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The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges


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The fourth industrial revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use of connected technology to enable and manage their lives. (Miller 2015, 3) The first industrial revolution changed our lives and economy from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. Oil and electricity facilitated mass production in the second industrial revolution. In the third industrial revolution, information technology was used to automate production. Although each industrial revolution is often considered a separate event, together they can be better understood as a series of events building upon innovations of the previous revolution and leading to more advanced forms of production. This article discusses the major features of the four industrial revolutions, the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, and the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
Content may be subject to copyright. International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 9, No. 2; 2018
Published by Sciedu Press 90 ISSN 1923-4023 E-ISSN 1923-4031
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges
Min Xu1, Jeanne M. David2 & Suk Hi Kim1
1 Department of Finance, College of Business Administration, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI, USA
2 Department of Accounting, College of Business Administration, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI, USA
Corresponddence: Min Xu, Associate Professor of Finance, College of Business Administration, University of
Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI 48221, USA. Tel: 313-993-1225.
Received: February 16, 2018 Accepted: March 6, 2018 Online Published: March 8, 2018
doi:10.5430/ijfr.v9n2p90 URL:
The fourth industrial revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World
Economic Forum, describes a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use
of connected technology to enable and manage their lives. (Miller 2015, 3) The first industrial revolution changed
our lives and economy from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine
manufacturing. Oil and electricity facilitated mass production in the second industrial revolution. In the third
industrial revolution, information technology was used to automate production. Although each industrial revolution
is often considered a separate event, together they can be better understood as a series of events building upon
innovations of the previous revolution and leading to more advanced forms of production. This article discusses the
major features of the four industrial revolutions, the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, and the
challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
Keywords: fourth industrial revolution, five ages of civilization, 3D printing technology, artificial intelligence, IoT,
fusion of technology, robotics
1. Introduction
The speed and measure of the changes coming about by the fourth industrial revolution are not to be ignored. These
changes will bring about shifts in power, shifts in wealth, and knowledge. Only in being knowledgeable about these
changes and the speed in which this is occurring can we ensure that advances in knowledge and technology reach all
and benefit all.
The first industrial revolution started in 1760 with the invention of the steam engine. The steam engine allowed the
transition from farming and feudal society to the new manufacturing process. This transition included the use of coal
as the main energy while trains were the main means of transportation. Textile and steel were the dominant industries
in terms of employment, value of output, and capital invested. The second industrial revolution began in 1900 with
the invention of the internal combustion engine. This led to an era of rapid industrialization using oil and electricity
to power mass production. The third industrial revolution started in 1960 and was characterized with the
implementation of electronics and information technology to automate production. Under the old ways, making
things involved screwing or welding lots of parts together. The fourth industrial revolution now involves computer
generated product design and three dimensional (3D) printing, which can create solids object by building up
successive layers of materials. (Prisecaru, 57-62) Table 1 shows a short presentation of the industrial revolutions
from 1760 to the present. International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 9, No. 2; 2018
Published by Sciedu Press 91 ISSN 1923-4023 E-ISSN 1923-4031
Table 1. Main characteristics of industrial revolutions
Energy Resource
Main Technical
Main Developed
Transport Means
I: 1760-1900
Steam Engine
Textile, Steel
II: 1900-1960
Oil Electricity
Internal Combustion
Metallurgy, Auto,
Machine Building
Train, Car
III: 1960-2000
Nuclear Energy
Natural Gas
Computers, Robots
Auto, Chemistry
Car, Plane
IV: 2000-
Green Energies
Internet, 3D Printer,
Genetic Engineering
High Tech
Electric Car,
Ultra-Fast Train
Source: Prisecaru, P. (2016). "Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution." Knowledge Horizons. Economics,
8(1), 57-62. Web
Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the
middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the
physical, digital, and biological spheres.
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial
Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. 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.” (Schwab 2015)
2. Opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
There are similarities between four industrial revolutions and the five ages of civilization: the hunter and gather age,
the agricultural age, the industrial age, the information worker age, and the emerging age of wisdom. Therefore, we
may infer the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution through the characteristics of these five ages of
civilization presented by Steven Covey in his book 8th Habit. (2011, 12-17) First, the productivity of each
subsequent age goes up fifty times over the preceding age. Consider for example, the increase in productivity of the
industrial age over the agricultural age. Second, each subsequent age destroys many of the jobs of the preceding age.
The information age is replacing the jobs created by the industrial age. Much of losses in our industrial age jobs have
less to do with government policy and free trade agreements than they do with dramatic shift in our economy to the
knowledge worker.
Third, in the first three ages of civilization manual workers produced most goods and services with their body, but in
the last two ages, knowledge workers produce most goods and services with their mind. Knowledge workers are the
link to a company's other investments. They provide focus, creativity, and leverage in using those investments to
achieve the organization’s objectives more efficiently. In other words, knowledge is an integral part of total
management and cuts across functional boundaries. The main assets and primary drivers of the industrial age were
machines and capital. People were necessary but replaceable. The management style of the industrial age simply
does not work in the new economy. Management focused on motivating employees to perform the physical labor
needed to produce the products and services. In the fourth industrial age, the challenge now is how companies can
motivate their knowledge workers to release their human potential.
Leading researchers argue that the fourth industrial revolution will shape the future through its impacts on
government and business. People have no control over either technology or the disruption that comes with the fourth
industrial revolution. However, we can predict the opportunities that comes with the fourth industrial revolution: 1)
lower barriers between inventors and markets, 2) more active role for the artificial intelligence (AI), 3) integration of
different technics and domains (fusion), 4) improved quality of our lives (robotics) and 5) the connected life
(Internet). International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 9, No. 2; 2018
Published by Sciedu Press 92 ISSN 1923-4023 E-ISSN 1923-4031
First, Chris Anderson predicts that the fourth industrial revolution is likely to reduce barriers between inventors and
markets due to new technologies such as 3D printing for prototyping. (2012) For example, tissue engineers use rapid
prototyping techniques to produce 3D porous scaffolds. The 3D printing technique fabricates scaffolds with a novel
micro- and macro-architecture and these in turn help shape the new tissue as it regenerates. New technologies, like
this 3D printing, allow entrepreneurs with new ideas to establish small companies with lower start-up costs. The
entrepreneur can bring the product 'to reality' with 3D printing, without the traditional time constraints often
encountered with traditional prototyping methods. The typical barriers to entry are removed from the marketing
Second, increasing trends in artificial intelligence point to significant economic disruptions in the coming years.
Artificial systems that rationally solve complex problems pose a threat to many kinds of employment, but also offers
new avenues to economic growth. A report by McKinsey & Company found that half of all existing work activities
would be automated by currently existing technologies, thereby enabling companies to save billions of dollars and to
create new types of jobs. (Manyika et al. 2017) For example, driverless cars may modestly replace tax and Uber
drivers, but autonomous trucks may radically transform shipping with far fewer jobs for truck drivers.
Third, innovative technologies will integrate different scientific and technical disciplines. Key forces will come
together in "a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological spheres."
(Schwab 2015) This fusion of technologies goes beyond mere combination. Fusion is more than complementary
technology, because it creates new markets and new growth opportunities for each participant in the innovation. It
blends incremental improvements from several (often previously separated) fields to create a product.
Fourth, robotics can and will change our lives in the near future. Technically robots are automated motorized tools.
They cook food, play our music, record our shows, and even run our cars. But we just do not see it because robots do
not have a face we to whom we can talk or a butt we can kick. (Tilden) Consequently, robots have the potential to
improve the quality of our lives at home, work, and many other places. Customized robots will create new jobs,
improve the quality of existing jobs, and give people more time to focus on what they want to do.
Fifth, the Internet of things (IoT) is the Internetworking of physical devices. Typically, the IoT is expected to offer
advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that goes beyond machine-to-machine (M2M)
communications and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. (Holler, et al. 2014) The
interconnection of these embedded devices is expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling
advanced applications like a smart grid, and expanding to areas such as smart cities. The revolution of the connected
life came about thanks to the advance of the Internet. In 1969, the first data was transmitted over the Internet and
linked two main frame computers. Now, the Internet is connecting personal computers and mobile devices. "By 2010,
the number of computers on the Internet had surpassed the number of people on the earth." (Gershenfeld and Vasseur
2014, 28)
3. Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter 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. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be
integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to
academic and civil society.” (Schwab 2015) This paragraph gives us some idea of the challenges surrounding the
fourth industrial revolution. The enormity of the challenges and the breadth required of the response are reinforced
by Peters. (2017, 28)
The evolution of global industries in the fourth industrial revolution is both exciting and scary. Life will change with
the 3D printing, the IoT, and the fusion of technologies. The fourth industrial revolution can raise income levels by
allowing entrepreneurs to "run" with their new ideas. It will improve the quality of life for many people around the
world. (Jee 2017, 255-256) Consumers are likely to gain the most from the fourth industrial revolution.
“[T]echnological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency 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.”
(Schwab 2015)
While there are many benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, there are several key challenges that lie ahead. At
the same time, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As
automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 9, No. 2; 2018
Published by Sciedu Press 93 ISSN 1923-4023 E-ISSN 1923-4031
exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. The scarcest and most valuable resource in an era
driven by digital technologies will be neither ordinary labor nor ordinary capital; rather it will be those people who
can create new ideas and innovations. In the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of
production. People with ideas, not workers or investors, will be the scarcest resource. (Brynjolfsson, McAfee, and
Spence 2014). In 2017 Bloomberg Global Business Forum, Apple CEO Tim Cook commented “If I were a country
leader, my goal would be to monopolize the world’s talent.” (Leswing 2017) The quest for talent will give rise to a
job market that may become increasingly segregated. Low skilled and low wage jobs will be replaced by computers
and digitization. The higher paid jobs requiring more skills are less likely to be replaced. This increased
dichotomization can lead to an increase in social tensions. (Wolf 2015, 125)
In addition to the threat of massive job displacement under the ongoing fourth industrial revolution, there are a
variety of challenges, such as cybersecurity, hacking, risk assessment, and others. (Lambert 2017) A higher level of
alert is raised up when our lives become extensively connected to various devices, from our cell phones, cars, and
light switches to our home security cameras, and smart speakers. One of the biggest trends in 2018 Consumer
Electronics Show is that everything is connected and there is no going back. (Goode 2018)
Having everything attached to everything else in the IoT is going to monumentally increase the vulnerabilities
present in any given network. With more knobs, connections and burden of connectivity, systems are going to have
to be more secure. The fourth industrial revolution calls for greater cybersecurity. Companies will need to map their
networks, assessing the risk and critical factors relating to security. Such an assessment should examine accessibility
to systems, such as possible threats from internal sources, from disgruntled employees to internal human error, and
external sources including hackers and cyber terrorists. Further, companies must assess risk and determine if these
risks will be accepted, reduced, shared via insurance or other vehicles, or rejected. Risks can be from both intentional
and unintentional sources. If your house lights turn on via your computer, but you have lost the wireless connection
to your house, you may be living in the dark. Unintentional sources of risk can include error s promulgated by
company employees or nature itself such as storms causing disruptions in connectivity. Individuals too should assess
their risks, just as companies will. It may come that the Internet will have more information about individuals than
the family, friends, and colleagues of the individuals. Certainly, the ability of data to be processed and the speed in
which it can be done surpasses the ability and speed of individuals. It is necessary to examine the value of processes
and assets, from machinery to intellectual property, ensuring that there is insurance, security measures and that any
vulnerability is sufficiently identified.
When we consider the changing nature of security threats - from employees connecting personal devices to company
networks to brute force attacks from hackers - the situation is further complicated. The sophistication in risk
identification and neutralization has to change with it. While data can be lost or stolen by employees, either
inadvertently or intentionally, the biggest attacks in recent years have been external malicious attacks, collectively or
commonly referred to as hacking. These could be hacking to move money around, such as when Russian hackers
stole $10 million from Citibank customer accounts, Internet terrorism, such as the $2 million damages caused to over a six week botnet attack, Internet pump-and-dump fraud where hackers take advantage of
manipulating stock prices, or software piracy which is estimated to cost over $50 billion a year. (Romney and
Steinbart 2017, 159-167)
The fourth industrial revolution is more than just technology-driven change. Rather, it is powered with disruptive
innovation to positively impact our core industries and sectors, such as education, health and business. In education,
with the previous industrial revolutions, the focus of education changed. With the first industrial revolution,
education was focused on standard modes of learning, such as the McGuffey reader. With move toward mass
production in the second industrial revolution and standardized testing. Education is service oriented and with the
move into the third industrial revolution we come to see students under a customer learning model. Now in the fourth
industrial revolution, technologies really blur the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres. Disruptive
innovation makes its way into higher education in which it redefines the conventional ways universities deliver their
content to students. New modes of curriculum and teaching arise, and the focus changes from modes of teach to
modes of learning. Alternative curriculums are being constantly developed. Disruptive innovation also reshapes how
businesses operate. Thinking has really moved outside of the box. New markets are created and new products are
defined. Netflix is competing with traditional television. Taxis must compete against Uber and Lyft. These offered
similar product offered to customers in new ways. You could watch your shows from your home or get a ride
somewhere. With the Airbnb alternative overnight accommodations are competing against traditional hotels and
motels. (Jules 2017) International Journal of Financial Research Vol. 9, No. 2; 2018
Published by Sciedu Press 94 ISSN 1923-4023 E-ISSN 1923-4031
Last, in an era featuring AI, automation, robots, and genetic engineering, we have new ethical concerns emerging.
Lots of debates have arisen in genetic engineering about the use of tools and research technologies. On one hand,
preventing genetic disease by genetic engineering is desirable. On the other hand, what guidelines, or regulation, or
ethical boundaries we should establish in order to prevent the over manipulation genetics for desirable traits? Is there
such a thing as over manipulation? Infused with artificial intelligence and machine learning ability, robots have
become smarter and more autonomous, but they still lack an essential feature - the capacity of moral reasoning. This
limits their ability to make good or ethical decisions in complex situations. Further, the most critical question is
whose moral standards should robots inherit. Moral values differ greatly from individual to individual, across
countries, religions, and ideological boundaries. Uncertainty over which moral framework to adopt underlies the
difficulty and limitations to ascribing moral values to artificial systems. (Al-Rodhan 2015)
4. Conclusion
We have recently entered the dawn of the fourth industrial evolution, in which it differs in speed, scale, complexity,
and transformative power compared to previous revolutions. This article has examined the opportunities and
challenges that are likely to arise as a result of the fourth industrial revolution. As industrial revolutions have moved
from the mechanization of production in the first industrial revolution, to the mass production in the second, and then
to the automation of production in third, the standards of living for most people around the world have greatly
improved. Undoubtedly, the capability of advancing technology coming forth from the latest industrial revolution has
the potential to make even bigger and greater improvements on every aspect of our lives changes than the first three
industrial revolutions summed together.
On the other hand, there are a variety of challenges stemming from the fourth industrial revolution to overcome.
From income inequality to cybersecurity, the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution have obstacles that must be
harnessed, directed and overcome, such as income inequality, cybersecurity, and ethical dilemmas. Technology and
advancements in science drive transformation around the world. They create ripple effects on societies, institutions,
and economies. They will transform the ways in which we live, work, and interact with one another. Understanding
these new technologies and their disruption potential is critical for all nations and especially developing countries.
The fourth industrial revolution may affect society and economy in a variety of ways. (Prisecaru 2016) First, a large
portion of people around the world are likely to use social-media platforms to connect, learn, and change information.
Second, a variety of innovative producers and competitors will have easy access to digital platforms of marketing,
sales, and distribution, thereby improving the quality and price of goods and services. Third, consumers will be more
and more involved in the production and distribution chains. The main effects of this revolution on the business
environment are the impact it will have on consumer expectations, product quality, the move toward collaborative
innovation, and innovations in organizational forms.
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This study theoretically explores the level of resilience of the Islamic finance industry against economic distress triggered by the pandemic in order to identify products, institutions, and practices that may be introduced to future-proof the industry from unexpected pandemics in the near future. In doing this, the key questions this study seeks to answer include: How resilient is the Islamic finance industry against financial and economic distress? How can Islamic finance contribute to the long-term economic stability that allows countries to be able to cope with the uncertain consequences of the pandemic? What tools can the Islamic finance industry deploy to change the fortunes of emerging economies for the better as part of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery? Does Islamic social finance have any role to play in reducing the impact of the prolonged pandemic on the less privileged in society? Furthermore, what is the role of Islamic-driven FinTech in transforming modern economies? While adopting an analytical approach, the study finds that Islamic social finance remains an evergreen project that could be utilized to weather the storm of future pandemics. In addition, the study finds that beyond shariah compliance, which is certainly very important, Islamic financial products and services should also be conventionally viable and competitive.
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This article explores Edwidge Danticat’s last novel, Claire of the Sea Light (2013), as a response to Modern/colonial ideologies of progress that continue to emanate from predictions of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. After an analysis of the work of Danticat as literature of the American hemisphere instead of merely Haitian or Caribbean literature, this article contends that the text’s portrayal of nature, the environment, and the past aligns with visions of decolonial hope rather than with the linear progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Through the stories of a small community in Haiti, Claire of the Sea Light portrays the degradation of the environment that ravishes the country and does so in relation to the external forces that affect it, presenting a coloniality of climate associated to racial dynamics of the American hemisphere. The blending of human narratives and environmental ones in the novel nevertheless offers possibilities for resistance and a hopeful vision of the country rooted in decolonial ecologies and Caribbean epistemology. Granting equal importance to the stories of non-human actors in the narrative, the novel positions itself outside the Modern/colonial tradition to embrace a decolonial poetics that offers hope in a world which has proved to continually reproduce its own coloniality as new technology is developed.
"Wired" magazine editor and bestselling author Anderson takes readers to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today's entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop.
Not for download, only for purchase at Amazon or Elsevier. This book outlines the background and overall vision for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine- to-Machine (M2M) communications and services, including major standards. Key technologies are described, and include everything from physical instrumentation of devices to the cloud infrastructures used to collect data. Also included is how to derive information and knowledge, and how to integrate it into enterprise processes, as well as system architectures and regulatory requirements. Real-world service use case studies provide the hands-on knowledge needed to successfully develop and implement M2M and IoT technologies sustainably and profitably. Finally, the future vision for M2M technologies is described, including prospective changes in relevant standards. This book is written by experts in the technology and business aspects of Machine-to- Machine and Internet of Things, and who have experience in implementing solutions.
The Moral Code: How to Teach Robots Right and Wrong
  • N Al-Rodhan
Al-Rodhan, N. (2015). The Moral Code: How to Teach Robots Right and Wrong. Retrieved from
The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (1st Free Press trade)
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Covey, S. (2005). The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (1st Free Press trade). New York: Free Press.
Natural Language: The User Interface for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Dan Miller
Dan Miller. (2016, September). Natural Language: The User Interface for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Opus Research Report.