Have you ever been to an evening event, and during polite conversation somebody suddenly steers the topic towards modern technology? And while everybody else is excitedly discussing the implications of the latest fad, you find yourself standing silently in a corner, because for you “Big Data” is your collection of adult movies on your harddrive? Do you need a shortcut to sounding like a technology “have”? This book got you covered.
After steam engines, electricity and the computer revolution, Schwab sees the world in the middle of a new, fourth industrial revolution. While still based on computers, this new phase is characterised by the rapid saturation of society on all levels, and innovative use of technology. The author takes us on a tour through our modern world and highlights almost everything hot and new from the last couple of years, from 3D printing to gene sequencing, from drones to blockchain, from designer organisms to the internet of things. The nicest part is a brief overview of 23 disruptive technological trends with convenient good/bad/controversial bullet point lists, if you have too little time to read the full book.
The author groups those trends into physical, digital and biological categories (because bio is neither physical nor digital, right?) and tries to give a bigger picture of developments and possible future scenarios. However, while the description of tech trends is accurate (even the bio stuff most people will find extra obscure), the evaluation remains vague: Maybe the future will bring a ton of new jobs, maybe we will all be replaced by computers. Maybe the civil society will use social media to make governments and corporates more transparent, maybe they will be used to surveil and manipulate us. In all shallowness, in this time and age it is actually refreshing to find someone who does not already claim have the correct opinion on everything. Schwab is no fortune-teller, and neither are we, so let us form our own opinions and discuss.
Fortunately, the author presents a comprehensive plan to handle current and future disruptive innovations, to maximize chances and minimize risks. Ready? Good, here it comes: We need to recognize, assess, then act accordingly to tech trends. I never said it would be a very detailed plan. Actually, it is so vague, I use the same process chain to decide what to have for breakfast.
Ok, so when pressed for solutions, the author just offers the usual buzzwords: Some nondescript leaders need to take on the matter, we need frameworks, platforms and lots of discussions. At least this will keep the World Economic Forum relevant for some time. Also, doing sports is important (yeah, that really came out of nowhere…).
The Fourth Industrial Revolution was an interesting read. While vague and unfocused in the end, the depiction of high-tech trends and innovations is enough to bring you up to speed, at least for casual conversations on the topic. If that is all you want, this book is for you. If you already follow modern technology, you won’t learn anything new. If you are a political decider and should know about tech trends, but don’t, get your underlings to read a book with more depth.
I enjoyed it.
- We live in a novel phase of economic history, classified by rapid distribution of new technologies
- New technology possesses both chances and risks and needs to be handled accordingly
- Brief introduction to select technological advances
Schwab is the founder and chairman of the “World Economic Forum”, a platform for discussion and cooperation between economic, political and civil leaders. The book is mostly based on the results of internal WEF work groups.
Pantheon, edition 3 (June 27th, 2016), first edition 2016, german