Author Mark Fairlie
Robotics, 3D printing, biotechnology and artificial intelligence may not be far from coming into our everyday lives. British politicians, business owners and industry experts are preparing to spearhead the fourth industrial revolution, potentially unlocking £455billion in the next decade.
The ‘Made Smarter UK’ report, commissioned by the British government, details how the nation will benefit from rapid technological changes. Particularly in the manufacturing industry.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Over the space of 220 years, Britain graduated from steam-powered factories to the digital revolution of the 1980s. The third industrial revolution brought computers and the internet into our homes and workplaces, increasing productivity and efficiency. After just forty years, many believe we are ready to progress.
Author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Founder/Executive Chairman of the World Economic foreman, Klaus Schwab, explains why technological advancements represent the arrival of a fourth and distinct new era. “Velocity, scope, and systems impact,” he stated. “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent.”
Compared with previous industrial revolutions, Schwab believes this one is evolving at an exponential rate, and “is disrupting almost every industry in every country.”
Britain leading the way
Many believe Britain will be the driving force behind this change. The Made Smarter UK report stated that the UK has a “range of strengths” that suggest it can realise the “opportunities of industrial digitalisation.” Investing significantly in key areas of infrastructure, digital technology, and aerospace, Britain is one of the most technologically advanced countries in Europe. With over 200 SMEs, the UK also has the strongest AI and machine learning market in Europe.
Confederation of British Industry director-general Carolyn Fairbairn has stressed that “the UK must compete with China, the USA and much of Europe where there are already advanced plans to embrace the fourth industrial revolution.” It has been suggested this new direction could help build a stronger post-Brexit economy.
Manufacturing has been declining in the most advanced countries over the last 30 years, but new analysis suggests the sector’s levels have reached a dangerous low. In 1990, manufacturing made up 20% of the UK’s economy. Figures show that this had halved by 2015.
With plans to pioneer the new industrial revolution, the report stated that manufacturing could potentially grow at a rate of 3% per year for a decade. A boost to the manufacturing industry is thought to bring as much as £455billion to the British economy.
Contributor to the report and chief executive of Siemens UK and Ireland, Professor Juergen Maier, has said: “industry is committed to working in partnership with Government, and this combined package of measures will boost UK growth and productivity in manufacturing and provide more exports and increased earning potential, which our economy desperately needs.”
Effects on employment
As with previous industrial revolutions, there is the fear that new technology will replace the need for human workers and lead to the large-scale destruction of jobs.
“On the one hand it is going to create productivity and more exports and through that, we can create more jobs but at the same time robotics and artificial intelligence will displace some jobs,” says Maier.
A study of “The Future of Jobs” by the World Economic Forum has concluded that automation and the introduction of AI may lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs in the world’s 15 leading countries.
However, the ‘Made Smarter UK’ report suggests the potential positive impacts on the economy will be far greater, creating 175,000 jobs in the manufacturing industry in Britain alone.
Maier continues to say that the best thing the government can do is put extra focus on training workers. “We need to upskill one million existing workers in the industrial and manufacturing sector… so they can transition from tasks that might be displaced to, for example, managing or programming robots.”
British businesses may also be set to see the benefits of a government-backed industrial revolution. Professor Maier went on to say that proposals put forward in the report would “help businesses understand, deploy and create the latest digital technologies… secure more homegrown research,” and even help to create new industries and “highly skilled, well-paid jobs.”
When might we see this happen?
The UK has already seen great advancements in digital technology. But for the industrial revolution to take place, the government must begin adopting them in the manufacturing sector.
“The UK manufacturing sector has the potential to be a global leader in the industrial digital technology revolution,” according to Business Secretary Greg Clark. “Government and industry must work together to seize the opportunities that exist in this sector, and promote the benefits of adopting emerging digital technologies.”