Question: We all know of Britain's role in the First Industrial Revolution. What role can Britain play in the shaping of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The 4th Industrial Revolution has been characterized as a fusion of physical, digital and biological innovation by the World Economic Forum. Dr Klaus Schwab, founds of the WEF, describes it as “not just changing the way we do things but it changes ourselves”. Essentially this is the rise of nano technology, bio technology and the massive scaling ot digital networks and devices but it is also the convergence of technologies to create “intelligent systems” that is different this time round in the next technological era. I summarize this in four ways: cyber-physical systems, new technological materials, physical-biological technology transmutation and socio-technical governance in society. I can unpack that and theorize how Britain has and will continue to play a role in this new technological revolution. Before we do, we can recall the computing age was invented in war period with the British developments led by Alan Turing and others and the first digital computer call Colossus in Manchester and Bletchley Park, England. The 3rd Industrial revolution , also termed the digital revolution sprung from the United States of America with many government and commercial investments in inventions from the first large scale telecoms networks to VLSI leading to very large scale silicon chip development. What we see today in cloud computing and the PC and Mobile revolutions and the large cloud vendors for social networks and now massive enterprise scale cloud platforms are all based on these foundations. But we are now entering this new period of even more radical and rapid social and societal transformation in the next 30 to 50 years.
From a British impact on the 4th Industrial revolution perspective let us look at this in the four areas I mentioned. In cyber-physical systems, the work by UK advanced engineering companies will continue to push the boundary of Digital Twins. If we look at ARM holdings or the work of Google Deepmind to the Alan Turing Institute as examples of world class exemplars we are already leading the fields in Artificial Intelligence and next generation immersive Industrial systems. This scale is dependent on investment as seen in ARM and Deepmind but the legacy of top class Research and Universities does not disappear with Brexit. It creates short term concerns in being involved in EU level funding but the UK and Britain before the EU membership in 1973 had world class institutions already. I suspect investment will shift to Asia and US roots and this will continue. A wider view of Industrial automation seen in Germany for example is also evident in the UK and the idea of smart automated factories already exist in Britain.
In New technological materials, graphene is the famous example here invented in the UK but advanced materials research remains an continues area from 3D printing to further research into these systems. In physical-biological technology transmutation this involves biogenetics to bioengineering, to wearables and health and wellbeing automation. The UK has a large biomedical and pharmaceutical industry heritage that works internationally rather than just the EU perspective.
Finally in socio-technical governance in society the UK has been involved in leading cyber security. The UK privacy laws are not as stringent as the German government which is held in high regard as a leader in privacy laws representation.
Question: How might Brexit affect Britain's contribution to the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Leading industries in the UK such as Financial, Pharmaceutical, telecoms, academic research and others will need to deal with single market access losses but I expect commercial and administrative processes will evolve to get round these as the bigger commercial benefit of collaboration will hopefully support market interests. The immigration barriers seem counter productive in terms of business and I expect these to also be waived as jobs and GDP generation become higher order priorities.
Fundamentally the assumption here is will the EU actually lead any of the 4th Industrial innovation, historically the EU has struggled to create competitors to Amazon, Google and new innovations are typically international in nature. Recent research on these issues of coordinated multiple countries agendas has proved burdensome and inefficient but I remain hopeful as a principle a cross boarder EU strategy can work as collectively it is the worlds largest market; but that said in practice is highly fragmented and national centric. The H2020 80 Billion Euro fund available till 2020 is one such issue that post Brexit beyond this period may see UK research move east and west. The UK foundations where already well built, in some cases a millennia ago, in the academic and research traditions long before the 1973 membership. The rise of intelligent systems in the 4th Industrial Era may become accelerated in the UK as the stresses to change and compete more vigorously push the society to respond. This may be optimistic but historically if you were betting on the British history it seems to go well.
“The 4th Industrial Revolution : Responding to the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Business” Coauthors Prof. Mark Skilton, Dr Felix Hovsepian.
Fall of 2017 / early 2018. AN early web site for this is here, it will be available on all international web sites, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel and others.