The 4th Industrial Revolution: can development be regulated?
The phrase «Graecum est; non legitur» was common in Latin-speaking countries during the Middle Age. It is said that this is where the phrase «That‘s Greek to me» derived from -a phrase first appearing, in this form, in 1599, in “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare.
The Greek version of the phrase (“this is Chinese”) is very familiar to all Greeks-unfortunately as a philosophy as well: it shows that we are unable to understand anything too complicated, and so it is not even worth trying.
The term “4th Industrial Revolution” (aka “Industry 4.0” or “I 4.0” or “4IR” or “I.4”) was not that appealing to me.
I realized (thankfully, not too late) that this term entails a true cosmogony.evelopments (more or less) familiar, as well as completely unknown. Terms that could make someone quite easily say that “this is Chinese”, stating their indifference, maybe that this all is not worth their time and, simultaneously, quitting. Could this be too risky?
ΙΙ. The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The first industrial revolution, which started in the late 18th century in Britain, was identified by the industrial utilization of machines, the power of water and steam. The second, late 19th century, was identified by mass production, assembly lines and utilization of electricity. The third (late 20th century) by the utilization of electronics and information technology.
What about the fourth, that just started?
4IR reinforces what came to be called as “smart factory”. Cyber-Physical Systems monitor and supervise physical processes taking place within “smart” factories, create a virtual copy of the natural world and take decentralized decisions. Cyber-Physical Systems communicate and cooperate with humans, as well as (autonomously) with each other in real time. The technology used is constantly improving with the introduction of self-improvement, self-management, self-testing, artificial intelligence and smart employee support.
Nonetheless, it seems that 4IR’s content is infinite. Its limits have already gone way beyond the limits of factories. Even the smart ones. And, according to Alec Ross («Industries of the future”, 2016): “The coming era of globalization will unleash a wave of technological, economical, andsociological change as consequential as the change that shook my hometown in the 20th century and thechanges brought on by the Internet and digitization as I was leaving college 20 years ago. Try to imagine a breakthrough in sectors of business so different from each other, as are life sciences, finance, war and agriculture, and be sure that someone is already trying to come up with it and make it marketable”. Since then, three years have already passed. Some of these changes are crystal clear. Some others already parts of our daily lives.
Furthermore: 4IR has already blurred the boundaries between the natural, biological and digital world.
ΙΙΙ. Technologies constituting 4IR and the (cosmogonic) changes that come from it
In a brief article like the present one could obviously simply not reference all technologies constituting 4IR, not even mention a sufficient number of them – even more so someone who is not an expert in the field. The same goes for the cosmogonic changes brought on and affecting industrial manufacturing, services (financial or other), the economy, society, human relations -and so many more.
One could only indicatively make some references, and those being only briefly mentioned in the present – as a foretaste:
Internet of Things (ΙοΤ): IoT is a network through which “smart” devises or objects communicate (e.g. cars, electronical domestic appliances, watches, clothes) incorporating electronical means, software, sensors and access to a network, allowing them to interconnect and exchange data. The philosophy behind IoT focuses on the interconnection of all electronical appliances via a Local Area Network and/or the World Wide Web. When more objects operate jointly, it is said that they have ambient intelligence. IoT makes it possible for specific “smart” appliances and objects to exchange valuable information for meeting specific needs as best as possible, as well as, under specific circumstances, acquire unitary computing power.
Robotics: The field of robotics is one implementation of automation. Robotics’ objective is to study, design and realize robots as well as conduct research for their further improvement. A robot, according to a definition given by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) is “a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks”. Robots are not used today solely for industrial manufacturing, but they have multiple other applications (indicatively: medical and domestic use).
Virtual Reality (VR): VR is a method used to visualize and process complicated data. VR users can interact with each other using computers, create the illusion they exist in a virtual environment and, worth mentioning, under circumstances have the ability to wander and interact with said environment.
Augmented Reality: Augmented Reality technology is the one augmenting the natural world with digital elements. It is mostly used in mobile appliances, depicting the natural world while augmenting it with digital elements (texts, sounds, videos). The combination of a camera with an image-indicator or even with a mobile appliance’s GPS system, make possible the projection of additional data of the image or the geographical location respectively, creating an information-wise augmented end result. The data provided can be perceived either from the mobile devises’ screens or via special augmented reality glasses.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is the field of computer science, which deals with designing smart (intelligent) computing systems, meaning systems that show characteristics of human intelligence and conduct. The classic/symbolic AI is based on understanding mental processes and simulating human intelligence by approaching it with algorithms and systems based on knowledge, building on symbols (e.g. systems of rules). Computational intelligence or connectionist or non-symbolic/subsymbolic is based on imitating the biological function of a human brain, much like the process of species evolution or brain function (e.g. neuronal networks and genetic algorithms).
Digital transformation: Digital transformation is the incorporation and utilization of digital technology in all the operational aspects of a business, aiming to a rapid enhancement of its performance.
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): DLT is a tool for recording ownership – it could for example show the ownership of money or other assets, like immovable property. A distributed ledger is a database which, instead of being kept in a central location, it is distributed in a network of computers. The users of the computers with access to the network, depending on the licenses they hold, are able to access the information and/or add data. The most common DLT is the blockchain technology.
Blockchain: Blockchain is the most common type of Distributed Ledger Technology. Its name comes from the fact that transactions are grouped together, in order to form “blocks”, which are connected to each other in chronological order, forming a “chain”. The “chain” is protected in its entirety by complex mathematical algorithms, aiming to ensure the integrity and safety of the data. This chain is a complete recording of all the transactions recorded in the database. The most known application of blockchain is the creation and circulation of cryptocurrencies, as well as the accommodation of transactions entailing cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is said to be bringing changes more significant than those of the creation and broad use of the internet.
Smart Contract: Smart Contracts are programs (codes) that are automatically activated and executed under specified conditions. The relevant procedure is recorded in a blockchain. This way the data put in a smart contract cannot be changed or disputed. Smart contracts offer safety and minimize costs.
Platform economy: Trade tends more towards digital business platforms by the day. Platforms are electronical computing systems that can host services which allow the consumers, businessmen, businesses and wider audience to connect, share resources or sell projects.
Share (or sharing) economy: Utilizing share (or sharing) economy and using the proper technological platform facilitate easy contact and transactions (in exchange for a fee or not) amongst the interested parties (e.g. owner of an apartment which is not being used, a parking spot not needed or an ancient Greek teacher with time to spare and, respectively, of those interested in receiving these services). The results of an economy operating this way is cheaper and more efficient services for those choosing to use them (as those offered by Beat, Uber or Airbnb).
Digital energy: Approaching energy digitally rapidly changes concepts like saving, consumption, storing and producing electrical energy. This approach is possible with the help of technology, computing, data analysis and digital means. The end consumer is turned from a passive “payer of bills” into a smart receiver of digital services by their energy provider. For example, the consumers in some European countries (UK, the Netherlands, Germany) are able to store in domestic batteries cheap energy from RES or cheap electricity from an electricity network (e.g. with night charges or from cheap zones) and use it during other times of the day to cover possible overcharges of the network, when the market price of KWh gets high or there is high demand from the network.
Digital health: Digital health is the convergence of digital technologies and health, healthcare, living and society, with the goal to more efficiently offer healthcare and, in the end, more personalized and effective therapy. It entails the use of communications, information and specialized technologies. These technologies entail, among others, software solutions and services, mobile devices and/or remote monitoring sensors.
Biotechnology: Biotechnology is the sum of technical processes that focus on the best possible utilization and use of the traits of living matter (either that of organisms or their components -e.g. enzymes), aiming to increase the production of products already produced and the creation or production of new ones, with a substantial added value and importance for humanity.
Neurotechnology: Neurotechnology is the technology which allows us to understand the function of the human brain, consciousness and thought. Neural networks, on the other hand, are the result of the merger of biological intelligence and mechanical intelligence and usually referrs to the connection between the human brain and computers.
Drones: They are internationally known as UAS (:Unmanned Aircraft System) or UAV (:Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems). The Greek Civil Aviation Authority uses the term UAS. UAS are unmanned flying machines. Their size varies, from very small (size of a game drone) to that of a proper airplane. Instead of a pilot, there is a “handler” who either drives it from the ground (remote control) or programs its route before the flight, so it moves automatically, following the flight route already specified (“self-steering” – they are flown by the “electronic orders” program, which is loaded on their memory beforehand and is executed during the flight). Their use is already quite extended: for peaceful purposes or not.
3D Printing: 3D Printing is a method of making objects by consecutively adding successive layers of a material. 3D Printers are mainly used for manufacturing tangible models and prototypes by designers, engineers and new product development teams. Nonetheless, they are already used for printing parts, spares and bigger constructions by using different materials and different machines and physical properties.
IV. 4IR and the (necessary) regulations
With all those (often completely elusive) changes happening all around, one could justifiably wonder: Which legal system, regulatory environment, rules apply when a dispute arises from those new technologies (with only some of them having been mentioned above)? According to which law are the (surely) hundreds of thousands relevant questions arising answered -those questions that could justifiably be asked to a lawyer? And who would be the right lawyer?
It is more than obvious that the answer to those questions does not exist: when the cognoscenti find it quite difficult to follow the rapid developments of technology (and we, in our ignorance, only occasionally and struggling when trying) no one could ever think of a proper regulatory environment -an applicable law that would holistically address the issue. Simply put: nothing of the sort exists.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that complete inaction is justified. The changes happening, e.g. in finance, in economy and in our lives from the implementation of blockchain are mind-blowing. Indicatively: cryptocurrency transactions (the most known of which: bitcoin), conversions, either between cryptocurrencies or between cryptocurrencies and currencies more known and accepted, the acceptance of bitcoin (by specific countries) as a means of payment is now a fact. Passing the appropriate regulations for the protection of transactions and the ones transacting is nothing but a deadlock. Some countries have already moved or are moving towards that direction. Let us all watch what is happening internationally and (need be and up to a level) let us copy the innovators.
V. In conclusion
The changes that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution are cosmogonic and do not only regard production and factories -they regard, directly and literally, all our everyday lives.
If we manage to go past our inability or denial to understand what is happening and we stop giving up by saying “this is Chinese”, we can listen and pay attention to what the experts are saying -as much as each of us can.
Even more so, what we must do, even ex-post, even if we struggle trying to follow the rapid developments, is to ensure the passing of (nonexistent today) proper regulations: in a national and an international level.
For the assistance of the healthy development of our country.
For the protection of the transactions and those conducting them.
For our, in the end, protection and benefit.
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (September 29th, 2019) and in Capital.gr.