ability of cyber physical systems to make decisions on their own and to perform their tasks as autonomously as possible. Only in the case of exceptions, interference, or conflicting goals, are tasks delegated to a higher level

 We are currently implementing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is characterized by the application of information and communication technologies to industry and is also known as "Industry 4.0". It builds on the developments of the Third Industrial Revolution. 

Other industrial revolutions

  • The First Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century through the use of steam power and mechanization of production.
  • The Second Industrial Revolution began in the 19th century through the discovery of electricity and assembly line production. 
  • The Third Industrial Revolution began in the ’70s in the 20th century through partial automation using memory-programmable controls and computers.

Components of Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution consists of many components when looking closely into our society and current digital trends. To understand how extensive these components are, here are some contributing digital technologies as examples:

  • Mobile devices
  • Internet of things (IoT) platforms
  • Location detection technologies (electronic identification)
  • Advanced human-machine interfaces
  • Authentication and fraud detection
  • 3D printing
  • Smart sensors
  • Big analytics and advanced processes
  • Multilevel customer interaction and customer profiling
  • Augmented reality/ wearables
  • On-demand availability of computer system resources
  • Data visualization and triggered "live" training

What are the Challenges in implementation of Industry 4.0?

Economic challenges

  • High economic costs
  • Business model adaptation
  • Unclear economic benefits/excessive investment

Social Challenges

  • Privacy concerns
  • Surveillance and distrust
  • General reluctance to change by stakeholders
  • Threat of redundancy of the corporate IT department
  • Loss of many jobs to automatic processes and IT-controlled processes, especially for blue collar workers


  • Lack of regulation, standards and forms of certifications
  • Unclear legal issues and data security 


  • IT security issues, which are greatly aggravated by the inherent need to open up those previously closed production shops
  • Reliability and stability needed for critical machine-to-machine communication (M2M), including very short and stable latency times
  • Need to maintain the integrity of production processes
  • Need to avoid any IT snags, as those would cause expensive production outages
  • Need to protect industrial know-how (contained also in the control files for the industrial automation gear)
  • Lack of adequate skill-sets to expedite the transition towards a fourth industrial revolution
  • Low top management commitment
  • Insufficient qualification of employees 

Plausible applications of Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Higher productivity
  • This happens with each industrial revolution and apparently productivity of each industrial era goes up 50 times over the preceding age. In the next 5-10 years, it’s estimated that productivity will increase by 5-8%. This is mainly because of increased automation.
  • Improved quality of life
  • Technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. It has become just a click away thing to ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, playing a game and even controlling the lights and temperature in our homes can be done remotely.
  • New markets
  • Klaus Schwab mentioned that “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological spheres” will create new markets and growth opportunities. It will blend improvements from several fields, that were often previously separated, to create a new product or a new service. Not only there will be more knowledge workers, but knowledge workers in new fields.
  • Lower barrier to entrepreneurship
  • With new technologies such as 3D printing for prototyping, the barriers between inventors and markets are reduced. Entrepreneurs can now establish their companies and test various products with lower start-up costs without the traditional time and cost constraints often encountered with traditional prototyping methods. The typical barriers to entry are removed from the entrepreneurship equation.
  • Aerospace Industry
  • The aerospace industry has sometimes been characterized as "too low volume for extensive automation"; however, Industry 4.0 principles have been investigated by several aerospace companies, and technologies have been developed to improve productivity where the upfront cost of automation cannot be justified.
  • Internet of Things (IOT)
  • The increasing use of the Industrial Internet of Thingsis referred to as Industry 4.0. Applications include machines that can predict failures and trigger maintenance processes autonomously or self-organized coordination that react to unexpected changes in production.
  • Research and Development (R&D)
  • Industry 4.0 inspired Innovation 4.0, a move toward digitization for academia and research and development. Center for computer aided materials science, where robotic formulation,data capture and modeling are being integrated into development practices.

India and Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. In terms of GDP based on PPP, it comes on the 3rd place after China and US. Indian economy has transitioned from an agriculture based economy to industrial and service sector based economy.
  • Now the second and tertiary sector constitute about more than 85% of the economy. This transition has been possible by the developments and discoveries which took place in India and outside also. One of the major causes behind it could be attributed to the industrial revolution. Every nation passes through different stages of industrial revolution and India had also gone through equally.
  • India had survived well during the three revolutions and now the question arises how well we are prepared for the next ones.

What India has done so far?

  • With the government’s growing interest around AI applications in India, the NITI Aayog has also published a strategy for AI. But, India is still in naïve state to adopt fourth and fifth revolution.
  • A study released by industry association ASSOCHAM states that ‘Robotics are a settled necessity for taking Indian industry globally competitive and the making country attractive for outside entrepreneurs for the “Make in India” drive. 
  • Around 3,412 new industrial robots were installed in India in 2017, an increase of 30% over the 2,626 units that were installed in 2016.
  • Manav, India’s first 3D-printed humanoid robot, Mitra, the first indigenously built humanoid robot, Robocop, KEMPA are some of the robots of India.

NITI Aayog’s strategy for AI

NITI Aayog has decided to focus on five sectors that are envisioned to benefit the most from AI in solving societal needs:

  • Healthcare: increased access and affordability of quality healthcare
  • Agriculture: enhanced farmers’ income, increased farm productivity and reduction of wastage
  • Education: improved access and quality of education
  • Smart Cities and Infrastructure: efficient and connectivity for the burgeoning urban population
  • Smart Mobility and Transportation: smarter and safer modes of transportation and better traffic and congestion problems.

What could be the negative impacts of industrial revolution 4.0?

  • Social Inequality: As the 4th IR increases automation, the inequalities created by these new systems will worsen. There have been well-documented correlations drawn between socio-economic imbalance and violence. If left unchecked, these issues could continue to grow exponentially.Many remote regions across the globe are still experiencing their digital revolution
  • Inequality among nations: Due to technological difference among developing countries and developed nations there are technological and infrastructure challenges and skill challenges that are not easy to overcome.
  • Cyber security risk: The risk of hacking data and tampering with it or using it for malicious intent is now more widespread. It’s more and more frequent that we hear a new data security breach. Not to mention that it challenges the very nature of identity and privacy, especially with the increased use of data analytics and machine learning.
  • Core industries disruptions:Taxis are competing against Uber and Lyft, Traditional television and cinema compete with Netlfix and YouTube, the hotel industry with AirBnB and any store is competing against Amazon. This has impacts in the type of services being offered and the model through which they are offered as well as the jobs associated with them.
  • Ethical issues:With improved AI, genetic engineering, and increased automation, there are new ethical concerns and questions of morality that already differ greatly from individual to individual. With access to more data about an individual and a group of individuals, the risk of using it for personal gain and manipulation is even greater.

What the developed nations are doing to harness its potential?

  • Countries around the world are becoming increasingly relied on the economic and social benefits of developing and applying AI.
  • For example, China and U.K. estimate that 26% and 10% of their GDPs respectively in 2030 will be sourced from AI-related activities and businesses.
  • Developed nations are investing on the creation of “data trusts”, rolling out of digital connectivity infrastructure such as 5G / full fiber networks, common supercomputing facilities, fiscal incentives and creation of open source software libraries are some of the focus areas of various governments as committed in their strategy papers.
  • For building the future workforce for AI, countries are also significantly increasing the allocation of resources for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) talent development through investment in universities, new courses, and offering schemes to retrain people.

Suggestive measures

  • Essential part of daily life: As manual labour becomes obsolete and technology becomes essential, we may start viewing technology as an integral part of human life by cooperating with this in the socio-economic terms.
  • New Education Programme: New education programmes need to be installed in schools to prepare the workforce of tomorrow, and displaced workers will need retraining. For those still left behind, affluent societies will begin entertaining ideas like universal basic income.
  • Innovation: To adopt these revolutions, it requires adaptability and agility across industries, labour and capital augmentation, innovation diffusion i.e. propelling innovations as it diffuses through the economy.
  • Privacy and Security: The absence of collaborative effort between various stakeholders, relevant data is unavailable, concerns on privacy and security of data, including lack of formal regulation around anonymisation of data. Unclear privacy, security and ethical regulations, High resource cost and low awareness for adopting AI in business processes, Unattractive Intellectual Property regime are some of the challenges India is facing in adoption of this revolution.
  • Job Security: Concernsare raised over job losses, so the investment should be done in those fields which are still unexplored much such as tourism and data analysis.
  • Skilling the manpower: Lack of enabling data ecosystems, Inadequate availability of AI expertise, manpower and skilling opportunities, lack of R&D facilities are some of the issues which needs to be tackled.


To harness the best potential of these very promising revolution, India needs to be more agile towards its adaptability and have to work towards it swiftly. The speed and agility of these revolutions matters which can push India way behind, if we don’t comply and act on time.