Are you ready for the 4th industrial revolution?

The world is moving forward, driven by technology, at an extremely significant pace. And every now and then we come across terminologies, or buzzwords, that hold the potential to disrupt our lives. Yet it is often a burdensome task to keep up with these buzzwords, even for the tech-savvy communities. Things like Cloud, Quantum Computing, Blockchain, Big Data, Virtual Reality, and so on and so forth. And one other umbrella term that we often come across is the fourth industrial revolution. It is a term that references a predicted profound state of disruption that will affect businesses, households, communities, and even culture itself.

So, let’s pull up our sleeves and talk more about the fourth industrial revolution, or as it is also known as 4IR or Industry 4.0, and look at what it means for us. But before we get into what the fourth industrial revolution is, let us first have a look at what are the first three industrial revolutions that got us to where we are today:

  • The First Industrial Revolution: Water and Steam to Mechanize Production

    This revolution is defined by the transition that happened to manufacturing processes between 1760 to roughly 1820, mainly in Britain. It witnessed machinery replacing hand production methods, with the increased adoption of steam power and factory systems, which is referred to as mechanization. It was also the main driver in the societal transformation from rural to urban.

  • The Second Industrial Revolution: Fuel and Electric Energy to Produce in Masses

    After the first industrial revolution, the second industrial revolution came to add fuel to the fire, quite literally. This was the period between 1840 and 1914 where industrialization became vigorously rapid with the rise and adoption of innovations in steel production, combustion engines, electricity, railroad networks, gas and water supplies, and sewage systems. It cemented the shift from rural to factory life and opened the door for standardized goods and consumerism.

  • The Third Industrial Revolution: Electronics and Information Technology

    Almost a century later, electronics came into play with transistors and microprocessors, along with leaps in telecommunications and computers. And on top of that, nuclear energy was developed. The third industrial revolution drove the transformation from analog and mechanical to digital.

Having this overview into the history of industrialization is important because not only does it show us how our lives transformed and evolved with the evolution of technology, but also how our lives can still evolve in the future with more revolutions coming in sight, like the fourth industrial revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution will build on the third one, which saw the rise and domination of digitization and digitalization, by blurring the lines between what is digital and what is physical. I like to refer to the fourth industrial revolution as the empowerment revolution. It is a revolution that will impact lives not only by impacting manufacturing, as is the case historically, but will impact lives by understanding our anthropological behaviors and drivers then compliments them. This revolution will be built on an information boom on a scale we’ve never seen before, huge amounts of data collected not only from hand-held devices, but from everything around us, this is where Big Data and Internet of Things originate, by connecting tools, cars, fridges, traffic lights, dams, bulbs, TVs, air conditioners, you name it to the internet, autonomous technology from vehicles to factory robotics will free us from the labors that we experience daily, and all of that will be powered by supercomputers in Cloud environments. It is a revolution that will path the way for technology that adapts to us, and not the other way around.

And as an African myself, I like to think of what this means to our continent, and our planet. The key message here is empowerment. With internet becoming more and more available, tools designed in Germany can be printed in rural towns in Africa using 3D printing technology, civilians will be warned about natural disasters like forest fires, flooding, earthquakes beforehand to save lives from data collected from remote sensors, medical operations will be performed by a doctor in one part of the world on a patient in another part, maintenance cycles of roads and bridges will be accurately predicted to fight road fatalities, energy sources will adapt to our usage rates in order to save consumption. In many scenarios, a lot of labor-intensive tasks that Africans face daily will be freed. But then again, the previous industrial revolutions should’ve liberated these tasks, so why is this one any different? The answer is in the accessibility. Unlike the previous revolutions, this one is delivered by the Internet that, as we are witnessing, is becoming increasingly accessible every day, with the highly anticipated and revolutionary 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technologies right around the corner. We are potentially looking at a kind of revolution that, with the shackles of labor freed, will allow talent and cognitive abilities to shine brighter through online delivery, compared to traditional opportunities, which are not in abundance in Africa.

With that kind of revolution imminent, it is important for Africa to realize its potential. In that essence, online accessibility should become an absolute priority, and digital literacy programs will be nothing short of life-changing. The technology will come, that is certain, yet it is up to us to make it transform our lives for the best.

My full name is Galal Amr Ahmed Galal el-Din Ezzat (I go by Galal Amr), I come From Cairo, Egypt and I Studied Digital Media Engineering and Technology at the German University in Cairo. Currently work as an Associated Sales Representative at Cisco and my Hobbies are Playing video games, reading, watching and playing sports, diving, watching movies.

I am Passionate about people, technology, and sports, hoping to leave a smile! Here is a link to my linkedin profile we can connect and engage more on the subject at hand.

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10 thoughts on “Are you ready for the 4th industrial revolution?

  1. Well, it’s the first that I read an article about 4IR and I am actually encouraged to upgrade myself. I love the simplicity in his writing and the humble tone.

    Can he share more on the platforms one can join to improve the skills on the above mentioned courses?

    Overall, well written. Schools learners must read this article and perhaps start steering towards stem courses.

  2. Wooow, this is brilliant! He must write a book once! I am yearning for more😩🙏🏽. Yoh it’s beautiful 🤞🏽
    I like how he take us back to where the revolution started and carry us to where we are 🔥🔥🔥. A note worth noticing is how he puts emphasis on the diver of prior revolution being “Manufacturing” and us having to adapt as opposed to the raining revolution.

    Though people need not think of this revolution as an event, something that you can chose to either attend or not. This is a way of life, and it’s also a prototype of what lies ahead. As we up-skill ourselves!

  3. This a very well informed prolific piece. I love the case of regarding the 4IR as an empowerment tool and the fact that there’s some form of human development that comes with it in the anthropological senses.

    However, I am a bit worried that the accessibility case is over simplified, I mean the bothering question with regards to the 4IR is the question of accessibility especially taking into account the persistent and stubborn inequality the world is subject to. The development of these new technologies comes at cost that seems to be widening the inequality gap and hence for the working class majority the 4IR is seen a threat more than an empowerment tool. They are rightfully worried about their safety of their jobs which is their source of income, while on the other hand the developers of these new technologies are more concerned with profit maximization and efficient production. So there’s is no logical synthesis between the developers and the users in terms of doing away with the class antagonisms that have persist for years at the sight of capitalism that is deeply entrenched by globalisation in how we engage in this 4IR.

    More so in the African context where it seems like we are just consumers of these technologies instead of fully participating in their development and production, more specifically in responding to the multifaceted challenges that face our continent which include, inter-alia, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, hunger and the ethnical wars taking place in countries like Sudan, Lybia, Central Africa, Liberia and other African countries. Therefore the questions should be asked: Is the 4IR truly accessible to us as Africans or are we just coerced into it as result of globalisation? If it is accessible, how is it helping us respond to the challenges we are faced with? Are we equal producers and developers or just consumers of these new aged technologies? At what price are we accessing them? Is that price fair? Those are amongst the questions we must concern ourselves with. A fair measure, I think, lies in the question: Does the 4IR meaningfully contribute to us reaching the objectives outlined in the continent’s agenda 2063? “Maybe” is not a good enough answer, because I believe that if the 4IR is anything to go by as articulated in the piece then the answer should be a definite “YES!” Otherwise this revolution is just like its predecessors! Finally, if the answer is “NO” then the question we should respond to with urgency and seriousness is: Why, and how do we use this 4IR to our advantage in order to gets closer and closer to those continental long term goals? Because as long as we are just spectators, commentators and consumers of this 4IR, then we must accept and live with the fact that even in this new industrial age our anthropological development as Africans is still being dictated by the West and East, and that will continue to have adverse economical implications for our continent and its development.

    Secondly, the issue of the heavy capitalist securitization that has emerged as a result of the 4IR is a serious concern. We have seen a huge emergence imperialist warfare against Africa in a form of biometric capitalism, the cyber warfare, the control of information and knowledge production, and the development of war machinery in a form new aged weapons. All this is done at the backbone of the 4IR and just to protect the interest of the West and the East by successfully the creating a Chinese Wall around the accessibility of these new aged technologies through the law, pricing and in some extreme cases militarization. For instance when you carefully analyse the trade war between the two world superpowers – American and China; is really about the control of information and the monopolizing the 5G technologies more than it’s about the alleged security threats. We all know that when two elephants fight the grass suffers the most and we are the grass in this scenario because we don’t not develop and advance our own technologies – we are merely consumers in this 4IR. So the heavy securitization that has emerged with the 4IR is more about keeping status core than it is about changing the global relations in terms of the power and control structures.

    So in conclusion, we cannot over simplify the issue of accessibility when talk about the 4IR. We must instead engage in the tidous process of responding to how we enhance this accessibility in order to get to a point we we are equal producers and developers in this industrial age, and how it should help us respond to our eminent challenges as Africans in the continent and throughout the diaspora.

    My humble submission as I submarine.

  4. Issac Mkhari – Former President of Wits SRC

    “This is a very well informed prolific piece. I love the case of regarding the 4IR as an empowerment tool and the fact that there’s some human development that comes with it in the anthropological senses.

    However, I am a bit worried that the accessibility case is over simplified, I mean the bothering question with regards to the 4IR is the question of accessibility especially taking into account the persistent and stubborn inequality the world is subject to. The development of these new technologies comes at cost that seems to be widening the inequality gap and hence for the working class majority the 4IR is seen a threat more than as an empowerment tool. They are rightfully worried about the safety of their jobs which is their source of income while on the other hand the developers of these new technologies are more concerned with profit maximization and efficient production. So there’s is no logical synthesis between the developers and the users in terms of doing away with the class antagonisms that have been persistent for years at the sight of capitalism that is deeply entrenched by globalisation in how we engage in this 4IR.

    More so in the African context where it seems like we are just consumers of these technologies instead of fully participating in their development and production, more specifically in responding to the multifaceted challenges that face our continent which include, inter-alia, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, hunger and the ethnical wars taking place in countries like Sudan, Lybia, Central Africa, Liberia and other African countries. Therefore the questions should be asked: Is the 4IR truly accessible to us as Africans or are we just coerced into it as result of globalisation? If it is accessible, how is it helping us respond to the challenges we are faced with? Are we equal producers and developers or just consumers of these new aged technologies? At what price are we accessing them? Is that price fair? Those are amongst the questions we must concern ourselves with. A fair measure, I think, lies in the question: Does the 4IR meaningfully contribute to us reaching the objectives outlined in the continent’s agenda 2063? “Maybe” is not a good enough answer, because I believe that if the 4IR is anything to go by as articulated in the piece then the answer should be a definite “YES!” Otherwise this revolution is just like its predecessors! Finally, if the answer is “NO” then the question we should respond to with urgency and seriousness is: Why, and how do we use this 4IR to our advantage in order to gets closer and closer to those continental long term goals? Because as long as we are just spectators, commentators and consumers of this 4IR, then we must accept and live with the fact that even in this new industrial age our anthropological development as Africans is still being dictated by the West and East, and that will continue to have adverse economical implications for our continent and its development.

    Secondly, the issue of the heavy capitalist securitization that has emerged as a result of the 4IR is a serious concern. We have seen a huge entrenchment of an imperialist warfare against Africa in a form of biometric capitalism, the cyber warfare, the control of information and knowledge production, and the development of war machinery in a form new aged weapons. All this is done at the backbone of the 4IR and just to protect the interest of the West and the East by successfully the creating a Chinese Wall around the accessibility of these new aged technologies through the law, pricing and some extreme cases militarism. For instance when you carefully analyse the trade war between the two world superpowers – American and China; is really about the control of information and the monopolizing the 5G technologies more than it’s about the alleged security threats. We all know that when two elephants fight the grass suffers the most and we are the grass in this scenario because we don’t not develop and advance our own technologies – we are merely consumers in this 4IR. So the heavy securitization that has emerged with the 4IR is more about keeping status core than it is about changing the global relations in terms of the power and control structures.

    So in conclusion, we cannot over simplify the issue of accessibility when talk about the 4IR. We must instead engage in the tidous process of responding to how we enhance this accessibility in order to get to a point we we are equal producers and developers in this industrial age, and how it should help us respond to our eminent challenges as Africans in the continent and throughout the diaspora.

    My humble submission as I submarine.”

    1. Hey Isaac, thank you for your comment, you mention very rich points, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

      There are a lot of points to discuss here, hopefully I don’t miss any. Starting with the first one, yes, there was simplification of the accessibility discussion, for the sake of the readership. We can write numerous pages (even entire papers) on accessibility. Accessibility will depend on the success, or failure, of many technological efforts, like Wi-Fi 6, 5G (trade war to be considered), initiatives like Loon and Starlink, and more. And the impact of the successes or failures can determine how empowered Africans will be in this industrial revolution, which is why the article addresses, briefly (also for the sake of readership), that accessibility should be top of mind in our continent. Leaders in the region must understand the potential impact here, and act upon it. And it doesn’t have to be a fight that governments take on alone either. Many connectivity providers want to be the first to access the huge global rural market, which Africa is a significant part of, and with the right incentives there will be win-win scenarios for both rural residents, who we want to empower using accessibility, and these providers.

      Can 4IR be a threat? Of course. In the same way that any technological disruption has ever been, like how the first and second industrial revolutions impacted handmade manufacturers. The question here is whether we want to achieve a renaissance built on labour or cognitive talents (or even both), whether we can control the pace of change to prepare for its side effects, and whether we put feet in place to be prepared and ready for it. If I can give my two cents here, then I would shout ‘EDUCATE!’ if we want to move on from consumers to influencers. If we take connectivity accessibility as an example, something like the internet, is a tool, we either use it to learn and expand our viewpoints, or we simply consume our time. And getting an education on how to navigate this tool in order to be empowered, and what you should be empowered on in the upcoming wave of change, will make all the difference. Only then will we be developers and influencers, or, at the very least, utilisers, not consumers.

      1. Definitely an interesting read. Does a great job in defining the 4IR and further highlighting its potential applications with particular reference to opportunities for Africa. I absolutely love this submission!

        Three points I would like to build on:
        1. The need for Africans to respond with agility to the 4IR
        2. The potential for Africans to spearhead the development of 4IR enabling solutions that will penetrate the existing / traditional market
        3. The urgent need to ideate solutions for the typical African (who makes up a large portion of the unskilled labor market)

        1. The need for Africans to respond with agility to the 4IR
        It is quite fascinating to witness the growing attention the 4IR by Africans; including other enabling topics such as Big Data, Advanced Analytics, Machine Learning, Deep Learning to name a few. Competency in these topics will enable emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, automation and many others. The ongoing engagements on these topics have led to an increasing interest in technology-inclined courses and careers. An even greater story is how we’ve witnessed an increasing number of young people displaying a particular interest in short online courses driven by the need to upskill our digital capabilities. An interesting demonstration of this is the shift from the heavy reliance on traditional learning institutions to investing in self-education through alternative platforms.

        While these transitions should be applauded, we however need to realize the need for urgency in our responsiveness if we are to participate and actively contribute to this revolution. The reality is that these conversations have been happening for years at a global scale. The first world, has been engaging and actively developing solutions to create the 4IR. A great example of this is the concept of Amazon Go (https://youtu.be/NrmMk1Myrxc). While this concept may have faced its challenges in penetrating the global retail market, it is a great demonstration of how far ahead the 1st world has been thinking and has already pioneered these concepts into the real world. My concern is that while the 4IR may have been a great era to advance Africa into the global market, we may once again find ourselves being the typical 3rd World country trying to play catch-up with the 1st Worlds developments, which have already started penetrating the African market. Case in point: South Africa, with the second largest economy in Africa, only made a deliberate step towards embracing the 4IR in April 2019. Can you imagine that? This is at a time when key industries have already started to experience disruptions in the market. Multiple companies in the banking and telecommunications industry have already recently announced massive job retrenchments as a result of digitalizing their operations. We have seen disruptions in manufacturing and other industrial companies. Despite minimal disruptions in mining and agriculture, we have seen deliberate efforts by companies in these sectors investing in R&D projects to digitalize their operations. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves reacting to market changes rather than being proactive and unlocking even greater opportunities to participate. And so my addition here is that we need to realize the need for agility in our response to this revolution. More importantly, we need to embrace that the 4IR is not some point of arrival to which we are headed towards. It is our present, we are currently living in the 4IR era.

        2. The potential for Africans to spearhead the development of 4IR enabling solutions that will penetrate the existing / traditional market
        While we recognize the new opportunities that will have a tremendous impact on Africa such as those mentioned in the article. It is equally important to assess how existing markets are affected by these changes and the potential gaps that emerge as players in these markets embark on their digital transformation journeys. By doing this, we unlock a number of opportunities that can allow Africans to spearhead the development of tools / solutions that will enable companies in these existing markets to transition from their traditional to digital operations.

        It is important to understand that while companies in existing markets continue to embrace digital transformations, they will however stick to their core businesses. Case in point: a Standard Bank for instance (South African bank which unfortunately announced 1200 jobs as it closes down ~100 branches) is in the process of digitalizing their banking operations so as to keep up with the changing technology trends in banking. It is in Standard Bank’s best interests to maintain their core business, which is providing convenient banking solutions to their customer. To enable this digital change, they would need to develop solutions, tools and change their technology infrastructure amongst other things. And so in staying true to their core business, they will either have to acquire small companies that emerged into the market with the capabilities to develop / provide this services, they would need to form partnerships or embark on contractual agreements with players with the required capabilities. An example of this is Standard Bank’s partnership with Amazon as a cloud-services provider (through AWS) late last year. And so, similarly, as various companies embark on their digital transformation journey, there’s an increasing demand for technology solutions, application and tool developers, designers, advanced analytics capabilities, etc. If Africans were to spearhead the emergence of companies with the capabilities to provide these services, this could be a game changer in the role Africa plays in 4IR, not only in Africa, but across the global market.

        3. The urgent need to ideate solutions for the typical African (who makes up a large portion of the unskilled labor market)
        So while we continue to visualize and embrace the idea of Africa’s advancement through the role we plays in the 4IR, it equally becomes important that we bring this conversations back home, i.e. to the current reality of the typical African. The typical African who has been and still continues to be negatively affected by the ruthless history of our continent. The typical African who cannot even engage on this conversation because their primary objective is survival and struggling to fulfill their most basic needs. The typical African who does not comprehend what any of these concepts mean, yet alone the fact that they can barely understand English. The typical African, whose ambition is to be employed in a retail store, or perform any administrative task, tasks that will sadly be negatively affected by automation. It is increasingly important that while we solve for Africa’s contribution to the global market through the 4IR, we ideate solutions for the typical Africa else we would have opened another can of increased unemployment rates. And fortunately, it is my strong view that only Africans can bring about the most applicable and sustainable solutions for Africa.

        Thank you for the great article Galal Amr, I am passionate about this topic and I look forward to connecting with you and engaging more on this. Thanks to the CR team for publishing great content 🙂

        1. Leadership Nhlanhla Zulu, thank for such a great response. We share a passion for this topic and even more for the third point you have made, “The urgent need to ideate solutions for the typical African (who makes up a large portion of the unskilled labor market)”

          After all this buzz of 4IR and its advancements we African will be faced with the reality which is to see some of our brothers and sisters buzz-off to unemployment and that is a sat back for the economy and therefore an impediment to our industrial quest.

          You make a very important point brother. Maybe you can write an article about this poitn specifically and elaborate more on “The typical African”.

        2. Thank you for your great contribution Nhlanhla Zulu , we definitely need to get it out there as CR team . Like Sbu indicated , it would be great to write an article on Typical African fracking 4IR.

          This is the subject we wish to continue have unending conversation as it is a buzz that’s has hit us !

  5. This is a lovely article, it was also my first time reading an article on the fourth industrial revolution. And it was very interesting. I enjoyed it and learned so much from it.

    I also like the fact that he took us through the journey of the other revolutions and in that way it shows a pattern on how we got to the fourth and to those who haven’t read anything on the 4IR its easy for them to also get it .

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