We are living in a truly unprecedented time. One that is, and will continue to, radically change the way we work, the way we live, and the way we communicate with each other. This is the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution.
The first industrial revolution used coal and water to make steam to mechanize. The second industrial revolution used electricity to mass mechanize and mass produce. The third industrial revolution leveraged electricity to bring about the rise of electronics both to miniaturize (microprocessors) and automate (automatons and robots). The fourth industrial revolution includes technology breakthroughs like machine learning, IoT, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and many more. And what powers all of this? Data. Need more proof of the value data will play? IDC predicts that by 2027, data will be something that can be valued on a company’s balance sheet.
What really makes this unprecedented is the speed and scope of the changes occurring during this revolution. The speed of which this is happening is exponential compared to previous industrial revolutions. The advancements in cognitive and machine learning alone are literally happening at inhuman speeds. The scope is much broader as well. It is impacting and disrupting just about every industry and doing so in just about all parts of the world.
The overwhelming potential of this to positively impact society, including both the global economy and the quality of life for all of us, is massive. Think about all the benefits data can have on society globally. It can help understand and defeat diseases and minimize impacts from injuries. It can help anticipate and prevent crime. It can improve educational performance and outcomes of students. It can help prevent conflicts and instability. It can help reduce racial profiling and make people aware of the importance of cognitive diversity and harmony. It can help protect our heritage, help solve global warming, help sustain natural systems and resources, and prevent extinctions, even our own.
Sure, there are downsides with this speed and scope, including things that need to get broader attention like data compliance, governance, and the ethical usage of data. One of the biggest concerns is the fuel that drives these innovations (data) is something we are becoming increasingly dependent on leveraging. In many situations, too much emphasis is placed on the technology alone. Technology is not the lifeblood of the fourth industrial revolution, it is the people who are interacting with the technology and the data inputted and outputted from it. It is imperative people have the right skills. This requires more people to be able to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data.
One other reason this is unprecedented is because the right skills needed are a combination of both hard skills and soft skills. People at all levels of an organization, in all parts of the globe, need to have the hard skills to understand data, including how to visualize and interpret it. They also need to be able to use soft skills to challenge data with problem solving, think critically and collaboratively to avoid bias, they need to be able to make systemic data-informed decisions, and then be able to communicate those decisions using data to their stakeholders.
This is all moving so much faster than previous industrial revolutions have that organizations, including businesses and schools, are behind and need to catch up fast. The set of skills required are lacking. Institutions that educate on the comprehensive set of skills as a unified curriculum are few and far between.