The Fourth Industrial Revolution

According to an industry report, by 2020, it is estimated that there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world. From Smart-phones, Smart homes, Smart cities, Smart kitchen appliances, self-driving cars, Self-driving trucks, Self-health monitors, Smart factories, Smart robots, etc. This combination of the physical and digital worlds is the essence of the Fourth industrial revolution, a powerful force that will impact everything, every company, and every country. The economic market value of this Internet of Things (IoT) is estimated to be $11 trillion US. Dollars (Trillion, not Billion) and it could provide approximately 12 million new jobs globally.

Although there are competitions among companies and countries for this huge market the key to successfully implement IoT is having a strong education system to produce skilled workers for this technology revolution. Given the huge economic advantages, and the rapid disruption taking place across industries, every country is rushing in to capture this opportunity for fear of losing out on this huge market. A technology analyst wrote: “The IoT market can be bigger than the combination of the PC market, the mobile phone market, and the Internet market. If the PC market creates Microsoft, The Mobile phone market creates Apple, and the Internet market creates Google and Facebook, then soon we will see the emergence of the largest technology company in the world. Who is this company and which country it comes from is still a question, but the common view is who control the IoT market will control the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

For example, by applying IoT in factories, machines can operate and collaborate with each other to increase the quality production. All manufacturing processes will become visible and controllable by machines. Real-time automation decision making will allow products to communicate with machines to process faster, better, based on certain machine learning analytical information. A few months ago, as a member of a team of robotic professors, I visited the Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory where every machine in the assembly lines are fully connected. I saw hundreds of robots working and “communicate” with others to build motorcycles. The manufacturing processes are measured and analyzed, then send to the robots so they can learn to do a better work. A manager told me that these robots are working together smoothly because they all have Artificial Intelligence software that allows them to think, learn, and coordinate work to minimize interruptions. Today this factory can build a new motorcycle every 86 seconds as compared with several days or more than a week in the past. I asked the manager: “What happened to labor workers? He explained: “Many are trained to be software developers to program robots, some are trained to be data analysts to collect and analyze factory data to make sure the robots are working correctly.” He explained further: “There is no labor worker but technology workers here. They control the robots and let the robots do most of the works. The fourth industrial Revolution is completely changing our factory.” Another manager said: “This model 4.0 industrial revolution factory are being copied all over the world. Many companies begin to follow our lead, and soon the entire manufacturing industry will change.”

The same view is being shared in the retail industries. Today most of the physical stores are being challenged by on-line stores as more customers use smartphone to shop instead of visiting the store. All online stores are using AI software to monitor customers’ website checking to identify what they want and make an offer to them. For example, Amazon creates the Dash Button; a special device mapped to specific products so customers can push the button and the products will be delivered to them within a few hours. They could also use Alexa to order anything they want by voice, instead of using keyboard. Today Amazon is one of the largest online stores in the world and Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon is the second richest people on earth, only after Bill Gates. An industry analyst wrote: “Amazon has a clear vision and their leaderships know how to take advantage of new technology. They adopt technology very quickly. Soon this company will take off to be one of the largest technology company on earth.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will force every people, every company, and every country to look into their education system and ask: “Is the current education suitable for this revolution that will change everything? Can the current education system prepare students with the knowledge and skills for this revolution? Where can students get the right skills to meet the need of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? There are different opinions among professors regarding the Fourth Industrial Revolution, especially in countries where the traditional view is still dominate. Many do not see the urgency or still have the “wait and see” attitude instead of making the necessary changes. The question is what will happen there in the next few years?


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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