This excellent post by Quartz ‘We’re thinking about the fourth industrial revolution all wrong‘ gives some perspective on terminology. It compares what is now generally understood as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (1st: steam engine; 2nd: oil & electricity; 3rd: internet; 4rd: digital) and what we name here in this blog the Fourth Revolution (1st: language; 2nd: writing; 3rd: broadcasting (printing etc); 4th: cheap 2-way communication).
I like very much this article of course because it exposes that we should not be myopic and that the real change is akin to what we expose in this blog since the beginning. What is usually meant by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is in fact just a way to name a trend into the digital, but the real change is really very cheap, global, 2-way communication. In this article, it is mentioned as “the period of industrialized intelligence, rising with the mental-energy-saving inventions of the mid-20th century and continuing through today. Much as the industrial revolution dehumanized biological strength with machines, the displacement of biological intelligence with computers represents the dehumanization of intellectual labour. Projecting current techniques a few years forward suggests that autonomous systems will eventually be capable of outcompeting humans in every area where intelligence is the key component of production.”
To avoid falling in the trap of overestimating the importance of present trends, it is always worth taking a deep historical perspective. In any case, the current transformation is really a revolution, and probably much deeper than the concept of “Fourth Industrial Revolution” would imply: we are now beyond the Industrial Age!
During the 20th century the first objective for any military coup was the radio and television broadcasting stations: control of the broadcasting of the news was of strategical importance. The events of the Turkey coup last year show that social networks have rendered this tactics obsolete: Turkey President Erdogan was able to address its nation using his smartphone!
This is another change of paradigm and obsolescence of the public broadcasting institution as sole vector of news and propaganda.
The funny thing is that dictators and other dirigiste regimes will face a difficult paradox: reigning in social networks might feel good from the control of communications perspective, but it will also diminish resilience in the face of unexpected events like a coup. How to deal with this paradox? The openness of the world will necessarily win!
In particular he explains how since the 1970s and the book Limits to Growth “scientists, sf writers, economists and environmental activists have wrestled with the question of abundance — how the “green left” transformed left wing politics from the promise of every peasant living like a lord to the promise of every lord living like a peasant.”
The assumption of scarcity which stems from this approach (itself closely related to the limits of our Mother Earth so visible from photos of the space missions from 1960s) coupled with the assumption that well being was necessarily related to a significant usage of natural resources led to the development of a strong culpability feeling for all of us – and the feeling that we could only expect a decrease in our comfort level.
This scarcity assumption is still the premise of many comments on environmental issues. It is an issue in some instances but overall, we seem to have increasingly decorrelated energy consumption from growth. Would it not be possible that in the Collaborative Age we manage to have abundance within the capability of Mother Earth?
The point here is that some of the 1970s assumptions that govern the way we manage environmental politics might need to be revisited in the light of recent technological developments.
In this interesting paper ‘Uberization: will the empire strike back?‘ the authors analyze the fear of getting disrupted (also know as getting ‘uberized’) that stress many traditional actors. They show however that it is generally a trend in a new type of intermediation (brokering), and not the disappearance of intermediation per se: “The market – like the nature of yore – abhors a vacuum. Very often, de-intermediation is just a phase of re-intermediation.”
Many consider the emergence of services like Uber as a kind of de-intermediation between consumers and providers. But in reality, it is about providing a new, upgraded intermediation capability that creates much value – it will include powerful algorithms and sometimes Artifical Intelligence to best suit our needs to what can be provided. Already Amazon is a model of an upgraded intermediation with its recommendations. Uber creates a new intermediation capability in the field of personal mobility. In both cases it gives a way for certain marginal providers to make their product available to a wider public, while under the previous infrastructure they were not sufficiently interesting to be considered by the intermediation system.
Nothing new under the sun then – the Fourth Revolution just gives us a new distributed power and communication system that allows a much more powerful intermediation to be implemented between consumers and promoters. It does disrupt traditional actors, only if they do not recognize that monopolies are here to be broken.
There is a gap between technology development and the way organization change. And this is at the root of the Fourth Revolution: if the gap gets large enough, only a revolution can make organizations evolve to fit with technology. And it is what is happening right now.
I find the illustration by Scott Brinker the best – he call it the Martec’s law: “Technology changes exponentially; organizations change logarithmically“. He applies it to the current digital disruption, but of course it was always the case – the industrial revolution was also created by a progressive mismatch between technology and the institutions and organizations of the previous Age. Organizations can only change at a certain pace, and the larger they are, the slower they can evolve; they generally can’t cope with the increasing rate of technology evolution without undergoing a substantial change.
According to this law, a revolution is inevitable that will rebaseline the organizational setup to the current state of technology development. And this will be highly disruptive to existing organizations – unless they find a way to overcome the curse of only being able to evolve slowly.
Interest Rates represent our preference between a dollar today and a dollar in some time in the future. In effect, they represent our preference between now and later.
Because of the increased life expectancy and hence, capability to make plans for the future, the availability of future money should be less discounted than when we had short life expectancy and had to enjoy more the moment! We should thus observe that over time, the interest rates should decrease.
Of course, it is difficult to observe this trend with the high variability of the interest rates (real interest rates, i.e. interest rates minus inflation, should be considered here). Lately since the 1960’s it has decreased; and it is quite lower than the 5% per year without inflation that was enjoyed in the 19th century. It can be expected to rise again in the next few years, but probably not to very high levels.
I believe that it is possible that in the Collaborative Age we live with generally lower interest rates than the historical averages. Value will be created otherwise through creativity, but because we can plan for decades ahead on average, there will be a less steep discount of the future.
Although loosely related to the Fourth Revolution, I want to share the link to this very interesting summary of the issues around the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, also called the Fermi Paradox – ‘Where is Everybody?’.
The issue is the following: we know there are zillions of other planets that should be able to support life out there (the low estimate in the article is 1 billion in our galaxy alone); that our own Earth is quite old by space standards, hence our technology probably not so advanced, so… why do we not see any sign of other life?
There comes the concept of the “Great Filter” – i.e. there would be some stage of technological advancement where civilizations get wiped out; a filter that almost no planet and species manages to overcome. Would we be the chosen ones (we would have overcome the filter in the past), or is that Great Filter somewhere in the future? Would there be a stage of civilization development where it inevitably destroys itself?
The question is not so innocuous as it seems. As we create highly connected technology, the chances of unexpected disruptions that could quickly spread to the entire system do increase. Would there be any chances we’d create such a situation in the Collaborative Age?
I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes to go through this video/ transcript of a MIT research assistant about research on the impact of network connection on whether societies are meritocratic (people get rewarded in proportion of their contribution) or topocratic (intermediaries get rewarded, not the contributors). [The text on the page is the transcript of the video if you prefer reading].
Basically research shows that the more connected the network is, the more it becomes meritocratic. A very basic model suggests that if everybody is connected to 150 people on average (which is approximately the case on Facebook), the network is meritocratic only on a section of 22,000 people in your close network. The network is still topocratic (enhances the intermediaries’ value) at the size of a country. Now if your number of connections is larger, the size of the society subset which will be meritocratic will increase dramatically and you will receive increasingly more rewards from your contribution.
As the Fourth Revolution expands and the inter-connectivity of our world increases substantially, we can expect our societies to become more and more meritocratic even if it will still take time to avoid intermediaries at a country or at global level. What a better demonstration that the Fourth Revolution will bring tremendous changes to our benefit?
She continues “Connectional intelligence is your ability to make breakthroughs by connecting ideas, people, information, and resources. You use CxQ whenever you sift through multiple sources of information to put pieces of a puzzling problem together in new ways. It’s in your ability to build and realize value from networks of relationships, in your ability to convene communities, to marshal a various of resources to focus on a result, and to make diversity and differences productive.”. According to her, people with high connectional intelligence have always existed – but now it is much easier and much more widespread than ever before.
So, how much do you develop and exploit your connectional intelligence in your daily practice? If you do not – at least consciously – it looks like a good time to go at it – and enter the Fourth Revolution world in a more active way!
Robert Branche in his excellent new book, “les Radeaux de Feu” (in French) makes an extremely interesting point about the fact that entropy – the natural evolution of the universe – is not about increasing disorder, but is all about increasing unpredictability.
His thesis is then that all of nature’s invention – life, first cells, then plants, then animals and ultimately humans – is all about increasing dramatically unpredictability of the world. And it is true that at each step, the number of possible future states increases dramatically. Today humans have transformed the world at a much higher and unpredictable pace than plants have ever done, or than the mineral world has ever achieved.
What lesson does it bear for us? It is clear that unpredictability of our life, of our world will ever increase at an accelerated pace – that is a physical law. And the Fourth Revolution, this inter-connection of humans, will accelerate that transformation even more. We should not be looking for any stability soon. So instead of complaining, let’s rather enjoy the transformation!