The 4th Industrial Revolution - from virtual reality to practical sustainable solutions

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By Antonis Antoniadis 

In 2016, global leaders and policy makers gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos to discuss the progress of a new revolution called the “4th Industrial revolution”. In contrast to previous ones, this industrial revolution has gone relatively unnoticed. This is not because of the magnitude of the breakthroughs, but because new information and discoveries are emerging every minute. People are disoriented with the sweep of innovation, and as a result the revolution feels rather subdued.

What does the 4th industrial revolution mean? It is the full range of capabilities that currently and in the near future will be provided to us by the tremendous development of technologies. These include the likes of artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, The Internet of Things, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.

With environmental conservation and sustainability high on the agenda it is essential to investigate the relationship of the 4th industrial revolution and a sustainable future.

The 4th industrial revolution will impact four main pillars around which our societies have been structured for years: (i) Food and Agriculture, (ii) Cities, (iii) Energy and Materials, and (iv) Health and Well-being.  Across these four pillars, there is one common input - production.

Production is a process of combining various material/immaterial inputs in order to create an output that will satisfy human needs. The more efficient the production, the more people will be satisfied, and a more sustainable future for our planet will be secured. In the 4th Industrial Revolution manufacturing is redefined to create products with greater value for consumers, while introducing more sustainable life cycles.   

As Nubia Carvalho et. al. indicated in their study there are six main principles that govern the new manufacturing model in the 4th Industrial Revolution (outlined in the graphic below). These principles of the 4th industrial revolution are redesigning global production, leading to a more sustainable manufacturing frame across the four markets discussed earlier.

There are many potential contributions that the new manufacturing model can bring to Food and Agriculture, Cities, Energy and Health and Well-being. The following tables lay out a few of these ideas:

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The 4th Industrial Revolution offers a huge potential to transform and realign our economies with social and environmental concerns. However, like any other forms of innovation, there are some challenges. The vast interconnected nature of new technologies provides persistent risks to digital rights, as well as threats to transparency and accountability. Therefore, governments around the world should champion a holistic approach to the 4th Industrial Revolution that helps to address society’s environmental and social challenges. World policy makers should explore, and recommend, governance structures and policy mechanisms to ensure governments and businesses have the agility and ability to keep pace with the 4th Industrial Revolution. We must harness innovations that promise the greatest social and environmental returns, securing by any means a sustainable future for our planet.