E for emerging technologies

Anna Flach 7 February 2020

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally change society, business and the global transfer of value.

It is the fourth industrial revolution, and it’s happening right now. But what were the other three revolutions again?

  1. The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production.
  2. The second industrial revolution used electric power to create mass production.
  3. The third industrial revolution, also known as the digital revolution, used computing and information technology to automate production. It was a fundamental shift from analogue electronic to digital technology and the start of the information age.
  4. The fourth industrial revolution builds on the third by merging these technologies.

Industry 4.0 will disrupt our lives more than ever before. The last industrial revolution (1960-70) was a fundamental shift towards digital technology, which changed our means of communication from analogue to digital: via computers, mobile phones and the internet. Industry 4.0 will go a step further and connect computers with one another, and will ultimately enable them to make decisions without humans.

Ecosystem of emerging technologies

The fourth industrial revolution is the fusion of emerging technologies: artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data, internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, quantum computing and 5G.

These disruptive technologies and trends are at the core of the industrial revolution and will be integrated and used alongside each other.

In industry 4.0 physical, digital, and biological spheres are merging. According to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is considered a new era, rather than a continuation due to its disruptive nature and the speed of technological breakthroughs (2016).

A revolution of automation

The fourth industrial revolution promises to be a revolution of automation. Several of the developing technologies allow computers to take over many manual processes today: AI, machine learning, robotics, and last but not least, blockchain.

While blockchain brings many benefits, such as traceability and transparency, automation is at the core of what blockchain has to offer. Blockchain puts an end to tedious manual reconciliation of ledgers and repetitive tasks and reduces duplicating efforts between entities and therefore cost.

Distributed ledgers can be architected to incorporate business logic into the code, sometimes referred to as smart contracts. They allow for the system to make an action when a set of requirements is reached, e.g. if someone inputs a new identity into the database, it will automatically notify all parties, make a payment or any other action. This simple feature means much of the network can operate autonomously without complex technological input.

Big data as uniting factor

The amount of data being generated worldwide every day is growing at exponential rates, fuelled by connected devices and the internet of things. According to Raconteur (2019) each day globally 500 million tweets are sent, 294 billion emails delivered, 4 petabytes of data are created on Facebook, 4 terabytes of data are created from each connected car, 65 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp and 5 billion searches are made. By 2025, it’s estimated that 463 exabytes of data will be created each day globally!

Big data is the uniting factor when it comes to technologies of the fourth industrial revolution. Most emerging technologies are based on it: collecting large amounts of data (IoT), the need to store that data (blockchain), and deriving insights from analysing data (AI).

How blockchain and machine learning complement each other

Data clearly links different emerging technologies. And blockchain and machine learning, in particular, have a lot of potential when used in conjunction.

No human would be capable of analysing vast amounts of data – but computers can with artificial intelligence. The biggest reason for the breakthrough of AI is big data.

Both AI and blockchain work on the principle of storing and analysing vast amounts of data and solving industry-specific issues. Our prediction is that blockchain and AI will work hand in hand in future as the need for transparency and data security grows.

While AI can analyse data, blockchain brings the transparent and tamper-evident database to securely store the records. AI analytics work behind the scenes – and bear the risk to incorporate human biases in the code. Blockchain delivers certainty, traceability and data integrity to ensure the machine learning algorithm is based on the correct assumptions.

Thinking quite a few years ahead when this world may potentially be more decentralised, blockchain could support AI through individual ownership of data. Today, large organisations such as Facebook and Google own their users’ data, store it in a centralised, private database and can use it to their advantage (e.g. Cambridge Analytica). With self-sovereign identity made possible through shared ledgers, consumers are put in charge of their own digital identity, preventing companies from making money with their data without their consent.

In a different context, blockchain and AI can work together against cyber attacks. AI can bring insights and learnings about the patterns of the attackers. In a technologically decentralised world (which we essentially already live in) blockchain sets an end to the single point of failure by being distributed amongst nodes. Blockchain reduces the vulnerability of attack by putting an end to centralised databases.

All to say that by definition the fourth industrial revolution is the fusion of emerging technologies. They will indeed fulfil their true potential by working together, not alone.

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