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The World Economic Forum Was Talking About the Future of Work and You Really Need to Know Why


I wrote this blog post around the middle of March, just at the cusp of the COVID-19 lockdown that put us all in our homes. It’s been sitting in my draft folder for the past six weeks. It seems that this post is more relevant now than it was then.

At the time of writing, I was closely following the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020. The main threads of the conversations and sessions were on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of work. I saw the writing on the wall. But I didn’t realize how the global pandemic would so rapidly shift us into that world …

We sit and read the news and wonder where this whole thing is going. What will happen to my job? What will happen to our city? Will things ever get back to normal?

Meantime some big changes are quietly being implemented: monthly income by the government, economic bailouts, tech companies exploding in revenues, and the entire planet pretty much working from home, for those who still have their jobs.

We are in the throes of a major geo-political and socio-economic shift that has been coming for a number of years.

And with all things, this shift will create opportunities and challenges. As Al Gore poses in his book entitled simply The Future, how can you be on the right side of change?

The Next Revolution That Is Changing Everything

Have you ever googled ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’? The Fourth Industrial Revolution was all over Davos in January at the 2020 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. And if you haven’t heard about it, then keep reading because right now a massive technological revolution is taking place that is changing the landscape of business, work, education, social and economic structures, and even geopolitics.

And if it sounds serious, it is.

We are entering a fourth industrial revolution that will look radically different from anything we have ever seen in the past.

It is changing how you work, what you do for work, what businesses will thrive and which ones will dive.

It will send millions without work, while creating jobs that right now don’t even exist.

This is not the far future, this is not ten years from now—it is right now!

Let me explain this further.

Where Did the Term Fourth Industrial Revolution Come From?

The term ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ was coined by Klaus Schwab in a 2015 Foreign Affairs article.

Klaus Schwab is the founder of the World Economic Forum—the supra-national think tank that shapes international policies and facilitates collaboration between Fortune 500 companies and powerful political and economic interest groups. The Annual Meeting in Davos Switzerland is a who’s who of global power that helps set the agenda for global strategic policy along with other high profile think tanks. So when the World Economic Forum makes predictions it’s important to pay attention: while they are predicting the future they are designing it.

But let’s get back to the 2015 Foreign Affairs article by Mr. Schwab.

Schwab’s article is titled, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means and How to Respond. In that article, Schwab outlines the four distinct industrial revolutions throughout history:

  • The first industrial revolution used water and steam to power mechanization.
  • The second used electric power to create mass production.
  • The third used electronics and information technology to automate production.
  • The fourth industrial revolution, where we are today according to Schwab, “is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

The main components of the fourth industrial revolution are the GRIN technologies: Genetics, Robotics, Information, Nanotechnology, out of which spring technologies like:

  • Genetic engineering
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • The Internet of Things
  • Cybersecurity
  • Codification of money
  • Big data

Robotics will have a big impact on jobs as the efficiency and intelligence of robots increase and simply overpower human physical and intellectual capabilities. And it’s not only manual labour that will be impacted but even areas of finance, law, and medicine.

What You Need to Know About Exponential Growth

What makes this revolution totally unpredictable and disruptive is the exponential growth of the technologies that drive it. Observe the graph below:

Image by Ray Kurzweil, found in The Singularity is Near

In the Exponential Growth of Computing model above, we see the speed and exponential power of computers growing and reaching a point at which computing power will equal and exceed that of all combined human brains.

Image by Ray Kurzweil

In this model above, we see a timeline of computer performance relative to the power of one human brain and then all human brains and beyond. Kurzweil projects computer power is close to that of one human brain already.

What’s disruptive about exponential growth is that a set of technological breakthroughs can rapidly change the entire make up of society within months. And that’s because new technologies are built by already advanced technologies. This is where you get exponential spikes: when advanced technologies beget more advanced technologies. So now the kind of change that took 100 years in the past, now takes six months.

Exponential Growth Equals Disruption—of Everything

One thing is clear: exponential growth equals disruption. And what we’re seeing is disruptive technological advancement radically changing the landscape of businesses, careers, jobs, government, and education.

Klaus Schwab adds, “[The Fourth Industrial Revolution] is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

This is staggering, but check out how this disruption is and will take place …

Yuval Harari and the Rise of the Useless Class

Yuval Harari is considered “one of the greatest intellects of the 21st Century.” (I don’t know where one achieves such a title, but there it is.) His three books (Sapiens, Homo Deus, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century) are all bestsellers, selling millions of copies and translated into a plethora of languages.

Harari has written extensively on the promises and perils of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Harari warns that robots will replace millions of jobs in the next few years.

In an address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January 2020, Harari explains that,

“Automation will soon eliminate millions upon millions of jobs. And while new jobs will certainly be created, it is unclear whether people will be able to learn the necessary new skills fast enough.

Harari’s concern is that while there will be new jobs created by Industry 4.0 (another name for the fourth industrial revolution), people may not be able to reinvent themselves fast enough to make a necessary transition, let alone multiple times to keep up with a rapidly changing world. Harari continues,

“The automation revolution will not be a single watershed event following which the job market will settle down into a new equilibrium. Rather it will be a cascade of ever bigger disruptions because AI is nowhere near its full potential.”

If you run the scenario further into the future, the struggle of the future worker is not exploitation, according to Harari, but what he calls “uselessness.”

“People [will not be] useless to their family and friends,” Harari states, “but useless from the viewpoint of the economic political system.”

Therefore, as Harari describes painfully well in his dystopian book Homo Deus (a book I have covered in another blog post) the Fourth Industrial Revolution threatens to create a two-tiered global socio-economic system of elites and peasantry that he calls “exploited data colonies.”

And Harari takes this seriously, warning people like you and me to do what we can to stop this industrial revolution from creating such a system.

But at this point, I’m not sure what resistance would look like …

I find Harari disquietingly aloof and even fatuous when he makes such claims as there will be a “useless class.” In his latest book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari sharply paints a glum view of the world—a world that for him somehow exists without God. And out of that vacuous worldview he laces the last part of the book with platitudes like “know yourself”–for in a meaningless void like planet Earth, the only meaning you can actually grasp onto is that which you somehow create yourself.

Harari really pushes my buttons—but he certainly doesn’t bore me. And while I disagree with the bulk of his foundational claims about the world, God, and human existence, his understanding of where the future is going technologically remains prescient in spite of being unflinchingly cold and dystopian.

Such prescience is probably why he was paraded around Davos this past January talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of work—he knows something most people don’t.

But Harari’s not the only voice in town …

There are others who see in these changes opportunities to be a part of something great—to make BOLD changes to your life. And while the message may have some similar nuances to Harari’s, somehow it sounds more uplifting …

Peter Diamandis Thinks Bold Is the Only Way to Go

People like Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil see nothing but opportunity for extraordinary breakthroughs in this new future. They see the Fourth Industrial Revolution finally making available the technologies necessary for bold projects to be realized.

In the book entitled BOLD, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler explain the potential to leverage new technologies into what they call “exponential entrepreneurship.”

Bold - Book“[To become an exponential entrepreneur] you’ll … need to understand the technologies and tools driving this change. These include exponential technologies like infinite computing, sensors and networks, 3-D printing, AI, robotics, and synthetic biology, and exponential organizational tools such as crowd funding, crowd sourcing, incentive competitions, and the potency of a properly built community.”

(Check out this blog post about Peter Diamandis and our own Master’s BOLD Challenge)

I enjoy watching and reading Peter Diamandis.

He has a boyish enthusiasm that is contagiously hopeful and optimistic.

He is full of ideas and has done some extraordinary things like starting an asteroid mining company. He has some strange beliefs about AI becoming the gods of our creation; but for the most part when I read, for instance, his book BOLD I just see a storehouse of great ideas and ways to make projects happen without getting bogged down in the his quasi transhumanistic worldview.

For instance, I find a quote like this from his book BOLD refreshing:

“The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” Trying out crazy ideas means bucking expert opinion and taking big risks. It means not being afraid to fail. Because you will fail. The road to bold is paved with failure, and this means having a strategy in place to handle risk and learn from mistakes is critical” (Peter Diamandis, BOLD).

And here’s another—something to think about when you’re sitting at home on your fourth re-run season of Seinfeld:

“Right now, and for the first time ever, a passionate and committed individual has access to the technology, minds, and capital required to take on any challenge” (Peter Diamandis, BOLD).

These are certainly ways to respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution: take risks, slough off fear of failure, and do what you dream of—and see the tools that are at your hands and continuously growing in strength and opportunity.

What You Need to Do to Prepare

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will present opportunities and challenges—and it will no doubt be disruptive to our current economic, social, and political system.

But I’m sure you’re asking yourself one big question:

What do I need to do to prepare for the changes and disruptions the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have on my career, my job, my business?

And how do I prepare my children? What skills do they need to prepare for the disruptions that will take place in the next 5 to 10 years?

In the next post, I will explain to you what the top skills of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are so that you can start preparing now.

And in another post, I will show you what your child needs to learn to be prepared.

Are you ready?

What do you think about the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Have you thought of it before? What skills do you think are necessary in this new industrial age?

Write us a comment below—we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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