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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Paperback – January 12, 2016
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“Only organizations driven by purpose and values will be fully able to shape and benefit from the seismic technological, social and economic transformations underway. Klaus Schwab compellingly outlines why all of us must work to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has at its heart the stakeholder principle, ensuring that the benefits of transformation are as much a public good as a private gain. This book is required reading for my entire leadership team.” -Marc R. Benioff, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Salesforce, USA:
“In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab puts forth a thoughtful framework for leaders to meet the challenge of maximizing the benefits of the profound technological, social and economic transformation reshaping society. Drawing on over four decades of bringing together governments, private sector and other parts of civil society, Schwab starts a wide-ranging discussion on how we can help to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution drives progress for humankind.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.Org
“This book is essential reading for corporate leaders, policy makers and citizens interested in navigating the challenges and understanding the opportunities which lie ahead thanks to the impact of emerging technologies. Clearly, the profound shifts happening will leave no business model untouched and no society unshaken. Klaus Schwab reminds us of our individual and collective power to ensure that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a far more sustainable, empowering and inclusive one than the last three.” - Muhtar A. Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company, USA:
“From how we work and share information to how we address global crises like fresh water and climate change, we know that technology will define humanity’s future. Here Klaus Schwab provides an excellent framework for thinking about how we can shape technology to deliver a future society in keeping with our deepest human values.” - L. Rafael Reif, President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA:
“All of us are truly excited about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the changes it will bring to our companies, industries and countries. History, however, tells us that major economic disruptions come with social and political challenges that demand new ways of thinking, organizing and working together. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in equal parts an eye-opening assessment of emerging technologies, a sobering look at the potential negative impacts of transforming systems, and a hopeful call to action. - Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman, BP, United Kingdom --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Professor Klaus Schwab is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, the International Organization for Public Private Cooperation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Schwab uniquely combines the experience of being an academic, an entrepreneur and a statesman. He has been at the centre of global affairs for over 45 years. The World Economic Forum is a comprehensive and integrated platform for leaders of all stakeholder groups from around the world – business, government and civil society – to come together in a shared commitment to improve the state of the world. The Forum is independent and impartial. Its activities are shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on stakeholder theory, a concept which Schwab pioneered in 1971 and which asserts that organizations are accountable to all parts of society.
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As he says, there is a much different future coming for all of us, businesses and families alike. But no decision-maker in our midst is going to be left any better equipped to face that future as a result of reading the analyses and prescriptions - or really the lack of both - in this story. In fact, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may well have the impact of diverting energy away from all that ought to be thought and done about our collective socio-economic tomorrow.
Now, in a perfectly serviceable (if not awfully readable) way, one is here walked through the list of all the modern and emerging techno-excitements : AI, robotics, wearable computers, blockchain, Big Data, clouds, synthetic biology, etc, etc. But the speech soon becomes a sermon, a dirge of angst about what all the inventiveness of the modern world is doing to good human order. Like too many pastors / preachers before him, Dr. Schwab sees society’s very own 3D-printed, hell-bound handcart waiting in the hard-drive. Hear the incantation start:
“…the new technology revolution which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind”.
“Let us together shape a future what works for all by putting people first…”.
“We are all in this together and risk being unable to tackle the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and reap the benefits…unless we collectively develop a sense of shared purpose”.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we establish a set of common values to drive policy choices…”.
For like a Billy Graham of the cyber-age, he typically has a vision of the confusions, destructions and pathologies lurking in every corner. Viz:
“Our brain, engaged by all the digital instruments that connect us on a 24-hour basis, risks becoming a perpetual-motion machine that puts (sic) in an unremitting frenzy…
…Decision-makers from all parts of global society seem to be in a state of ever-increasing exhaustion, so deluged by multiple competing demands that they turn from frustration to resignation and despair”.
“…individuals, civil society groups, social movements and local communities feel increasingly excluded from meaningful participation in traditional decision-making processes…”.
When expert-authors take this tone, one can always tell that precious little evidence in support of any of these claims will be forthcoming. And, so it is the case here. On tiptoe in the pulpit, all one will ever see is the coast of dystopia, un-erodibly nearby.
And oh, clichés sweep like whingeing valkyries through the fields of this, well, lightly proofed prose. Let’s not linger on too many examples. Let’s just mention : “Innovation is a complex, social process and not one we should take for granted”. Or : “Academic institutions are often regarded as one of the foremost places to pursue forward-thinking ideas”. Finally : “Companies are no longer able to shirk accountability for poor performance. Brand equity is a prize hard won and easily lost”. Nobody, no matter how distinguished, who writes like this is thinking in a straight line anymore - and certainly not in a creatively curvy one. This is pulp non-fiction.
Meanwhile, staff in the better trends agencies and forecasting outfits are taught to use language to, as it were, force them to make intellectual decisions. No junior analysis-maker is every allowed to drive a story into the dead-air signposted by the phrase : "It remains to be seen" or "further research is required". Both such (present here) are really mindless truisms and invariably represent a shirking of the insight-supplier’s responsibility : to actually reveal something new and important and to guide the eyes of the reader to the best available truths. It is a betrayal of the Enlightenment itself to talk of "anecdotal evidence" (here also) when power evidence is available - but often has to be sweatily sifted so that conclusions might, however gingerly, be reached. More, just how often should readers be told about a "paradigm shift" (here) and an "inflection point" (here) in one book, a book which offers itself as a guide to the transformations ahead while using the thought-substituting jargons of the past?
There should be little doubt now that a revolution is already being detonated inside global labour and career markets. And Dr. Schwab’s emphasis on this very theme is absolutely correct. But the elimination of income-bearing professions - from Davos to Delhi to Denver - needs urgent analysis of a quality that can lead to practical advice for companies and governments. How actually to preserve lifelong income flows for consumer-citizens? How to adjust universities to cope in utterly radical ways with adults who will, across their lives, need three degrees in order to give themselves a fighting chance of sustainable revenue (as their old skills die faster than species)? How specifically should the language of recruitment now change so that employers and college-leavers alike can share a coherent understanding of how long job contracts (and the commitments they imply) can be expected to last? A negative kind of rapture is busy engulfing the entire culture of career as we have always known it in the West - and we need precision and purpose in the answers we offer. This is no time to waffle or simper or insouciantly understate the scale of the problem on the table. Or write things like:
“We should take the opportunity of a transforming economy to redesign labour policies and business practices to ensure that both men and women are empowered to their full extent”. Or:
“We can reasonably assume that demand will increase for skills that enable workers to design, build and work alongside technological systems”.
This is language which melts into air, into thin air. Well-meaning but un-engaged and un-engaging. Lofty, toothless, trite.
And do we think that this muzak of lazy exhortation, fond hoping and nice-people ethics are really going to turn heads towards a new and sharper realisation of the shape of things to come - the heads of Wall Street, the Government of France, Silicon Valley, the Ivy League, the European Central Bank, the US Administration, the Fortune 500, entrepreneurs everywhere…. all those who have to make big decisions about technologies and jobs, investments and retrenchments, spending priorities and new agenda selections? Not a chance.
Dr. Schwab writes a book called The Fourth Industrial Revolution, presumably with such leadership audiences in view, the people who will (here we all presumably agree) have big decisions to take about the future of workforces and of the general prosperity on which we all depend. As a summary of the techno-driven changes to come, the book is indeed serviceable. But he must surely have had a higher ambition than that. In the complexity-rapids of the fourth revolution, we do indeed need some pretty rugged intellectual helmsmanship. This book is not close to being on point.
The central theme of the 2016 meeting of the Forum focused on the Fourth Industrial Revolution as defined and discussed by Professor Schwab in a lengthy essay published in Foreign Affairs in 2015. This book is essentially an expanded version of that essay plus some added material which are the results of canvassing the meeting participants regarding when various technological breakthroughs will reach their respective tipping points. Some of the results of this survey is included in the Appendix of this book.
This book provides a thorough discussion of the possible future impacts of these changes. The author is willing to acknowledge the possible detrimental results, but then he goes on to say the others predict more optimistic outcomes. I get the impression that the author was trying to be objective, but consequently his reluctance to advocate for a particular position makes this book dry reading material.
I was very dissatisfied with the chapter titled "The Way Forward" near the end of the book's message. I was looking forward to some sort of recommended plan for making the necessary adjustments for society to adapt to the coming economic changes. Instead the message I took from that chapter were generalities such as the following:
"... we must adapt, shape and harness the potential of disruption by nurturing and applying four different types of intelligence:
— contextual (the mind) ...
— emotional (the hear) ...
— inspired (the soul) ...
— physical (the body) ..."
The author elaborates on these, but I found these discussions to be lacking specifics.
The following is a listing of the anticipated future technological advancements and their respective tipping point dates based on a survey of 800 business executives. They were asked to gage when they anticipate that these game-changing technologies will break into the public domain to a significant degree. The percentage listed next to the items below is the percentage of survey respondants that believed that the tipping point would be achieved by the year 2025.
1. Implantable Technologies—82%
2. Our Digital Presence—84%
3. Vision as the New Interface—86%
4. Wearable Internet—91%
5. Ubiquitous Computing—79%
6. A Supercomputer in Your Pocket—81%
7. Storage for All—91%
8. The Internet of & for Things—89%
9. The Connected Home—70%
10. Smart Cities—64%
11. Big Data for Decisions—83%
12. Driverless Cars—79%
13. A.I. & Decision Making—45%
14. A.I. & White-Collar Jobs—75%
15. Robotics and Services—86%
16. Bitcoin & the Blockchain—58%
17. The Sharing Economy—67%
18. Governments & the Blockchain—73%
19. 3D Printing & Manufacturing—84%
20. 3D Printing & Human Health—76%
21. 3D Printing & Consumer Products—81%
22. Designer Beings—vote result not shown
23. Neurotechnologies—vote result not shown
Each of the above anticipated technological advances are thoroughly described in the Appendix along with the above survey results.
Numbering of the Revolutions
In my opinion there is no fourth industrial revolution. What this author is calling the fourth industrial revolution is simply a continuation of the third. I get the impression from this book that he thinks the current situation deserves its own label because of the speed of change. But exponential rates of change occurred during the Third Industrial Revolution; it's just that at this point in time the changes appear really fast. That's what exponential rates do.
The following are the definitions of the various industrial revolutions as used by this book:
1. The Machine Age (1760-1840): The Steam Engine, Railroads
2. Mass Production (late 19th - early 20th c): Assembly Line Manufacturing, Electricity
3. The Digital Revolution (from mid 1960s-): Computers, Semiconductors, Internet
4. The Fourth IR: Ubiquitous Mobile Internet, Internet of Things (IoT) with Sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Gene Sequencing, Nanotechnology