The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting is well chosen: digitalization is bringing about a fourth industrial revolution which will profoundly change our world.
Among the key drivers of this transformation are the increased availability of data, ubiquitous connectivity, and the exponential growth in processing power.
Experts say a productivity increase of at least 30% is feasible. Yet the fourth industrial revolution is not yet on the agenda in many companies. It is therefore high time to raise awareness about its potential.
The opportunities are tremendous. Those who are embracing the change are fitting their machines with low-cost sensors, gathering data on every stage of the equipment’s life cycle. Access to this information is boosting productivity and efficiency, for instance by pre-empting service interruptions. Machines are interacting with other machines and with individual products, making production lines even more flexible.
And machines are starting to use the data they gather to teach themselves, taking the first steps toward artificial forms of intelligence. New business models and ultimately a new industrial landscape will result.
Driven by innovative technology companies such as ABB (IW 1000/106), however, the fourth industrial revolution presents opportunities that go far beyond industry. By helping to use energy and other raw materials more efficiently, this revolution can create the lower carbon economy demanded at the recent COP21 climate conference in Paris. And the huge gains in productivity can help to address other major challenges faced by society as well.
The fourth industrial revolution is therefore bringing changes to society as a whole. For this reason, a dialog involving leaders in politics, business, science and civil society is needed to realize its vast potential.
Dr. Ulrich Spiesshofer is CEO of ABB, a power and automation technologies manufacturer headquartered in Zurich.