Internet of things – “… the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, Internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware, these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.” (Wiki)
It’s fairly well opined that the internet gave us the Third Industrial Revolution. It not only transformed the way we work, but both culled and created whole new sectors of employment.
I started my grown-up working life in the mid-90s and I can – just – remember life before the World Wide Web. Working for an advertising agency one of my (hated!) regular tasks was physically carrying a huge bulky mock up of an advertising hoarding across London to the offices of the Advertising Standards Authority for approval. Can you imagine someone actually doing that now? Obviously, you’d just email it.
I also remember spending ages searching through the old Yellow Pages directory for various bits and pieces that managers asked for, sitting next to a fax machine (remember those?) feeding through endless sheets of typed A4 to foreign countries, and spending whole mornings hand distributing photocopies of incoming post.
In fact, the more that I think about it, I doubt very much the office junior/dogsbody/girl Friday job that I spent nearly three years doing actually exists anymore. It has almost certainly gone the same way as the shorthand typist, switchboard operator, and tea lady.
So far, so familiar.
Back in 2008, ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’ (the name is a pseudonym) created a device which is contributing right now to another work revolution. How? Well, Mr Nakamoto is credited with creating Blockchain technology as a by-product of his actual invention of Bitcoin.
For the not-quite-sure, Blockchain works a bit like this:
- A block is record of transactions.
- A sends some money to B.
- When a transaction – the block – is completed , it is added to the virtual list of all the other blocks – the chain.
- These details then get distributed across the block network who confirm that the transaction is good and valid.
- A and B have their own password to an address on the blockchain where the details of their transaction are recorded.
To paraphrase Anteneh Tesfaye in his great article on Blockchain, imagine an Excel spreadsheet that is copied across a network of computers. Then imagine the same spreadsheet is just seemingly automatically continuously updated. This is basically how Blockchain works.
Now if we think for a minute about this, it’s clear that it’s got the potential to revolutionise how business is conducted.
As the links between the blocks and their content are protected by codes, the transactions cannot be destroyed or forged. The Blockchain database records are public, and easily verifiable and accessible, meaning it’s pretty much (never say never!) impossible for a hacker to get at them.
Blockchain gives transactions transparency, thereby eliminating the need for any external sources, middlemen, or authorities to handle, facilitate, or validate them.
But this is only part of the new revolution.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has crept quietly into our lives without most of us even noticing. Do you own an Alexa device? Do you play your music on it? Well, the chances are your Alexa now knows more about your musical tastes than the person you live with. Ditto your Kindle and your reading choices.
Without us even realising it, AI is learning more and more about us, taking over our choices, and continuing to learn how we think. Is this problematic? Maybe …
I drove to a work event a couple of weeks ago in a town I’d not been to before (Rochdale, since you ask). It occurred to me when I arrived that I had completely relied on Google maps to get me there. A no point did I question where the app was leading me. I hadn’t printed off any hard copy maps and, frankly, if the app had failed, I’m not quite sure what I would have done. In other words, you could argue that for this journey I had sleep-walked into being 100% reliant on technology.
As it gets cleverer and cleverer, and more able to replicate human thought patterns, AI is taking over how we live our lives. In my own industry, L&D, we’ve been looking at working with it for some time. Apps like Clever Nelly are intuitive, and to an extent, can personalise and direct learning. I say ‘to an extent’ because, hey, you’ve still got to actually do the learning yourself – at least for the moment.
So if AI is taking over how we actually learn or just perform day to day tasks, then we get rid of the need for driving tests – not just for cars, but buses, trains and possibly planes too? Once those are gone we no longer need the pilots, cabin crew, train guards, or people to sell us tickets.
Why would we need a barista to make our double shot latte with oat-milk, when an AI propelled vending machine can do it quicker, hotter, and more perfect? Without the barista you don’t need the washer-upper, the waitress, or the dough-nut seller either … you see, with blockchain wiping out an entire swath of the finance and professional industries, AI, alongside it, is revolutionising everything else. This is the Internet of Things and it’s only just started.
Forget the Third Industrial Revolution, that’s been and gone. Welcome to the Fourth.
Do you agree with me? Are we at the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Which industries do you think will suffer hardest?