The April21st- April 27th issue of The Economist is a must-read for anyone at all interested in the world of tomorrow. The changes of the last twenty years were staggering but they are going to be dwarfed by what is coming. The lead article in The Economist is titled ” The Third Industrial Revolution “ and it paints a picture of a vastly changed world , like something out of science fiction.
The first Industrial Revolution ( 1750 -1850) saw a transition from a manual and draft-animal based economy to machine-based manufacturing . It was distinguished by the use of steam power , generated primarily by the burning of coal and ,by the mechanization of textile manufacturing , better transportation and the use of metal machine tools . The second Industrial Revolution ( 1850 to the 1920’s) began with the introduction of steam-powered railways and ships and accelerated with the development of the internal combustion engine and electrical power generation . Henry Ford’s introduction of assembly line manufacturing was another big advance .
The two Revolutions began in Great Britain , technologically the most advanced nation of the time , but quickly spread to the rest of the world . The exact time periods covered by these revolutions are in some dispute since the changes took place over a period of years but their importance in the course of history is not . During these periods there were dramatic improvements in the living standards of most of the populace as well as marked changes in the lives of humans.
The article in The Economist argues that the Third Industrial Revolution has already begun and that its impact will be no less than those of its predecessors. Exciting new technologies such as ground breaking software, new materials , better robots , new processes ( such as three -dimensional printing), nanotechnology and a plethora of web-based services are changing the face of manufacturing. For instance , instead of taking lots of parts and welding or screwing them together to build a product, it will be possible “to design a product on a computer and ” print” it on a 3-D printer which will create a solid object by accreting successive layers of material”. I can’t get my head around the idea but apparently it is ,or soon will be, a reality ; it is not a pipe dream . Already , 3D printing has been used to create hearing aids and parts for military jets . With 3D printing , anything can be manufactured anywhere , in quantities small and large . The new factories will be smaller and will require fewer workers and the new “factory” workers will be engineers , designers IT specialists , marketing staff and other professionals . Labour costs will be much lower and there will be less need to export manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. It is predicted that 10 to 30% of the goods that America now imports from China could be made at home by the year 2020.
The above was gleaned from the lead article in The Economist but there is much more detail to be found inside the issue in the 16 page Special Report. It makes exciting reading. Do try to read it if you can.
As should be plain , these changes in manufacturing will affect other aspects of society since they will cause fundamental changes in the ways we live and work.It will be exciting to be part of the change and it will also be challenging.
I am one of those who has been more interested in the past than in the future. As a child , I was more taken with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table than with Flash Gordon ; as an adult , I read historical novels ,not science fiction . However , reading these articles in The Economist has , for the first time , made me wish that I was a sixteen year old looking forward to my career , not an older adult looking back on it .