Technological developments are changing the world in profound ways. We’re more connected and more dependant on computing devices and internet-based services. We’re generating enormous amounts of data. And many tasks are becoming automated, requiring minimal human intervention.
How are these changes affecting our lives? And what can we expect in the future?
A good introduction to these questions and their possible answers is The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. It’s a short book that discusses the impact of new technologies and makes predictions about how life will likely change in the coming years.
The issues the book addresses include:
- The instant spread of information (including slander and misinformation) on a large scale.
- Social unrest, with people experiencing displacement and feeling superfluous.
- Workplace disruption, with certain jobs disappearing (and other kinds becoming available?), and certain skills increasingly emphasized (like quick learning, creativity, emotional intelligence, big picture analyses).
- Growing inequalities in wealth, knowledge, and skill sets.
- The best uses of data, struggles for control over data, and issues of privacy.
The book doesn’t focus only on the possible depressing outcomes; it discusses benefits as well, including various improvements in quality of life.
I like that the author doesn’t treat each prediction as an inevitability. The changes we’re experiencing will be shaped by decisions from governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, special interest groups, and individuals. Attitudes about work, life, ethics, and humanity will influence what we value and prioritize.
To know how to make better decisions, we need to stay informed about the issues and understand both the challenges and opportunities. Furthermore, these changes can take a psychological toll that we have to prepare for.
If you want to just skim through The Fourth Industrial Revolution, start with the appendix. It lists various technological shifts (e.g. 3D printing in manufacturing) and the positive and negative impacts of each.