October 6, 2020

The Third Industrial Revolution

I saw this today and am mightily impressed. I’d not heard of Jeremy Rifkin before but what he says is worth listening to closely.

What is the difference between the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ that Jeremy Rifkin is talking about here and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ ? The following definitions are both from Wikipedia:

“The Digital Revolution (also known as the Third Industrial Revolution) is the shift from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital electronics which began in the latter half of the 20th century, with the adoption and proliferation of digital computers and digital record-keeping, that continues to the present day.”

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) is the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology. Large-scale machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and the internet of things (IoT) are integrated for increased automation, improved communication and self-monitoring, and production of smart machines that can analyze and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention.”

For Rifkin the Third Industrial Revolution is founded on ‘Three Internets’:

A Communication Internet
A Digitalised Renewable Energy Internet
An Automated GPS Transport Internet

What most interests me in Rifkin’s presentation is his contention that these three Internets are by design distributed and decentralised rather than centralised. Although I’m far from being familiar with these concepts it seem to me that the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, by contrast, points to greater centralisation through Artificial Intelligence. The phrase was coined by Klaus Schwab, head of the World Economic Forum in a book of the same name. His vision is one of close integration between humanity and AI systems even at a biological level.

Both Schwab and Rifkin offer visions that respond to impending crises that are very real.

Rifkin begins his lecture by noting the following epoch defining facts:

  1. Half of humanity is now better off than their ancestors before the industrial revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries
  2. …but 40% of the human race making $2 a day or less and are arguably worse off than their ancestors before the industrial revolutions.
  3. The very wealthy .. the 62 wealthiest humans own more accumulated wealth than that of the poorest 50% of the population.
  4. Climate change .. is never properly explained .. climate change changes the water cycles of the planet. Increasing temperatures mean more concentrated precipitation leading to unstable weather – storms, floods.
  5. We are in the 6th Extinction event. This is not a model. Over the next 7 decades we could lose half of the species now in existence.
  6. We need a new economic model. For both developing and industrialised nations.

The rest of the lecture is about how the distributive aspects of the Three Internets could provide the new economic model.