Fourth industrial revolution (4IR) laying the foundations for the innovations of tomorrow: By Capt. Dimitrios Mattheou

Prologue

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) -also known as Industry 4.0- is building on the Third; the digital revolution.

Industry 4.0 is characterized by a genius combination of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

We actually stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

The main issue is that we are not yet aware of the extent of its evolution, however, one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, with the involvement of all stakeholders in global politics, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

It is time to realize that we are already laying the foundations of the innovations of tomorrow. In simple words, we have finally the chance to do the right things the right way, to act smarter and in the most convenient way -efficiently and effectively- aiming to a sustainable future of the human kind.

The backstage story

The person who labeled today’s advances as a new revolution was Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of the book: The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In a 2016 article, Schwab wrote that “like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world.”

So imagine a future, for example in our industry –shipping- where technological innovation can lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency, safety and productivity.

Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth, or, no?

Exploiting new technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already around us; from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests.

Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.

Our ability to harness and disseminate these new 4IR technologies will play a key role in ensuring our recovery from the pandemic and the avoidance of future crises.

The possibilities for appropriately deployed new Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies should be used as the baseline to reinvent the way we operate in the new context: affecting everything from government services, education and healthcare, to the way shipping interacts with and provides value to the world trade and of course to the people.

Challenges and opportunities

The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explain the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor.

Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased.

Digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media must also be considered a great future challenge. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.

The technologies driving change

The easiest way to understand the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to focus on the technologies driving it. These include the following:

Artificial intelligence

AI describes computers that can “think” like humans. They can recognize complex patterns, process information, draw conclusions, and make recommendations. AI is used in many ways, from spotting patterns in huge piles of unstructured data to powering the autocorrect on your phone.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a secure, decentralized, and transparent way of recording and sharing data, with no need to rely on third-party intermediaries. The digital currency Bitcoin is the best known blockchain application. However, the technology can be used in other ways, including making supply chains traceable, securing sensitive medical data anonymously, and combating voter fraud.

Faster computer processing

New computational technologies are making computers smarter. They enable computers to process vast amounts of data faster than ever before, while the advent of the cloud has allowed businesses to safely store and access their information from anywhere with internet access. Quantum computing technologies now in development will eventually make computers millions of times more powerful. These computers will have the potential to supercharge AI, create highly complex data models in seconds, and speed up the discovery of new materials.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

The difference between virtual and augmented reality is that VR offers immersive digital experiences (using a VR headset) that simulate the real world, while AR merges the digital and physical worlds. Examples that can make women happy for instance would include L’Oreal’s makeup app, which allows users to digitally experiment with makeup products before buying them, and the Google Translate phone app, which allows users to scan and instantly translate street signs, menus, and other text.

Biotechnology

Biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop new technologies and products for a range of uses, including developing new pharmaceuticals and materials, more efficient industrial manufacturing processes, and cleaner, more efficient energy sources. Researchers in Stockholm, for example, are working on what is being touted as the strongest biomaterial ever produced.

Robotics

Robotics refers to the design, manufacture, and use of robots for personal and commercial use. While we’re yet to see robot assistants in every home, technological advances have made robots increasingly complex and sophisticated. They are used in fields as wide-ranging as manufacturing, health and safety, and human assistance.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT describes everyday items — from medical wearables that monitor users’ physical condition, to cars and tracking devices inserted into parcels — connected to the internet and identifiable by other devices. There are also many industrial applications, such as farmers putting IoT sensors into fields to monitor soil attributes and inform decisions such as when to fertilize, also in logistics has been widely adopted in the past decade, mostly in the form of tracking devices and regarding our Industry, Shipping, there is more to what IoT can offer from smart shipping containers to data collection and risk analytics. IoT actually enables ship owners and managers to deal proactively with maintenance, by monitoring shipboard equipment and machinery in real time to pinpoint issues and prevent potential failures. Ensuring continuous and optimal machinery and equipment operation not only reduces costly downtime, it also improves crew safety.

3D printing

3D printing allows manufacturing businesses to print their own parts, with less tooling, at a lower cost, and faster than via traditional processes. Plus, designs can be customized to ensure a perfect fit.

…and many more

Innovative materials, including plastics, metal alloys, and biomaterials, promise to shake up sectors including manufacturing, renewable energy, construction, and healthcare. Energy capture, storage, and transmission represent a growing market sector, spurred by the falling cost of renewable energy technologies and improvements in battery storage capacity.

The impact on people

“The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.”

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s technologies, as mentioned above, are rapidly changing the way humans create, exchange, and distribute value. As occurred in the previous revolutions, this will profoundly transform institutions, industries, and individuals. More importantly, this revolution will be guided by the choices that people make today: the world in 50 to 100 years from now will owe a lot of its character to how we think about, invest in, and deploy these powerful new technologies.

It’s important to appreciate that the Fourth Industrial Revolution involves a systemic change across many sectors and aspects of human life: the crosscutting impacts of emerging technologies are even more important than the exciting capabilities they represent. Our ability to edit the building blocks of life has recently been massively expanded by low-cost gene sequencing; artificial intelligence is augmenting processes and skill in every industry; neurotechnology is making unprecedented strides in how we can use and influence the brain as the last frontier of human biology; automation is disrupting century-old transport and manufacturing paradigms; and technologies such as blockchain and smart materials are redefining and blurring the boundary between the digital and physical worlds.

The result of all this is societal transformation at a global scale. By affecting the incentives, rules, and norms of economic life, it transforms how we communicate, learn, entertain ourselves, and relate to one another and how we understand ourselves as human beings. Furthermore, the sense that new technologies are being developed and implemented at an increasingly rapid pace has an impact on human identities, communities, and political structures.

As a result, our responsibilities to one another, our opportunities for self-realization, and our ability to positively impact the world are intricately tied to and shaped by how we engage with the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution is not just happening to us—we are not its victims—but rather we have the opportunity and even responsibility to give it structure and purpose.

I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smart phones / i phones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.

One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.

Redefining the human capital serving Global Shipping

Executives and Leaders of the maritime world will need to ensure they have the right mix of skills in their people to keep pace with changing technology. A study shows that 59% of hiring managers believe that AI will impact the types of skills their companies need. Seafarers and shore based employees will more than likely need to update their skills and go through an upskill/reskill training process not just once but many times throughout their careers.

As AI begins to impact the human capital and automation replaces some existing skills in the shipping industry, an increased need for specific interpersonal skills will rise, such as flexibility, emotional intelligence, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking.

Being a vital link of this global maritime-community-chain and taking under serious consideration this radical change and digital transformation,  I feel obliged to commit myself along with many other Shipping leaders to start building the Shipping workforce of the future, while bringing along the Shipping workforce of today, and this shall be the greatest challenge we have ever faced as seamen.

Shaping the future

Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control.

All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution in the decisions we make on a daily basis. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.

To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments.

Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is therefore not a prediction of the future but a call to action. It is a vision for developing, diffusing, and governing technologies in ways that foster a more empowering, collaborative, and sustainable foundation for social and economic development, built around shared values of the common good, human dignity, and intergenerational stewardship. Realizing this vision will be the core challenge and great responsibility of the next 50 years.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is more than a technological leap forward; it brings along a learning revolution and every leader can have a direct role in creating economic opportunity for millions of people by investing in learning and development programs for existing and potential talent.

I wish to conclude my article by restating the words of Klaus Schwab:

“We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.”

Therefore we must be proactive and cautious in shaping this technology and disruption. This requires global cooperation and a shared view of how technology is reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and individual lives.

It is one of these critical moments in the history of the human kind that we are called to utilize our multidimensional intelligence with prudence and wisdom for the sake of our lives and the future of our planet.

By Capt. Dimitrios Mattheou,

CEO at Arcadia Shipmanagement Co Ltd. & Aegean Bulk Co Inc., Chairman at Green Award

Foundation

Source: The Athenian Magazine

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