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How should we respond to the new intelligent innovation that’s developed during the Fourth Industrial Revolution? In an article written for the Bristol Technology Showcase in the UK, Enzen’s Professor Mark Skilton discusses the challenges ahead.

Inigo Jodra
Professor Mark Skilton, Head of Enzen UK Applied Research and Collaboration

The phenomenon of digitisation has grown exponentially. The internet, personal computers, mobile phones, social networks and the increasingly inter-connected nature of devices, travel and environments have led to a profound and previously unimaginable change in how we live and work.

The internet is only fifty years old, born from research at Stanford University and industrial labs in the west coast of America. The World Wide Web created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee only appeared at the Swiss Cern Accelerator laboratory a mere thirty years ago.

A fusion of digital, physical and biological fields

Now in 2019, 4.39 billion people are internet users out of a total global population of 7.7 billion inhabitants. That’s almost two in three people in the world with connectivity, while children born at the beginning of this century have never known a world without digital communication.

But there has been more to this change than just the rise of digital. Material, social and biological fields have in the past decades been through a fundamental revolution as well, from molecular DNA engineering and new prosthetics, to new forms of drugs, new high yield crop genetics and new biofuels.

Meanwhile, advances in design and manufacturing have seen the emergence of 3D printing, new micro-mechanical and nano technology engineering, flat TV screens, solar panels, new battery storage, new building materials and new electric vehicle designs.

These technological innovations have not occurred in isolation. The World Economic Forum has described these phenomena as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. It’s a change characterised by the fusion of digital, physical and biological fields into new commercial products and services, together with new infrastructural business and social models that have transformed society on global and local levels.

The rise of the Artificial Intelligence society

The First and Second Revolutions of steam, electromechanical, petrochemical and nuclear power ramped up the scale of energy transformation. They released humans and animals from mechanical toil and increased the speed and size of made objects, plus the distances traversed through automation of movement and transport.

The digital era of the Third Revolution was a step change in communication and advances in automation speeds, leading to global western and eastern economic convergence and new competitive rivalries that drove huge growths in GDP and many people’s wellbeing and incomes.

However, while the Fourth Revolution has seen new convergencies of all these technological advances, it is a fundamentally different kind of transformation – one that’s been knowledge-driven by machine intelligence and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Human knowledge is being supplanted by machine knowledge: algorithms that not only change the way energy drives automation, but redefine and automate the decision processes and intelligence behind them.

We’re now in a new era of intelligent innovation, and one which has profound implications. People of this generation must build a future that can both exploit and maximise economic and sustainable goals with these wondrous new tools and ideas. But they must also address the risks and threats of automated jobs, plus the ethics of AI such as self-driving robotics and making such technology available to all.

We want to shape the future, not let the future shape us. So we must start by engaging with, understanding and addressing the complex nature of these challenges, and use this knowledge to ensure intelligent innovation truly enhances our progress as a civilisation.

Read more from Mark

To learn about Mark’s latest insights on the ‘trinity of technology’ – AI, IoT and Blockchain – you can read Enzen’s latest white paper here:

Professor Mark Skilton is Enzen’s UK Head of Applied Research and Collaboration, as well as Professor of Practice in Information Systems Management at the University of Warwick, and the Industry Director of the AI Innovation Network at Warwick Business School.

Published: 29 Oct 2019

Last updated: 5 Nov 2019