Recently I had a personal meeting with a product that embodies the Fourth Industrial Revolution: an exoskeleton. Due to a spinal cord injury in 2009, I am unable to walk, and a wheelchair has been my closest and most useful companion ever since. Curious, I wanted to explore the possibilities of using robotic legs.
I put the robot on, and tightened it to my legs, hips, torso and chest. The exoskeleton walked me down the floor -- one leg at a time. It was a strange feeling, like someone had taken control of my body. However, after a short time I figured out how to use it. Slowly, the machine and I started working as a team, overcoming challenges and obstacles together. We walked up stairs and over chords that were lying on the ground. We even danced a little, with my red dress swinging with the rhythms of my body. Thanks to a machine, I was in control of my body.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it a new era of possibilities. We have to see these possibilities, explore what is on the horizon and start using the innovations they lead to.
The potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help people perform better in sports, or just be useful in everyday life. For others, it can be life changing. Those born deaf can hear with the help of cochlear implants. Those with blurred vision can, through relatively simple laser eye surgery, obtain perfect sight. Someone missing a leg can run with their kids with the help of carbon-fiber blades, and people with prosthetic arms can perform tasks demanding fine motor skills. Often, small changes mean the world.
The effect on our societies will include a more effective work force, more integrated communities, and better standards of living driven by a higher degree of personal freedom.
Technology invented for one reason can be life changing for another. Often, the impact is bigger than expected. The function of vibration on phones was originally invented for deaf people to get a signal from the phone when a call or text was incoming. Today, vibration mode is widely known as a practical option for all of us. Spelling programs on computers are game changing for people with dyslexia, and useful for everyone else. Digital translators and pocket computers are handy for all of us in the face of language barriers.
For people who don't have the ability to speak, it can be key to a vibrant social life. Robotic legs were originally designed to help soldiers in warzones to carry heavy gear, until someone thought of the possibility of just carrying people who can't carry themselves. Suddenly, they were helping people who were paralyzed to walk.
The possibilities are there, and they are breathtaking.
Nothing can be taken for granted in life, and we can never tell what will happen to us. But one thing is for sure: the Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in an unimaginable array of inventions and technological development that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people living with disabilities all over the world.
It will give us super powers.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2016 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 20-23) and in recognition of the Forum's Global Shapers initiative. The Global Shapers Community is a worldwide network of city-based hubs developed and led by young entrepreneurs, activists, academics, innovators, disruptors and thought leaders. Aged between 20 and 30, they are exceptional in their achievements and drive to make a positive contribution to their communities. Follow the Global Shapers on Twitter at @globalshapers or nominate a Global Shaper at http://www.globalshapers.org/apply. Read all the posts in the series here.