As a telecommunications company we are in the centre of technological change and rebirth—every year we are having to adapt to new changes and expand our services to accommodate the new reality. However, the changes we are witnessing could potentially have significant impact on every industry, big or small, and tip the very basis of society.
The world is in flux, with technology defining the next big change in how people live and interact with each other and their environment. Each year we are introduced to new and exciting possibilities of technology to make a life “easier”—from the autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and unbounded advancements in artificial intelligence to the next social media craze or wearable fashion statements. We are today witnessing incredible paradigm shifts. One could almost call it a revolution.
Ironically that is exactly what it is being called; the buzz is that we are at the cusp of the “fourth industrial revolution”. Unlike the three industrial revolutions—steam, electric and digital—the fourth promises unprecedented economic upheaval. Following close on the heels of the digital revolution, shaped in the latter half of the 20th century and blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, the fourth revolution promises much, much more. Nanotechnology, brain research, advanced printing technology, mobile networks and computing will open the gateways for possibilities that were previously unimaginable.
To a Star Trek fan like me, these possibilities, once only confined to the realm of science fiction, are both equally exciting and terrifying. To put it simply, the third industrial revolution lets you order your pizza online and have it delivered at home. The fourth may well let you print your pizza at home with your compatible 3D printer. The fourth industrial revolution is differentiated from the third by three dimensions—velocity (how fast things will change), scope (how widespread are the implications), and systemic impact (how many eco-systems will have to adapt). Compared to previous industrial revolutions, the “ Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The fourth industrial revolution promises unprecedented possibilities with billions of people connected by mobile devices, enormous collective processing power, unlimited data storage and access to knowledge.
According to Klaus Schwab “The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships.”
Of course, a sea change does not necessarily have to be ominous—development in areas of current technologies will boost productivity and efficiency as well. Lives will become easier as they will be more technology-driven. According to WEF some of the future developments in technology will come to drive efficiency in at least four core areas—energy, transportation, health and communication.
A fifth—digital production—was added recently. This fifth development area is expected to bring a paradigm shift from centralised mass production to distributed, localised production, combining cloud computing and 3D printing to create goods in near real time. These changes ahead will impact the way business is eventually conducted worldwide… including in Bangladesh.
These changes are sure to affect the telecommunications and information technology industries. However, there will also be a trickledown effect on other lesser technology dependent industries as well.
In the mobile communications industry the introduction of even more progressive communication technology will play a crucial role. Widespread deployment of high-capacity, low-latency future networks will be a major catalyst for the digital infrastructure of the future. This reality is not too far off—we already have 4G/LTE.
Apart from increasing global income levels and quality of life, the fourth industrial revolution can disrupt the labour market arbitrage. Bangladesh will see the same affect that will hit all global economies. Up until this point, technology has consistently created more employment opportunities than it has destroyed; this time around things could be very different.
However, just as the Internet did 20 years ago, the artificial intelligence revolution is probably going to transform many existing jobs, and spawn new kinds of jobs that drive economic growth. Workers can spend more time on creative, collaborative, and complex problem-solving tasks that machine automation isn't well suited to handle. Klaus Schwab explains that this not so much about robotics but “a lifting of humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny.”
But alarmingly for developing economies like Bangladesh, workers with limited education and rudimentary skills may be at a disadvantage as the fourth industrial revolution progresses. Already there are reports in the media that women, who have traditionally been the backbone of our readymade garments industry, are losing employment opportunities as the industry is going for more automation to drive efficiency and lower cost. Even the “high-tech” mobile industry is not immune.
With increasing digitalisation, jobs are changing in nature, while others are becoming obsolete. As employers look for the right skill-set for digital transformation, many existing employees will find it more difficult to compete in a more digitalised workplace.
Going forward, our regulatory and education landscape will also need to adapt to the changing reality to reap the best benefits of a fourth industrial revolution for Bangladesh. We should be able to expect forward leaning policies that encourage investors to confidently invest in the country while ensuring the benefits for both customers and the government.
While the fourth industrial revolution is almost at the door and its influence has already started to shape people and societies, it is still unclear how the scenario will unfold. The revolution has the potential to create a more equitable society where the benefits are not confined to only the few but has far reaching benefits for all. Without doubt, digital transformation will be necessary to remain globally competitive in this increasingly connected world. We need a concerted effort of governments, policymakers, international organisations, private enterprise, regulators, academia, and civil society to steer these powerful emerging technologies in ways that manage risk but creates a world that aligns itself with the common goals.
Michael Patrick Foley is Chief Executive Officer, Grameenphone Ltd. He has more than 30 years of sales, marketing and operational experience in the telecom, retail and gaming sectors in both advanced and growth markets.