The 4th Industrial Revolution: 10 World-Shifting Technological Predictions for the 2020s
What is the 4th Industrial Revolution?
The 4th Industrial Revolution is easily understood when compared to previous industrial revolutions. The 1st Industrial Revolution took place during the agricultural revolution — it allowed civilization to take the leap from a nomadic lifestyle to one with permanent settlements. The 2nd Industrial Revolution came about with the invention of the steam engine — this embedded human civilization with heavy machine leverage and changed the face of work forever. The 3rd Industrial Revolution is marked by the proliferation of information technologies: social media, the internet, the transistor — this allowed civilization to harness the capabilities of digital and information technologies. The 4th Industrial Revolution comprises of intersecting and emerging technologies in the realms of gene editing, advanced cybernetics, AI, blockchain, XR (a catch-all term for AR/VR/MR meaning “Extended Reality”), nanotechnology, materials science, space technology, robotics, synthetic biology, 3D printing, IoT, 5G, and hyperautomation — this will allow human civilization to take full control over some of nature’s most foundational systems (ex: the human genome, intelligence, neuropsychology, biological sensory perception, among many many others).
1. Ubiquitous Computing
Ubiquitous computing is the idea that computing will be involved in nearly every task, and in nearly every object. This is apparent when taking a glimpse at the current landscape of emerging technologies: IoT, blockchain, 5g, quantum computing, hyperautomation, and nanotechnology. In order to optimize these technologies’ benefits, we need to make predictions in dynamic settings, within various systems, such as: networking, genomics, physics, ecology, neuroscience, sociology, geopolitics, etc. These systems are ubiquitous in nature — their digital data counterparts thus, must be collected ubiquitously as well.
2. Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs)
Brain computer interfaces will be a great leap forward in the evolution of humanity, by allowing humans to perceive and manipulate the digital — and by allowing machines to enhance our biological hardware. BCI’s — like Neuralink — are already allowing monkeys to play video games with their minds, with plans to allow humans to control a digital device similarly. Coupled with sensory augmentation technologies, devices like Neuralink could potentially enable us to experience the world around us in whole new ways: we could travel through VR and AR experiences in our mind; cure mental illness; cure sadness; upload thoughts to a cloud; enable AI-human symbiosis (in turn, allowing humans to have the predictive power of advanced AI, or even AGI, systems); and much more.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Virtual and augmented reality technologies — also known as XR (eXtended Reality) — are now becoming more popular, especially with cheaper (yet great-quality) headsets, such as the Oculus Quest 2, hitting the market. There has historically been a lot of hype about these technologies; for its implementation is poised to change the fabric of socioeconomics, education, and recreation. An XR “metaverse” is a theoretical (yet plausible) virtual economy that allows users to participate in social experiences, games, and other virtual experiences; grow and participate in market economies of scale; and is an open platform — in other words: live in a customizable matrix. See “The Oasis” in the movie, Ready Player One, for a depiction of what such a world may look like.
Nanotechnology encapsulates any technology that operates at the nanoscale — 1 billionth of a meter, to 100 billionths of a meter. At these scales, problems dealing with biology become more mechanical and programmable. Applications of nanotechnology range from self-assemblying nanostructures, quantum dot computers, materials science, health nanorobotics, gene-editing nanorobotics, nanorobotic BCIs, ecological nanorobotics, etc.
5. Human Cybernetics
Human cybernetics will be made more feasible as human control systems are being more closely understood through neurobiology, AI, and robotics; as well as many others. One example of human cybernetics, that is generally not viewed as such (its ethics are in question), is social media’s AI algorithms. These algorithms capture data from user activity, then changes the data it shows the user — in order to optimize for KPIs, such as ad clicks or time spent on the platform. The AI algorithms are, in effect, creating a human control system to influence the actions of humans based on inputs. However, human cybernetics doesn’t have to be all evil manipulation. It will also be used to enhance human systems relating to cognition, movement, perception, emotion, health, etc. Thus, the globally beneficial value of human cybernetics is in exosuits, mech suits, BCIs, AI-human interaction, prosthetics, sensory augmentation, etc.
6. World’s First AGI (Artificial General Intelligence)
Companies like SingularityNET are already paving the way to Artificial General Intelligence. Put simply, it’s JARVIS from Iron Man. In all seriousness, it is pretty much the same: an AI system with the ability to analyze, interpret, and predict across all domains; a generalist. This is being made possible with advances in computing hardware and software, advances in AIOps (tech that enhances design, development, testing, training, and deployment of AI systems), advances in data management tools, and a global entrepreneurial spirit. AGI will be able to solve problems that seem virtually impossible, such as aging, terraforming, governance, economics, etc; and expose us to a plethora of concepts and ideas that we would never even think of. AGI will change the technological acceleration of humanity — by automating everything that humans do, and forcing us to reconsider what it means to be human, in the age of the technological singularity.
7. Quantum Computing
Quantum computing is a branch of computing that uses quantum phenomenon — such as entanglement and superposition — for computation. This will allow computational methods that are billions-fold more efficient than conventional methods. Thus, breaking RSA encryption — which relies on the cost of prime factorization on very large numbers, in order to securely encrypt data. Many applications of quantum computing are unknown, but there is much research being done in quantum networks, quantum AI algorithms, physics simulations, and optimization. Only time will tell which great innovations will stand on the shoulders of quantum computing.
8. 3D Printing
3D printing is a process of additive manufacturing that involves using 3D models to print 2D shapes, layer by layer (vertically, generally) — inevitably resulting in the 3D shape of the model. 3D printing is currently being researched and pioneered in the biological printing of organs, buildings, metal, and rockets. As the use of 3D printing becomes more prevalent in society, users will be able to manufacture and automate the manufacturing of many everyday objects, as well as more easily prototype new technologies — further advancing the pace of technological innovation.
9. The Intelligent Automation Market
As AI and hyperautomation spearhead the 2020s, the intelligent automation industry (the intersection of AI and RPA technologies) is expected to grow into a behemoth of an industry, in size. With this, I expect a flood of entrepreneurship opportunity in the form of providing services and products surrounding intelligent automation systems, such as: data models, datasets, AI models, automation pipelines, predictive services, automated services, etc. I predict we will soon see many more Prediction-As-A-Service, RPA-As-A-Service, and Compute-As-A-Service software companies in the next few years.
With the rise in interest surrounding cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, there seems to be a causal rise in mistrust in governments and institutions, on the global level. With big companies and countries going all in on crypto and blockchain technologies, the time appears to be near a cyberpunk technological battle for power between technologists and institutions. A very interesting time to be alive.