The new buzz in business publications, seminars, webinars and other business media is all about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While we have all seen these buzz phrases come and go, this one looks to have some staying power.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used fossil fuels and electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. The Fourth is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

The transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced, especially in the speed of change. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: it’s here and it is roaring through all societies across the planet, from high tech nations like the U.S., Japan and Europe to the developing world of Africa, Asia and South America.

Now we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another (think Facebook). Its revolutionary flag/symbol should be the “smart phone” that we hold in our hands more than any other tool we use. The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge are unlimited.

Things to Come

Our industry is not immune from this revolution. Think about construction in terms of emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science and energy storage.

There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of the Fourth, distinct from the past in terms of its velocity, scope and systems impact.

The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. It is disrupting almost every industry in every country. The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance.

This may be the first time we’ve talked about this revolution, but when you sit and think about it, you know that it is all around you and we’ll be talking about it more and more.

By Brandon Pensick, ECA President
Email: [email protected]