I’m curious about industrial revolutions from the perspective of workers, and I’d like your input. We are now supposedly going through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and initially it seems to be the first one that has little use for humans. But so has every previous one, before it actually happened.
So what do you think humanity will do with its time, come the revolution?
First, some history.
A Short History of Industrial Revolutions
According to the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development, the first three industrial revolutions were:
First (1765): Mechanisation and the arrival of the steam engine/trains drew people away from agriculture and into industry.
Second (1870): Emergence of electricity, gas and coal, and the invention of the internal combustion engine, telegraph, and telephone.
Third (1969): Development of nuclear energy, electronics, and computers, opening the door to space exploration, accelerated research, robotics and biotechnology.
Fourth (now): Too soon to tell exactly, but its infrastructure includes the internet, virtual reality and AI.
Before 1765, there were pre-industrial revolutions. Ancient societies saw transitions such as:
- The shift from hunter/forager societies to agriculture
- Agricultural revolution (starting around 1650): crop rotation, new style ploughs, enclosure, selective breeding, invention of the seed drill
- Invention of the wheel reducing the need for raw manpower in the form of slaves
(There may have also been ancient civilisations that were much more highly developed than we have given them credit for – see Graham Hancock’s books such as Magicians of the Gods.)
What I’m Wondering…
Humans have been useful throughout these historical developments, with the majority workforce shifting from slaves to farm workers to factory workers to service industries/professionals.
And I’m sure the question I’m about to ask has been asked at every transition point in history, but the answer is maybe less clear now, and this is why I’d like your input:
When computers, AI, and robots can do most of the work, what use does industry have for humans?
Back in the 1950s, we thought that exciting new technologies would take over most of the drudgery, and humans would have unprecedented leisure time to enjoy nature, keep fit, indulge in creative arts and pursue personal development. But instead we created twentieth-century forms of drudgery, largely in service industries.
Might we finally be able to fulfil that promise of more leisure time?
But if the industrial machine has little use for humans, how do we distribute wealth? Currently workers sell their time to the owners of industry in order to obtain the money to buy goods and services. These purchases in turn keep the industries ticking over.
So if there is little need for workers, then what? How does the engine of capitalism keep running? How will people obtain money? What will we do with our time? Do we even want this Fourth Industrial Revolution? Who benefits from it? Who gets to decide?
I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear yours!
A reminder that I have a couple of public speaking events coming up – tickets available via the links below. I don’t do public events very often, so I hope you’ll grab this rare chance!
Friday 27th May: Solitude, Sustainability, and Systems Thinking: Rowing 3 Oceans for Change (UK, near Southampton)
Thursday 9th-Friday 10th June: Fifteen Seconds Festival (Graz, Austria): Riding the Waves of Change
PROMO CODE! 10 free festival passes available if you enter FSF22-FV6P3RUU at checkout
My talk description: Change is happening fast, and the face of the wave is only going to get steeper. Record-setting ocean rower Roz Savage shares insights on how to embrace apparent chaos as a catalyst for evolution. Drawing on her ocean adventures, she offers thoughts on how we can surrender to the wave, stop trying to control the uncontrollable, and instead maintain our balance and focus as we accelerate into an excitingly unpredictable future.