Many countries are now in the midst of a fundamental change in the way people live, work, and relate to each other, using amazing technological advances merging digital, biological, and physical worlds.
This earth-shaking fundamental change is being brought about by the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or “Industry 4.0” that is set to transform societies and the way of life around the planet like never before.
“Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world,” wrote Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum, who labeled modern advances in technology as the new revolution.
In a 2016 article, Schwab predicted: “In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.”
The reality of such prediction can now be seen in the fusion of today’s advances in the so-called “Internet of Things (IoT)” and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as in robotics, 3D printing, genetic engineering, biotechnology, virtual reality, cyber security, data analytics, radio-frequency identification (RFID), and other technologies now becoming indispensable to modern living.
Industry 4.0 compliments and builds on the advances of previous industrial revolutions. The first began in 1784 when mechanical power enabled the shift from reliance on animal and human efforts. The second revolution occurred around 1870 with breakthroughs in electricity distribution and mass production. The third progressed in the 1960s and 70s when electronics and automation took a firm hold, and rapid advances in information technology and computers led to new ways of processing and sharing information.
With the advent of Industry 4.0 which started around the middle of this decade, information sharing and data transfer has vastly improved, particularly through the IoT – instead of merely human-to-human interaction through the Internet, digital machines are communicating with each other without human intervention.
“The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing,” Schwab said in describing the Industry 4.0 phenomenon.
“Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit,” he explained.
The speed and depth of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is forcing many countries to rethink development strategies, not only to reap its vast benefits but to avoid getting left behind.
To get a glimpse of what the Philippines is doing and what else must be done to take advantage of Industry 4.0, I had a fruitful discussion last Sunday in my Teleradyo program with Trade and Industry Undersecretary Rafaelita Aldaba and former Finance Undersecretary Joel Valdes.
They said our neighbors in the ASEAN region have already done extensive preparations to adapt to new technologies but it is not too late for the Philippines to catch up.
Usec. Aldaba said government is making, with the help of other departments, especially the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry, a 4.0 industry roadmap for agribusiness, automotive, aerospace, electronics and other industries. The roadmap include plans to establish a learning academy for digital skills and to set up smart factories intended to become shared facilities that can create prototypes and quickly train workers in new technologies.
There’s also a roadmap being planned to make the Philippines a center of excellence in artificial intelligence, and there are fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to help companies, especially small and medium enterprises, shift to new technologies, she said.
Also, the DOST is now pursuing its Advanced Mechatronics, Robotics and Industrial Automation Laboratory project aimed at establishing technology laboratories where local and foreign experts from the different industries, including entrepreneurs and those from the academe join forces to improve production processes using new technologies.
The importance of harnessing renewable energy and the access of the Filipino youth to technology in education was cited by Usec. Valdes as crucial factors our country needs to be successful with as we tackle the challenges of Industry 4.0.
Indeed, if we act quickly enough, we not only can catch up with other countries but can also be a major player in this part of the world in the pursuit of the new revolution that can bring about enormous benefits in the years to come.