‘The Garden of Eden is no more.’
Sir David Attenborough’s statement at Davos 2019 came as a universal reflection of the lost global development due to the destruction of the mother earth and unsynchronized progress in technological and economic development.
Accelerated by technological change, the world is experiencing a digital transformation through autonomous drones, intelligent robots, sensors, and 3D printing. In this endogenic force, human civilization is about to experience a paradigm shift in the way we commute, communicate or entertain ourselves that need shared understanding if we want to shape a collective future free from pollution and environmental disasters. Individuals, communities, and countries will have to embrace this change in a manner that can help prevent climate change. This will require to adopt a holistic techno-physical approach to protect the earth from environmental decay. While the potential benefits of technologies that form the essence of the 4IR are obvious, their ultimate effect on climate change will largely be shaped by the policies within which they operate and the purposes for which they are deployed.
The obvious question is what effect then 4IR will have on limiting or preventing climate change. The probing questions among others include - will other issues such as climate migrants, mass unemployment and sectorial adjustments cripple the economic progress? How is it going to disrupt the existing socio-economic and business setup? Will the change affect the platform economy and its value additive catalyzers, i.e., sectorial competition, and implication & ramification of security, privacy, and regulatory parameters? What can be done to avoid the threats and utilize these technologies to make a positive contribution to mitigating climate borne changes?
Call for a Holistic Approach
Previous industrial revolutions liberated the human race from animal dependency, introduced industrial production, and offered digital capabilities to billions of people. 4IR is, however, radically different which is fusing the physical, mechanical, and digital worlds, impacting all cross-disciplines, industries, and economies.
There are numerous dimensions of the 4IR which collectively represent a fundamental shift in the way people interact with each other, the economy, and society more generally. These changes are hyperlinked and happening across sectors and industries. However, the change dynamics are sometimes interacting randomly and without any pattern - making some of the impending changes in the impact areas severely unpredictable.
The technological disruptions are converging with other mega-trends, including the growing concern of climate change and rapid demographic transition. This trend is pushing individuals and stakeholders to essentially reconsider and redefine existing arrangements between citizens and governments. This includes evaluating the suitability and applications of current methodologies, i.e., demographic governance, the definition of work, privacy, basic civil rights, and obligations of the state to its people.
The governments can pro-actively embrace this momentum and introduce proactive policies and supporting institutional mechanisms to catalyze technological innovation that strengthens sustainable development. In the next decades, governments that actively design predictive, adaptable, and responsive regulatory policy instruments will enjoy the benefits of technological disruptions to the fullest. The government will also need to do the balancing act of adopting regulations that are both pragmatic and protective as they redefine the rules of societal engagement, i.e., approval of a new product balancing safety, quality, and access with required transparency of information.
However, designing new socio-economic approaches is a cross-industry task and will not happen overnight. For this purpose, firstly, the governments will need to engage with citizens to adopt an all-inclusive stakeholder platform. Secondly, it has to evaluate the current approaches and make necessary changes in favor of the new technologies and supportive regulatory & institutional mechanisms. This requires a holistic approach of inclusivity, shared understanding, competitiveness, and transparency.
The all-inclusive stakeholder platform can concentrate on six critical themes to successfully adopt the digital transformation:
- Embrace predictive and adaptive decision-making;
- Capture emerging sources of growth and employment;
- Reimagine citizen engagement and personalized service delivery;
- Enhance protection to leave no one behind;
- Mobilize and allocate finance for a better future; and
- Reinforce tactical measures for preventing climate borne changes.
Breaking the Status Quo
The 4IR era is offering new groundbreaking mega-trends which were previously unthinkable through a single innovation or industrial revolutions. For instance, the convergence of new educational methodologies and the dynamic labor market in both developed and emerging economies will greatly redesign the socio-economic and socio-techno platforms.
Some of the new potential mega-trends and cross-sectorial cooperation areas are discussed below:
The Half-life of Education: One of the most important elements to consider 4IR as a preventer of climate change is the half-life of education, i.e., embracing and adopting new education modalities. This refers to the inclusion of e-education & digital learning, secondary education, tertiary education, and supporting vocational programs. The digital age has brought about the convenience of education in remote places and regions where educational infrastructures are not fully developed yet. In this regard, 4IR is facilitating the emergence of new management software and innovative tools to smooth out the workload of entrepreneurs and managers. It is bringing a paradigm shift by offering an inclusive structure where learning is not obstructed by distance and geography.
It is also reintroducing the need of industry-based soft-skills. The modern-day Industries are adopting automation through AI and robotics at an increasing speed. Many conventional skills and jobs are becoming obsolete and labor-intensive jobs are facing the highest threat of extinction due to automation. Predictive analysis shows that almost 50% of jobs will get automized by 2030 and machine accuracy and productivity will also increase. The new education system will affect the less competent and semi-skilled individuals in several ways. On the other hand, lack of education substantially limits the scope of finding suitable jobs that are available to an individual in the high skilled economies. Besides, it also produces an ill-suited education curriculum and offers subpar job quality. But, the Achilles’ heel of AI and technology is that it cannot pro-create creativity and ingenuity. As a result, an increase in automation would also increase the demand for soft skills or more human skills i.e., team-work, leadership, creativity, etc.
New Market Economy: 4IR is radically reshaping the global economic system. Now we are enjoying the benefits of platform economy and digital platforms which are further enforcing value-additive interactions among different participants; either in two-sided markets where online-based service vendors provide e-service to the clients (e.g., food delivery and ride-hailing apps) or multi-sided markets such as Google that connects content providers, users, vendors, and online advertisers. Internet of Things (IoT) has created robust technology-enabled networks and marketplaces that have lowered the cost of acquiring information, thus, lowering production costs, transaction costs, and warehouse management costs. With reduced costs, an online-based platform economy is being created that is enabling a network-based transaction system.
Climate Migrants and the Myth of Mass Unemployment: It is true that climate borne disasters are not only affecting the environment, but augmenting human suffering such as reduced life expectancy, rapid demographic movement, and increased unemployment across the globe. AI and robotics hold the potential for massive productivity improvements, which means we will need significantly fewer human workers to produce the same goods and services society demands today. In a static environment the net number of jobs available would decrease while the population will continue to increase, leading to a surge in unemployment. But the reality is not static. Indeed, to proliferate fears of mass unemployment is to deny the very thing that brought the 4IR’s driving technological forces into being – the creative spirit in humanity.
The promise of robotics and AI is that they do exactly what they are told, without question or failure, relentlessly executing along the path set for them by their creators. The power of anything controlled by software is that it can be trusted to do exactly as it has been instructed. One way, that people are fundamentally superior is their ability to choose and therefore to create.
The aforementioned upheaval will free people to bring their creative force to bear upon the world in ways previously prohibited to them. It may come as machines and software reduce the demands on them in existing jobs and their leaders ask them to undertake new projects. In other cases, it will be born out of job-loss. In either case, the person will be faced with a choice, which will be fertile soil for the new ideas of the future to take root.
Any of this choice, will, however, create a ripple effect across industry platforms, specifically if we want to factor the choices in eliminating climate change. If the technological changes are not handled properly, organizations will be unable to adapt and governments will fail to employ, and regulate new technologies to capture their benefits for limiting climate borne disasters. Moreover, the shifting power will create new security concerns, inequality, and fragmented societies.
New Investment and Partnership Mechanisms: 4IR is offering new mechanisms of collaborative partnerships, alliances, and platforms to prevent climate change and global warming. Through public-private partnerships (PPP), the governments and private sectors are now engaging in more frequent working partnerships. The conventional definition of geographic border and gap between private-public interactions are rapidly closing. New multi-stakeholder partnerships are being formed through the coalition of multilateral development partners, regional blocs, think tank communities, and mega alliances which now work beyond the conventional definition of working party and geographic borders. A few examples of these partnerships are the Global Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environment Facility (GEF), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
New start-ups companies are replacing old giants and taking place in the Forbes List through adopting novel crowdsourcing ideas and joining hands with top leaders from business, civil society, government, and other young leaders.
Relevant stakeholders and communities are now becoming interested in innovation funding mechanisms and investing in social enterprises. Government investment programs are now creating massive tech villages and software valleys, i.e., Silicon Valley where technology companies, environmental protection agencies, and advocacy groups can work hand in hand to deploy technological benefit at economies of scale.