January 20, 2016 — Foreign Affairs magazine, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) has published a special anthology, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Davos Reader, to coincide with the theme of this year’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The 180-page special issue—which covers everything from social media to the Internet of Things, digital fabrication to robotics, and virtual reality to synthetic biology—will be available to all meeting attendees in both electronic and print formats.
The compilation begins with an essay by Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic ForumKlaus Schwab, who explains that the fourth industrial revolution “is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
“The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance,” writes 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 one of greater potential peril,” he urges.
Other highlights from the anthology include:
The Robots Are Coming: How Technological Breakthroughs Will Transform Everyday Life
It is no question that robots could “greatly improve the quality of our lives at home, at work, and at play,” writes Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Daniela Rus, who directs MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The goal of integrating robots into daily life is “to find ways for machines to assist and collaborate with humans more effectively.” That future is not quite here yet: although robots have evolved in “perception, reasoning, control, and coordination,” they still lag behind humans in “abstraction, generalization, and creative thinking.”
Will Humans Go the Way of Horses? Labor in the Second Machine Age
“The debate over what technology does to work, jobs, and wages is as old as the industrial era itself,” note MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee as they consider the potential for robotics and automation to render human labor obsolete, just as the steam engine did for horses. “The answer is almost certainly no,” they contend, for humans are “more dexterous and nimble than any single piece of machinery.” And although computers might outpace humans at arithmetic and pattern recognition, our mental advantages cannot be matched.
Same as It Ever Was: Why the Techno-Optimists Are Wrong
In recent years, an influential strain of techno-optimism has promoted the idea that “humanity stands on the verge of breakthroughs in information technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence that will dwarf what has been achieved in the past two centuries,” writes Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator for the Financial Times. Others, he notes, warn of “great dangers, including those of soaring unemployment and inequality.” But is all the hype justified? “The answer is no,” Wolf argues.
The Innovative State: Governments Should Make Markets, Not Just Fix Them
The conventional view of a state’s role in fostering innovation is simple: get out of the way. At best, governments merely facilitate private-sector economic dynamism; at worst, they actively inhibit growth. In fact, argues University of Sussex Professor Marianna Mazzucato, in countries that owe their growth to innovation, the reverse has been true: the state has taken the lead in investing in new technology, assuming the risks that businesses will not.
The Power of Market Creation: How Innovation Can Spur Development
Most explanations of economic growth focus on conditions or incentives at the global or national level. But at the end of the day, societies, governments, or industries do not create jobs—companies do. Entrepreneurs and businesses choose whether or not to spend, invest, or hire. Harvard Business School’sBryan C. Mezue, Clayton M. Christensen, and Derek van Bever examine three categories of innovation—sustaining innovation, efficiency innovation, and market-creating innovation.
Also in the compilation:
New York University Professor Clay Shirky and best-selling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell on the political power of social media
Cisco’s John Chambers and Wim Elfrink on the Internet of Things
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Laurie Garrett on the promises and perils of synthetic biology
The Economist’s Kenneth Cukier and the Oxford Internet Institute’s Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on the rise and effects of big data