Questions for the 4th Industrial Age

Klaus Schwab said that we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril. We can either find ways to harmonise man, woman, and machine, or fight with them in a real-life version of “War of the Worlds”. The choice is ours. This throws up a number of questions for individuals, companies, and Governments on how to prepare people to face the challenges of the 4th Industrial era. These are articulated in the book Brain Based Enterprises.

In the field of company longevity and corporate agility, Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture suggests that digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000. With company longevity in freefall, we ask seven questions for the 4th Industrial Age

How shall we function in a world where man, woman, and machine will have interchangeable and complementary functions? How do we develop genuinely agile enterprises that can improvise into the future?

It is one thing to have the capabilities and capacities to blend artificial and human intelligences, quite another to have organisational structures to enable such sharing. Structure can be an enabler or an impediment to progress and a full OD review will be needed to facilitate such changes. How then will we reorganise organisations to make best use of collective cybernetic and human intelligence?

Dr. Daniel Levitin, eminent Neuroscientist reported that each of us processes 34 Gb, or 100,000 words every day. That’s more than we absorbed in our entire lifetime in 1800. In 2015 our brains absorbed 5 x more information every day than in 1986.
How then shall we “swim with information” rather than “drown in data”? Following this statistic about the veritable Tsunami of data that now rains upon us, how shall we become more intelligent, individually, collectively and corporately? Does this require new levels of discipline of us to search for valuable intelligence? Does sharing more knowledge improve collective intelligence or do we need to be more surgical in our thirst for knowledge? What are the downsides of a reduced information palette?

Government can help set the environment for businesses to flourish or flounder? What can and should governments do to encourage intelligent societies and communities? The work on smart cities and smart societies is relevant here. For example, Japan’s Society 5.0 envisions transforming the Japanese way of life by blurring the frontier between cyberspace and physical space.

How shall we lay to rest the problems, threats, and legacy of the industrial era? This is perhaps an entire book of its own, but we have created a number of legacy issues in the industrial age. See “wicked problems” below.

How shall we find sustainable resolutions to emerging complex and “wicked” world problems, such as climate change, feeding the world, dealing with the effects of a dying planet, etc.?

UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 requires that all of its 193 member states spends 4-6% of GDP and / or 15-20% of total public expenditure on education by 2030. But, how will education need to change in order to continue to be relevant and effective? In a world where all the data in the world is available, our old notions of storing knowledge in our brains will be replaced by the ability to apply knowledge. What will the concept of exams at school start to mean in such a world?


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Peter Cook




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