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The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Work – Part 2

July 27, 2016

In my blog of 5 July, https://samiconsulting.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-and-the-future-of-work-part-1/, I previewed SAMI’s workshop on scenarios for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The Key Drivers of Change

Looking forward over the next 10-15 years, it is clear that rapid technological advances will drive significant change in the way we work, as well as the way we live. At the SAMI workshop on 6 July, we started by trying to identify the most significant influences – the “key drivers of change” in this period. Among the ones we identified were:

  • Generational differences – younger “digital Natives” will have very different attitudes, not only to IT, but also to work and organisational structures, and to how they share information online
  • Faster turnover in IT skills – need for constant education and re-education
  • Growing public awareness of the risks ahead – which will affect the take-up and use of new technologies
  • Increased inequality and polarisation – with the benefits of technological innovation not spread evenly
  • Artificial intelligence – AI’s influence growing, due to AI machines’ ability to “learn” from experience, and increase their autonomy
  • Immersive communications – new ways of using and interacting with technology
  • The effect of ICT – on all sectors of the economy, and the jobs and skills needed
  • Continued growth of the knowledge economy – trading in knowledge and information rather than physical products
  • Globalisation and blurring of political boundaries – likely to be increased by the ability of the knowledge economy to ignore physical boundaries and fiscal borders
  • Potential impact of terrorism and war affecting European cities

Scenarios

We went on to look at some possible scenarios for the future. Starting from the European Union’s current vision of the “Digital Single Market” – which envisages the EU, along with national governments improving digital access, designing “rules” for digital networks, and seeking to use digital as a driver for growth – we identified three similar, but slightly divergent alternative trajectories:

  1. A world in which strong government chooses to foster innovation and entrepreneurialism through a slightly more “hands-off” approach, leading to a disruptive and fast-changing economy within a managed infrastructure, with new market entrants and new business (and social) structures encouraged in the climate of innovation
  2. A more decentralised world in which governance and control is fragmented and/or delegated, and people have more choice and control over their own data, and alternate infrastructures exist
  3. A world where political boundaries and organisations weaken, and big corporations have increasing power, with smaller, local economies existing within the big corporates’ infrastructure

What was striking in each of these three scenarios – although they were developed by separate groups of people – was the degree of commonality across all of them. In every scenario, some key characteristics were evident, including:

  • The decline of traditional employment, and the rise of alternatives – self-employment, sessional employment, and the “gig” economy
  • Growing inequality, with more wealth accumulating in the top percentiles of earnings distribution, and downward pressure on the middle percentiles – possibly leading to…
  • greater social instability/loss of social cohesion
  • The difficulty of raising taxes to fund traditional government activities in a global knowledge economy, working against the desire of governments to manage transition in order to maintain social cohesion

Next Steps

We now plan to take the broad scenarios from the 6 July workshop and apply them to specific sectors of the economy and society. We will begin by looking at Government. We will blog on each of these scenarios as we develop them. Watch this space…….

Written by David Lye, SAMI Fellow

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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