The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab, published in 2016, is a piece of self-indulgent waffle about the impact of this so-called revolution.
The main text is about 100 pages with an appendix of about 50 pages, and notes and citations of about 15 pages.
On the surface, it is plainly written but actually lacks any substance. It is written as a discussion, worded as observations or opinions in a neutral tone—for example, how digital technology is becoming more ingrained in how we run our lives—without overtly pushing any agenda. But one has to wonder given what else Schwab and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have published, particularly in recent years.
The text is organized into three chapters. The first discusses what this fourth industrial revolution is, not that Schwab gives a sufficiently clear definition. He assumes that “technology and digitization will revolutionize everything” and “[i]t is the fusion of these technologies and their interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the fourth industrial revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions.” It may not seem like the author is pushing that but he is conveniently assuming it. This, of course, is consistent to transhumanism.
The second chapter is organized into three sub-sections that discuss physical, digital and biological “drivers” of the so-called revolution. Interestingly, it does mention graphene as an innovative material, “synthetic biology”, including designer babies, and 3D printing, including for bioprinting organs. These designer babies are to “possess particular traits or who are resistant to a specific disease”. Right, so it must be all good then.
The third chapter is organized into five sub-sections that discuss the “impact” on economy, business, national and global, society and individual. The author barely mentions “ethics” and even then does not do so until this last section. If one really cares about the world, one would think it would be discussed first and along with everything else.
Anyway, below are a few relatively noteworthy paragraphs from this third chapter, not intended to be a summary.
Regarding economy and employment, the author mentions the aging population (due to declining birthrates), gender equality (because one cannot not mention that) and “human cloud” (the use of human resources from around the world via the internet). The author assumes the increasing dominance of technology to the point he makes this statement on p.40:
Employment will grow in high-income cognitive and creative jobs and low-income manual occupations, but it will greatly diminish for middle-income routine and repetitive jobs.
As already mentioned, it is written in a reasonable tone but one has to wonder whether there is some wishful thinking about ruining the middle-income bracket like the communist he is.
Later, on p.43, he again mentions the “fusion of digital, physical and biological technologies”, possibly alluding to some form of transhumanism:
But this does not mean that we face a man-versus-machine dilemma. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the fusion of digital, physical and biological technologies driving the current changes will serve to enhance human labour and cognition, meaning that leaders need to prepare workforces and develop education models to work with, and alongside, increasingly capable, connected and intelligent machines.
Of course, on p.65, in the context of new “operating models”, the inclusion of carbon emissions is a must.
The fourth industrial revolution will enable firms to extend the use-cycle of assets and resources, increase their utilization and create cascades that recover and repurpose materials and energy for further uses, lowering emissions and resource loads in the process. In this revolutionary new industrial system, carbon dioxide turns from a greenhouse pollutant into an asset, and the economics of carbon capture and storage move from being cost as well as pollution sinks to becoming profitable carbon-capture and use-production facilities. Even more importantly, it will help companies, governments and citizens become more aware of and engaged with strategies to actively regenerate natural capital, allowing intelligent and regenerative uses of natural capital to guide sustainable production and consumption and give space for biodiversity to recover in threatened areas.
And then there is the issue of surveillance which the author admits could be a problem. Nonetheless, technology could be used to track water flow (and therefore consumption) and the traffic of vehicles and people facilitated by the use of street poles. All this is for efficiency and mobility. This may be nice if we could trust the authorities…
Regarding the impact on society, particularly global and international security, the author mentions cyber warfare and autonomous warfare and the need for some control on p.84:
International treaties will surely be needed, but I am concerned that regulators in this field will find themselves running behind technological advances, due to their speed and multifaceted impact. Hence, conversations among educators and developers about the ethical standards that should apply to emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are urgently needed to establish common ethical guidelines and embed them in society and culture. With governments and government-based structures, lagging behind in the regulatory space, it may actually be up to the private sector and non-state actors to take the lead.
These are important considerations, of course, but Klaus conveniently thinks the need for “non-state actors to take the lead”. Would that by any chance be the WEF?
There is also the mention of digital media in propaganda, which is relevant given the aftermath of the 2020 US Presidential Election and the COVID-19 plandemic. From p.89:
The democratic power of digital media means it can also be used by non-state actors, particularly communities with harmful intentions to spread propaganda and to mobilize followers in favour of extremist causes, as has been seen recently with the rise of Da’esh and other social-media-savvy terrorist organizations.
There is the danger that the dynamics of sharing that typifies social media use can skew decision-making and pose risks to civil society. Counterintuitively, the fact that there is so much media available through digital channels can mean that an individual’s news sources become narrowed and polarised into what MIT clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology, calls a “spiral of silence”. This matters because what we read, share and see in the context of social media shapes our political and civic decisions.
Not surprisingly, the author conveniently cites the negative example of terrorist organizations but just about anyone can be considered or even declared a “terrorist” nowadays. Makes one wonder whether the WEF can also be considered a non-state terrorist organization.
But not to worry, Klaus makes it sound like he’s against all of those bad implications:
At its most extreme, there is the very real danger that governments might employ combinations of technologies to suppress or oppress actions of civil society organizations and groups of individuals who seek to create transparency around the activities of governments and businesses and promote change. In many countries around the world there is evidence that the space for civil society is shrinking as governments promote legislation and other policies which restrict the independence of civil society groups and restrict their activities. The tools of the fourth industrial revolution enable new forms of surveillance and other means of control that run counter to healthy, open societies.
Ultimately, the author gives the typically vague and clichéd suggestion that it is all to us individuals, governments, companies and whatnot to work together for a better future and all that. Makes one wonder if he really means to have the WEF and its tentacles in charge because… well, the WEF is already associated with many of the aforementioned.
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