The fourth Industrial revolution or 4IR has become a buzzword used extensively by politicians, corporations and the media. The Mail and Guardian newspaper captured it well when stating “Over the past three years, very excited politicians have used every opportunity to talk about 4IR as the next phase of South Africa’s development. But few of them — or us — seem to have a firm grasp of what it is.”


How did we get here? Well the first industrial revolution changed our lives and economy from an agriculture and made by hand economy to one dominated by industry and manufacturing using machines. Mass production ushered in the second industrial revolution powered by electricity and oil. The third industrial revolution leveraged information technology for production automation. Observing the acceleration of technological change, the convergence of technologies and the velocity, scope and impact of these changes Klaus Schwab observed that we have entered a new technological era or a fourth industrial revolution.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution was first coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum and describes a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use of connected technology to enable and manage their lives. 


The World Economic Forum defines the Fourth Industrial Revolution as 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 speed, breadth and depth of this revolution is forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organisations create value and even what it means to be human. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about more than just technology-driven change; it is an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policymakers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centred future. 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.


Schwab calls for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Humans must be proactive in shaping this technology and disruption. This requires global cooperation and a shared view of how technology is reshaping our economic, social, cultural and individual lives.


Companies should invest in their technical infrastructure and data analyzing capabilities. All businesses must be making a move to be smart, connected organizations or they will soon fall behind the competition.


In his book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by Klaus Schwab,” Schwab puts the most recent changes into historical context, outlines the key technologies driving this revolution, discusses the major impacts on governments, businesses, civil society and individuals, and suggests ways to respond. At the heart of his analysis is the conviction that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is within the control of all of us as long as we are able to collaborate across geographies, sectors and disciplines to grasp the opportunities it presents. 

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