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Down To Earth Magazine: How Real is 4IR?

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  • The role of technology is going to be significant in a country like India, which is resource-crunched. That’s why the country is fast adopting 4IR technologies, compared to many developed countries.
  • There have been many such examples, including the way we have monitored vaccination programmes and built up the digital healthcare ecosystem.


How critical the 4IR is for India?


  • The centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in India (C4IR) was established in October 2018 to focus on the role of emerging technologies across different sectors and to plug the challenges that will emanate as we go through this journey.
  • There are three pillars that it work on. The first is the 4IR technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain and others.
  • The second focus is on public-private cooperation. India recently announced drone services, an area where it works with the Centre and several state governments.
  • The third pillar is a multi-stakeholder partnership.


Ecosystem for 4IR in India


  • When we talk about the role of technology in various sectors, we have to look at all the pieces together—government, industries, start-ups, civil society, and consumers—for inclusiveness.
  • The overall focus is to bring in greater social good by leveraging technologies.
  • India has a well-thought-out ecosystem of data.The Centre has developed a data ecosystem through a platform approach such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and Aadhaar.
  • There are upcoming platforms as well, such as the one on logistics announced in the budget.
  • There are other pillars that we are still building up. One is building skills and capacity. India is well placed because of its position in the services sector.
  • Within the skills part, India has a substantial young population and an education system capable of producing the required skill sets. There is also the intent to make it really big in terms of scale. We are working closely to address the concerns around safety, security and biases.


Divided Opinions on 4IR


  • Ever since, the concept has divided the world over its utility and its impact on our future. On the one hand, a group of technologists, who call themselves futurists, claim that artificial intelligence and other associated technologies will enhance human beings in the future.
  • It is believed that artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence by 2029 and that humans will merge their intelligence with artificial intelligence by 2045, increasing it a billion fold – a time when the digital, physical and biological will become one.
  • On the other hand, many social theorists and economists believe that humanity may be moving towards a dystopian future, where corporations and the rich will use technology to deny work to many, and it would lead to social strife, conflicts and greater inequality.
  • According to social theorists, 4IR an ideology emanating from the need for global corporations to repair the economic consequences arising from the third industrial revolution.


Is 4IR Real?


  • Many experts worldwide argue that there is not enough substantive transformation happening right now to be called a fourth industrial revolution (4IR).  According to them, it has been introduced as an ideological concept to revive a flagging third industrial revolution.
  • The current innovation cycle is not new. The relationship between machine intelligence and robotics was formulated in the 1980s, if not earlier.
  • The ideology is telling us that we have got a revolution on our hands, and this is completely false because those processes are deeply rooted in history and were established a long time ago.
  • The word disruption is also a little bit overblown. Coined by economic historian Joseph Schumpeter in the 20th century, the idea behind the term was that somehow from within the economy, forces are produced that make the economy disrupt itself.
  • From the economic point of view, it is an important concept, but when you translate that into a concept that is about the way people live their lives, the world runs into problems.
  • In 2016, when Klaus Schwab introduced the world to the notion of a 4IR, almost immediately, social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin published a piece refuting the entire concept.


How 4IR might lead to further inequality?


  • What is clear is that the past three industrial revolutions have increased socio-economic inequality.
  • Even in the past 10 years, wealth gaps within countries and in between countries have increased radically, and that is going to only increase further, as per all economic statistical accounts.
  • As fast as technology grows, the wealth gaps grow. The control and benefits of technological innovations in the digital technology universe are in the hands of the elites.


4IR will lead to job losses!


  • The World Economic Forum argues that the 4IR will lead to job losses because of automation, but a whole bunch of new jobs will also be created by the information technology universe.
  • If we look at certain employment statistics, we will see that more and more people are being forced into the service sector, and that sector is the domain of unstable precarious work.
  • So the rise in precarious work is what is happening now and will continue to happen in the future as 4IR technologies become available.
  • There is something interesting in the recent International Labour Organization documents that say most employed people around the world live below the poverty line.
  • Most people who have jobs are not gaining enough from those forms of employment. During the so-called 4IR, the inequality gaps are growing, and that is unequivocal, whether we talk about the UK, India or Ethiopia.

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