The Davos Forum, the global market of ideas and trends that every January brings together world leaders in the Swiss resort of the same name, has already announced that 2016 edition will be dedicated to analyzing the challenges and uncertainties brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which we are currently immersed. Klaus Schwab, the founder and president of the Forum, believes that the combination of mobile and ubiquitous Internet, smaller, cheaper and more powerful sensors, and artificial intelligence will make this Fourth Industrial Revolution substantially different from the three previous versions. According to Schwab, its main distinguishing features are its speed, its size and the force with which it will completely transform the systems of production, distribution and consumption. The founder of the Davos Forum also raises the possibility that it will redefine “what it means to be human”. If this should happen, I propose taking refuge from the breakneck speed of change in the existentialism of Sartre, who believed that human beings were responsible for their actions and built their essence with their acts.
Wolfgang Wahlster, director of the German research center into artificial intelligence and scientific adviser to Angela Terkel, explained in a forum held in Bilbao in summer 2015 how his country is tackling the transition from a traditional model of industrial production to another dominated by sensors and robots. Before an audience packed with researchers, engineers and managers, Wahlster identified this Fourth Industrial Revolution and described its real effects on German labor markets. Wahlster explained to the audience that German industry had already agreed with the trade unions that when a worker had to take leave or go on holiday he or she would be replaced by an emergency robot and not by another worker.
Germany foresaw the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2006 when it outlined its high-tech strategy which was ratified in 2011 with the help of a group of business leaders, politicians and academics who were concerned with the way in which the Internet of Things (IoT) would affect the country’s industrial future. Headed by Bosch, the multinational, they formed a workgroup to help them create a common framework for the application of new technologies in industry. This group received the name Industrie 4.0 and set out to discover what life would be like in the new factories, where all the processes are connected thanks to the IoT. This concept was invented by the Briton Kevin Ashton in 1999 in the MIT Auto-ID Center. It brings Internet to the physical world and enables the interconnectivity between all everyday or industrial objects by means of sensors.
The Serbian scientist, inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) already foresaw the connection between objects in an interview with the magazine Colliers in 1926. Tesla predicted: “When wireless is perfectly applied, the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain… and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple”. This man with his prodigious mind, who was reviled for many years, also wrote: “A simple and inexpensive device, readily carried about, will enable one to receive on land or sea the principal news, to hear a speech, a lecture, a song or play of a musical instrument, conveyed from any other region of the globe”.
Unlike the Third Industrial Revolution which emerged at the end of the 20th century thanks to the application of the new information technologies to the automation of industrial processes, this Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by allowing machines and humans to work in the same space with the tools of the virtual world of Internet.
The IoT revolution
In addition to sharing workspaces with robots, the hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the IoT (Internet of Things). The interconnectivity of everyday objects will fill the world with sensors that will collect massive amounts of information on our lives. The analysis of this tsunami of data (Big Data) will make it possible to obtain behavior patterns, which will be extremely valuable for consumer companies. The connectivity of objects will have a major impact on our daily lives, on labor relations, on the world of business, on traffic, on the management of infrastructures, on education, on security, on health and on everything under the sun.
In the domestic sphere Apple already allows switches and lights to be integrated with the iPhone, and managed by the highly effective Siri. Before long, our homes will recognize us as we walk through the door, and switch on the lights or the air-conditioning.
There are currently over 9 billion connected devices in the world, generating 2.5 trillion units of data each day. Their analysis and subsequent sale represents the creation of a new market, which experts estimate will be worth 1.5 billion euros within five years.
The multinational IBM has already announced its decision to install its business unit for the Internet of Things in the German city of Munich. According to this IT giant, this new innovation laboratory –which will house around one thousand developers, consultants, researchers and designers– will be used by data scientists, engineers and programmers to build a new generation of connected solutions.
In Spain the IoT is closely linked to smart cities and to the funds that Europe has been dedicating to developing the smart cities sector since 2010. In 2014, the turnover in our country for this item was 2.575 billion euros, although this figure is expected to exceed 14 billion in ten years.
In the field of healthcare, research by the Madrid Polytechnic University with patients with neurocognitive degeneration made it possible to monitor them as they performed several routine tasks by means of sensors connected to the plates or toothbrushes they use every day. The remote tracking of the use of objects connected by these patients is highly efficient for calibrating medication in Alzheimer’s sufferers or for understanding the duration of its effects.
Journalist at the R&D&I department of Canal de Isabel II