The Fourth Industrial Revolution

There is a lot of talk around the world among academics and futurists that we have now entered into the beginnings of the fourth industrial revolution. The term industrial revolution is defined as a rapid change in the economy due to technology.

The first industrial revolution came from steam power that drove the creation of the first large factories to create textiles and other goods. The second industrial revolution is called the age of science and mass production and was powered by the simultaneous development of electricity and oil-powered combustion engines. The third industrial revolution was fairly recent and was the rise of digital technology and computers.

There are differing ideas of what the fourth industrial revolution means, but every prediction involves using big data and emerging technologies to transform manufacturing and the workplace. The fourth industrial revolution means mastering and integrating an array of new technologies including artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, IoT, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and quantum computing. Some technologists are already predicting that the shorthand description for this will be the age of robotics.

Each of these new technologies is in their infancy but all are progressing rapidly. Take the most esoteric technology on the list – quantum computing. As recently as three or four years ago this was mostly an academic concept and we now have first generation quantum computers. I can’t recall where I read it, but I remember a quote that said that if we think of the fourth industrial revolution in terms of a 1,000-day process that we are now only on day three.

The real power of the fourth industrial revolution will come from integrating the technologies. The technology that is the most advanced today is robotics, but robotics will change drastically when robots can process huge amounts of data quickly and can use AI and machine learning to learn and cope with the environment in real time. Robotics will be further enhanced in a factory or farm setting by integrating a wide array of sensors to provide feedback from the surrounding environment.

I’m writing about this because all of these technologies will require the real-time transfer of huge amounts of data. Futurists and academics who talk about the fourth industrial revolution seem to assume that the needed telecon technologies already exist – but they don’t exist today and need to be developed in conjunction with the other new technologies.

The first missing element to enable the other technologies are computer chips that can process huge amounts of data in real time. Current chip technology has a built-in choke point where data is queued and fed into and out of a chip for processing. Scientists are exploring a number of ways to move data faster. For example, light-based computing has the promise to move data at speeds up to 50 Gbps. But even that’s not fast enough and there is research being done using lasers to beam data directly into the chip processor – a process that might increase processing speeds 1,000 times over current chips.

The next missing communications element is a broadband technology that can move data fast enough to keep up with the faster chips. While fiber can be blazingly fast, a fiber is far too large to use at the chip level, and so data has to be converted at some point from fiber to some other transmission path.

The amount of data that will have to be passed in some future applications is immense. I’ve already seen academics bemoaning that millimeter wave radios are not fast enough, so 5G will not provide the solution. Earlier this year the first worldwide meeting was held to officially start collaborating on 6G technology using terabit wave spectrum. Transmissions at those super-high frequencies only stay coherent for a few feet, but these frequencies can carry huge amounts of data. It’s likely that 6G will play a big role in providing the bandwidth to the robots and other big data needs of the fourth industrial revolution. From the standpoint of the telecom industry, we’re no longer talking about last-mile and we are starting to address the last-foot!

Looking Into the Future

Alexander_Crystal_SeerYesterday I presented at the South Dakota Telephone Association annual conference, with the topic being ‘A Glimpse into the Future’. In this presentation I talked about the trends that are going to affect the telecom industry over the next 5 – 10 years as well as the broader technology changes we can expect to see over the next few decades.

These are topics that I research and think about often. A lot of this blog looks at telecom trends and technologies we can expect to see over the next five years. And once in a while I indulge myself in the blog and look at the future of other technologies. Researching this presentation was fun since it made me take a fresh look at what others are predicting about our future.

I am an optimist and my research tells me that we are living at the most amazing time in mankind’s history. There is so much groundbreaking research being done in so many different fields that the announcement of new technology breakthroughs will become commonplace during the next decade. Barely a day goes by already that I don’t see the announcement of a new technology or scientific breakthrough.

I don’t think the average person is prepared for how fast the world is going to soon be changing. The last time that the world underwent such a dramatic shift was at the beginning of the 20th century when we were introduced to electricity, cars, telephones, radios and airplanes. We are about to be hit with a tsunami of innovations far more numerous than that last big wave of change.

It’s hard for the mind to grasp the idea of exponential growth. Over the last forty years our technology has been dominated by a single exponential growth curve – the continuous growth of the speed and density of the computer chip. This one change has brought most of what we think of as modern technology – computers, the smartphone, the Internet, the cloud and our broadband and telecom networks. Anybody working in any field of electronics has been blessed for a long time by knowing that they would be able to produce a new version of their technology every few years that was faster, cheaper and smaller.

What is amazing about today is that there are numerous new technologies that are at the early stages of the exponential growth curve – and all happening at the same time. Just looking at the list of these technologies is exciting – robotics, advanced machine language (artificial intelligence), nanotechnology, alternate energy, super materials, genetics and medical research. As these technologies progress we will soon be inundated with breakthroughs in all of these areas. It’s mind-boggling to envision which of these technologies will dominate our lives in a decade or two, and it’s even harder to think of how these various technical trends will intersect to produce things we can’t imagine.

What is even more exciting is that this is not even the whole list, because there are a lot of other technology trends that might become equally important in our lives. Such trends as the Internet of Things, the blockchain, natural language computing, or virtual reality might have a big impact on many of us in the very near future. I will be discussing some of these future trends over the next few months and I hope some of my readers share my enthusiasm about what is coming over the next decade or two.

I don’t usually use this blog to promote myself, but I am interested in talking to other associations and trade groups about the many topics I cover in this blog. You can contact me at blackbean2@ccgcomm.com if you are interested.

We are Almost at the Tipping Point

Alexander_Crystal_SeerThere is an amazing amount of progress going on in numerous fields that affect our daily lives.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society polled experts to ask when they expected major new technologies to hit a tipping point, meaning that the technology would pass the point where it would then become a mainstream norm. The list of technological changes that are predicted for the next ten years is astounding. This coming decade is probably going to be considered by historians as the time when mankind moved past the era of the Industrial Revolution into the Computer and Software Age.

We live in a time when it has become routine to expect rapid changes and improvements in the way we do things. But taken altogether, we will hit a tipping point with so many new technologies that lives will be decidedly different a decade from now compared to today. Following are the changes that this group foresees on the immediate horizon along with a prediction of when each of the changes passes the tipping point and becomes part of our daily lives. Note that the tipping points they provided are not the only event that could move a technology into the mainstream, but instead are a good example.

  • Implantable Technology – Tipping point when the first implantable mobile phone is commercially available. Expected date: 2023
  • Personal Digital Presence – Tipping point when 80% of people in the world have a digital presence on the web. Expected data: 2023
  • Vision as the New Interface. Tipping point when 10% of reading glasses connect to the internet. Expected date: 2023
  • Wearable Internet – Tipping point when 10% of people wear clothes connected to the Internet. Expected date: 2022.
  • Ubiquitous Computing – Tipping point when 90% of the world’s population has access to the Internet. Expected date: 2024.
  • A Supercomputer in Your Pocket. Tipping point when 90% of the world population has a smartphone. Expected date: 2023
  • Storage for All – Tipping point when 90% of people have unlimited and free (supported by advertising) data storage. Expected date: 2025.
  • The Internet of Things – Tipping point when 1 trillion sensors are connected to the Internet. Expected date: 2022.
  • The Connected Home – Tipping point when over 50% of broadband to homes is used for appliances and devices. Expected date: 2024.
  • Smart Cities – Tipping point when the first city with more than 50,000 people has no traffic lights. Expected date: 2026
  • Big Data for Decisions – Tipping point when the first government replaces a census with big data. Expected date: 2023.
  • Driverless Cars – Tipping point when driverless cars are 10% of the vehicles on the road. Expected date: 2026.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making – Tipping point when an AI is on a major corporate Board. Expected date: 2026.
  • AI and White Collar Jobs – Tipping point when 30% of corporate audits are done by AI. Expected date: 2025.
  • Robotics – Tipping point is the first robotic pharmacist in the US. Expected date: 2021.
  • Bitcoin and Blockchain – Tipping point is when 10% of gross domestic product stored on blockchains. Expected date: 2027.
  • The Sharing Economy – Tipping point when more global trips are made by car sharing than in private cars. Expected date: 2025.
  • Governments and Blockchain – Tipping point when tax is collected for the first time via blockchain. Expected date: 2023.
  • Printing and Manufacturing – Tipping point when the first 3D-printed car is in production. Expected date: 2022.
  • 3D Printing and Health – Tipping point when first transplant of 3D liver. Expected date: 2024.
  • 3D Printing and Consumer Products – Tipping point when 5% of consumer goods printed in 3D. Expected date: 2025.

Even if only a large fraction of these changes happen when predicted it is going to be a very different world a decade from now. This kind of list is almost overwhelming. I am probably going to write future blogs about a few of the changes that I find the most intriguing. One thing is for sure, – hang onto your seats, the whole world is about to enter a new age.