Sometimes, when the change is too rapid and dramatic, you might not know whether it is really taking place or not. It is understandable, considering that you simply don’t recognize it. A dramatic change, however, happens anytime without your realizing it.
When Klaus Schwab talks about the 4th Industrial Revolution, it would be not so much difficult for you to just look away and stay in total denial. You could repeat it to yourself, “It’s not happening, it’s not happening! How can it happen in the situation that 1.2 billion people across the world can’t access to electricity as the International Energy Agency says? It seems like a far-away future from now. More than anything, the electricity grid is so fragile and all the new devices or technologies rely on the electricity. The 4th Industrial Revolution might never arrive soon!”
Nonetheless, you like it or not, it’s already going on. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not something you can only see in sci-fi films. You don’t have to look too far or too hard. It’s right there in your smartphone. Siri (iOS) and Google Now (Android) are all personal intelligent digital assistants for you. Through your voice, you can ask, for instance, “What time is it now?” or “Play my favorite song, “Can’t take my eyes off of you,” and it works. If you didn’t know it and so you didn’t use it, it’s simply because you didn’t know it. Now you know what you have in your phone, so go for it. Talk to Siri or Google Now, and they will serve your commands.
How about “Stitch Fix” in the United States? You don’t have to look at all those photos of the clothes or dresses just as you always do, when you try to buy some clothes on-line. In Stitch Fix, just download the app to your phone and enter some personal likes and dislikes, body sizes, etc., and they will send you five boxes of the clothes among which you can choose to keep some of them or return some of them. How can they send you the boxes of clothes whose photos you didn’t even see? It’s because they have adopted the Artificial Intelligence in their system and, based on the analysis of your likes and dislikes, they can choose what you might like. It is also not only about AlphaGo that beat Lee Se-dol, the world Korean champion of Go game, last year. AlphaGo can learn from his own mistakes until it masters the skills. AI is already crept into our daily lives. Now we have this Deep Learning system available, as shown in IBM Watson Healthcare installed in some hospitals. This is not to say that AI is perfect at the moment. Far from it. There are so many related issues, such as regulations on the adoption of IBM Watson Healthcare, since it is still developing. The research, however, should be conducted to the direction that AI shall not replace humans, but rather augment human capabilities further.
Smart factories are also popping up. In smart factories, machines and equipment communicate with each other, and without humans’ involvement, they detect the problems and fix them. However, since it is expensive to transform the existing factories into smart ones, only 20% factories in the world can afford to do it. So one of the Korean startups, UlalaLAB, succeeded in developing a lot less expensive platform called “Wim Factory.” Instead of replacing all of the existing equipment, you can simply attach specially-developed sensors to those facilities, and they will turn into smart factories. Without spending a lot of money for replacing the equipment, you can transform a traditional factory into a smart factory through the cloud system, machine learning and data analysis, and monitor and transmit all of those analyzed data to your smart devices so that you can take appropriate measures about the goods produced defectively. It maximizes efficiency and productivity, saving a lot of costs. This is why innovative startups are important at the moment faced with the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Zume Pizza, a US-based startup, has already adopted pizza robots in their system. The pizza robot can make 288 pizzas per hour, and Zume Pizza uses AI to find out customers’ preferences. The company does not need human laborers as many as before, which enables it to use even better and fresher ingredients for the pizzas in addition to saving the cost.
How about autonomous vehicles? They are not yet into our daily lives, but it would be just a matter of time. 3D organs also might help us live a lot longer than now, depending on how much they will cost. Of course, if they are too expensive, they will be nothing for those who cannot afford them. But if the prices of 3D organs are affordable, we might be able to live long lives. But I don’t want to oversimplify it. We could also talk about ethical issues or negative aspects related to the matter later. Let’s just talk about all those possible dramatic changes the 4th Industrial Revolution will bring to our lives.
So what do all these stories tell us? Although we are well aware that the 4th Industrial Revolution is still in its infancy, we need to be prepared for the future. Among others, 47% of the current jobs will disappear in the next 25 years according to Oxford University. 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030, says futuristspeaker.com. But we can’t now figure out exactly how many jobs will disappear in the future. We have been going through so many changes already. Consequently, it might be vital for our future generations to know about the 4th Industrial Revolution and possible changes to occur to our daily lives. We should ask about ourselves: Are we going to educate our children with some of the useful skills for now but to be useless in the near future? In accordance with it, are we going to know what to expect and prepare? Which way is better? Honestly, we’ll never know until we are there. However, it might be too late to prepare ourselves or our younger generations after all those changes arrive.
Let me talk about what we do in Korea. Let me make it clear that I am not to say that Korea is not the role model at all. What I can do is just to share what is going on in Korea and in some other countries. I’d also like to make it clear that I’m not suggesting Korea should do the same in other countries like India only because they do it.
Nowadays, people talk about CT or Computational Thinking. In the UK, in 2013, the British government announced the “National Curriculum in England: Computing Programmes of Study.” It is well known in Korea that many other countries such UK, Finland, Estonia, USA, etc. emphasize the importance of coding and digital education. It might look too severe to teach children how to do programming when they are only 10 years old, for instance. But their generations might be totally different. Just look at the smart phone. 15 years ago, we didn’t use smart phones. We used mobile phones only. Now so many people use smartphones so naturally. Teaching on how to do programming or coding may not be something totally strange to our children who are already used to smart phones, laptop computers, the Internet, 3D printing, drones, robots, and AI.
This is not to argue that coding is everything and we have to teach children how to do programming as early as possible. This is just part of the preparation for the future. How well prepared are we? According to the projection of the World Economic Forum 2016, 7.1 million jobs will disappear by 2020, and 2 million new jobs will pop up. Get this: almost all new jobs will be related to computers or programming. Many parents and experts in Korea start to worry about their children, which is leading us to hurry up to adopt coding education into the national curriculum. This doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone should become a programmer in the future, but it’ll be just like a basic thing you will need to know in the future. There was a time when people were impressed with the skill to use word processors. But now no one is not impressed by it, because many people can do it just with a small effort to learn. That’s why we should be in such a hurry to adopt coding, programming or Computational Thinking into our education program.
Nevertheless, there are many challenges and hurdles to make this happen. It is not even clear for now whether we have sufficient qualified coding teachers or not. The questions continue: What age is the most appropriate to begin to learn coding? The younger, the better? In a competitive country like Korea, so many parents are already putting so much in teaching their children on how to do coding, logical thinking, science and math for their survival in the future. This is not only about Korea. Japan really wants their children to be more creative and stronger with logical thinking, which has led the country to decide to make the programming a compulsory curriculum in their schools, starting from 2020.
Why do they care about Computational Thinking so much? It’s because they need to prepare themselves for the worst scenario. If you are not prepared for it and be faced with a totally different world, it might be too late for your children to adjust to it. That’s the reason why many nations try to adopt the Computational Thinking. After all, education is key to survival for the future. The preparation cannot be done only by the private sector; both private and public sectors should work together discussing how to proceed with the education, infrastructure, Internet, big data, R&D on AI, robotics, acceleration of innovative startups, etc. You might be left behind while you are in total denial of all these possible disruptive changes that would come a lot sooner than expected.
There are some economists and naysayers who argue that such changes will not take place as the 4th Industrial Revolution will not come in the end due to lack of so many resources required. Again, however, we never know. Education and preparation for the future generation shouldn’t be at the mercy of just assumptions. So it will be a lot better to be well prepared than not doing anything hoping for no changes in the future. Be aware and be prepared. Ignorance is no bliss always.
To that end, both public and private sectors need to talk to each other. The government shouldn’t try to take it all into their own hands. Instead, the private sector should take the initiative. The government should listen to the private sector carefully. Collaborating with large businesses and startups, the government should be able to do something about wrong or out-of-date regulations or obstacles that hinder many creative people from going to the innovation.
Large businesses also should utilize their broad networks and huge resources to contribute to the innovation. Under the circumstances, innovate startups can tap into all those resources that both the government and the large businesses offer. If we can build a natural eco-system like this for innovation, we are one step closer to the good preparation for the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The government needs to listen to innovative people, not forcing them or suppressing through ridiculous systems, old-fashioned paperwork and not-up-to-dated regulations, but placing a basic foundation for the natural eco-system. The private sector should lead the innovation for the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Don’t be mistaken to think that the 4th Industrial Revolution is all about fancy robots, AI, drones, VR/AR, IoT, 3D printing or smart factories or farms. It is more about innovation in our lives. It is going to change our conventional ways of thinking and living in many ways. Start from education. Help people know what to expect and prepare. Spread the words. Make the atmosphere where people are motivated to do the preparation. Otherwise, we will be, without our realizing it, dinosaurs that do not even know we will be left behind.
The contributor of this article, David Sehyeon Baek, is now working as Director of Global Cooperation and Global Marketing at Gyeonggi Innovation Center in Korea.