The Fourth Revolution: The Age of Digital Enlightenment
In the history of modern civilization, we’ve witnessed four major revolutions that forever changed the way the world operates. From the impact of irrigation on hunting and gathering in an agrarian economy, to the impact of assembly lines in a manufacturing economy, to the evolution of the workforce in the industrial economy, society was forced to rethink the jobs we inhabit, the businesses we operate and the cities we live in. And, while each of these revolutions built the foundation for the world we live in today, businesses and global economies that refused to evolve, or couldn’t evolve in time, were left behind. Innovation and new technology are indisputably the cornerstone of every revolution—disrupting practices that once defined life as we knew it and making what seemed impossible at the time a reality—but, humans are the stewards.
Fast forward to present day and a new revolution is underway: The Digital Revolution. Once again, society stands at the precipice of a new global economy, a new workforce, a new everything. In this new-age revolution, data is the cornerstone, human stewards are more critical than ever and the hourglass of adoption is shrinking. Disputes over the ownership, management and use of data commands a global stage, influencing new legislature, impacting international relations, determining corporate survival and introducing a new concept of global currency. Human beings are, and will remain, the single biggest factor in successful artificial intelligence, automation and analytics. Corporations and global economies need to harness the power of both to stand any chance at surviving their shrinking half-life and fueling prosperity in the Digital Revolution. Let’s explore why.
Upskilling for the Digital Age
Just as the advent of irrigation and assembly lines altered the roles of agrarian and manufacturing workers, technology does not eliminate the need for human skill but necessitates learning and demands the adoption of new ones. Due to the inordinate amount of data now available, higher education has pivoted efforts toward STEM and data science programs, hoping to mold the data scientists and analysts of tomorrow to address the influx of information. While these educational initiatives are a great start, the gap will continue to persist without putting humans at the center. Understanding data can no longer be the responsibility of one role, one team, one department. Bridging this gap requires businesses to adjust internal priorities, hiring processes and training opportunities in order to upskill society’s current workforce, as it not only impacts employee efficacy but an organization’s overall viability.
The Digitally Enlightened Enterprise
We are in a new age of enlightenment. Just as new intellectual and philosophical concepts introduced reason and a new way of thinking about our world in the 17th century, the promise of automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning requires digital enlightenment in the modern-day enterprise. Successful digital transformation is no longer a nice-to-have, but a critical business imperative, as an increasingly accurate indicator of a company’s survival. Take Germany, for example—there is a major paradigm shift in industry focus across the country to emphasize Industry 4.0/IIoT and data accessibility. This only further emphasizes the necessity of a digital strategy. There is a reason the five most successful companies in the world are digital natives, driving the value unlocked from data directly to their bottom line.
Smarter Environments, Prosperous Economies
The Digital Revolution extends disruptive change far beyond the boardroom, permeating our social interactions, the cities we live in and the economies we operate within. As Michio Kaku indicated, the phones in our pocket now maintain more computing power than all of NASA back in 1969, when they put two astronauts on the moon. And, as our environment becomes increasingly connected—from smart cities to autonomous vehicles—global economies are recognizing digital transformation as the key to unlocking prosperity. For example, Dubai introduced Smart Dubai, a city-wide initiative to transform Dubai into the world’s smartest and happiest city, and Saudi Arabia unveiled Saudi Vision 2030, a plan to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop public service sectors.
As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, business leaders and economic leaders alike need to think beyond remaining competitive in today’s landscape, putting the people, processes and technologies in place to future-proof their success. This brings us back to the data. Unlocking predictive insights is the closest thing leaders have to a crystal ball and is the only way to secure a foothold in the economy of tomorrow. This brings us back to the human. Data is only as powerful as the human intelligence and logic needed to ask the right question and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.
Data is irrevocably changing the way we operate in business and think about economic advancement, and will likely determine whatever next revolution awaits humankind. The Digital Revolution is more than the sum of its parts, as it commands the evolution of our global society as a whole, inciting further collaboration and knowledge-sharing among nations around the world.
Author: Dean Stoecker