Human history has been a web of revolutions. From the times when thought and life seemed to stand still in the early modern world (except for local wars and disease that wiped out populations) to an era when we had the advent of the industrial revolution in the UK in the 1760s, the pace of change has been slow and gradual.
Machines, thought increasingly accorded a predominant place in our lives, were not in a position to conquer or enslave us.
The dominant control remained with the human mind and volition, even as the hard labour and of course, calculation, was outsourced to machines. However, our freedom could be in danger.
Today, the world is fast converging to a virtual DOT, where the virtual controls the physical and in academic circles, the human race is just five years into what is being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Recorded to have been coined in 2010 at an industrial fair at Hanover in Germany, the term encompasses the principles that will govern factory production in this century at a global level.
Major upheavals are on the way and India, which has never really industrialised in the traditional ‘explosive’ sense of the term, could actually be in a position to benefit from this wave, at least.
Most of the changes envisaged as part of the revolution are already happening and some are an integral part of our lifestyle.
The use of internet to communicate, for instance; today life is grossly unimaginable without email, texting or video for instance, even in the remotest parts of the country.
The fourth revolution sees an even greater role for the internet and speaks of the fusion of the virtual and the physical in the factories of the future.
Factories of future
With increasing ‘virtualisation’ of the physical world, there are five design principles that will govern the working of the factories of the future.
Management of machines will become more important than taking care of humans; almost all factories will become virtual and processes will be designed in a manner so that online monitoring is possible; at workplaces, power will be de-centralised and humans or at least human intervention will become almost irrelevant; service orientation to machines (mind you) will be the only work worth doing and all systems will have to be modular and flexible.
An advantage of the increasing virtualisation of the physical is the enormous savings in time and manual labour that results. The flipside is job losses.
When everything is automated, where is the constant need to keep watch and monitor the production process?
So, the job of a human manager could well be the first major casualty of the 4th revolution.
This is already happening with en masse job losses at major firms – whether in banking, technology or financial services –a routine occurrence buried in the inside pages.
This is a note of caution for policy makers around the world to redesign the education system, think of new business policies and in short, prepare the human race to be relevant, 50 years from now.