• Victor V. Motti

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Storytelling

Very recently I launched a new playlist on my YouTube channel and I called it Let’s Connect the Dots Series. The aim is to apply a system approach both static and dynamic to obtain deeper insights about the scenarios related to any core issue of interest. This approach will help us become better storytellers. 

One of the key issues which discussed many times among professional futurists is the Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We can define it generally under the broad term of smart operations. That is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics & Automation, Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.

Obviously we are facing complexity and uncertainty. Therefore, it is appropriate to apply strategic foresight thinking here. There are doubts about the positive and negative impacts of the fourth industrial revolution. In order to address better and deeper the contradictions, the tensions, and the consequences and also informing the key stakeholders about known and unknown emerging issues in the world economy and society, we can apply two helpful futures studies tools known as the “Future Wheel”, to identify the key factors, and “System Dynamics Conceptual Mapping”, to understand the relationships among such factors.

When we map the relationships among the key factors involved several story-lines emerge that are worthwhile for further consideration. The Age of Abundance is characterized by the narratives of a) Smart Everything Accelerates Exponential Growth and b) Near Zero Prices New Investors. These are the common stories we are hearing from the Silicon Valley futurists. If smart operations are widely adopted by the diverse industrial sectors, there will be exponential growth of productivity. This will lower production cost and increases the profit margin. When corporations are doing well in their accounts they will invest more and the economy grows, creating more jobs. More employed people fuel the consumption of goods and services and contribute to a bigger demand in the economy which in turn provides the incentive for the industry to use even more smart operations. Another related system dynamics feedback loop tells us if the production costs are decreased the prices goes down. With less inflation in the economy consumers can save a larger part of their income and invest that money in the capital markets themselves. That will also give the required financial resources to corporations so that they can expand their smart operations even more.  

Such a narrative also promises two key outcomes that are a) Smart Resource Use Enables Sustainable Development and b) Smart Energy Saves Ecology. Smart operations will enable a major shift toward adoption of circular economy business models and play a key role in waste reduction in the economy. That will also optimize the total energy demand in the industries. When the demand for energy and in particular fossil fuels as the key source of energy is reduced there will be less industrial pollution which helps us control ecological degradation. The better the quality of the environment the more interest will be among industry leaders to shift to the circular economy. Another path of impact can also be considered which tells us that in addition to energy consumption, the use of raw material and therefore resource extraction will be controlled as well. This eventually saves the ecology. 

Apart from this inspiring story and the dynamic behind it, we should note that on the negative side a Monster of Conflict in Physical and Mental spaces might wake up by the narratives of a) Disruptive Tech Shoots in the Foot and b) Super Rich makes Super Conflict. Such a narrative also foresees an army of Psychotherapists Battle Jobless Pandemic.

One of the big alarms that are often sounded about the consequences of the fourth industrial revolution is that smart operations will bring a large and massive scale of structural unemployment. People will become simply redundant. The key outcome of this chronic unemployment is a big pressure on the mental health of people. This will likely initiate protests, social unrest, political instability, and even armed conflict. Such events in particular if the monster of war wakes up indeed can, of course, largely and badly affect the physical infrastructure of communities and countries. Without such infrastructure which is vital for the usual functioning of an economy the smart operations will stop working altogether.  

On the other hand, corporations that are using smart operations will have easy and wide access to the global markets, significantly harming the business of local competitors. The market will be billion people in size and will make billions of dollars. The story is about a handful of winners who take it all. A global monopoly for the giant corporations will take shape.  When the high net worth corporate owners become super rich the income gap widens even more and the social inequality will increase worldwide. This path also results in more protests and instability and finally destruction of the physical infrastructure.

The final story-line is about how to treat a tsunami of mental health problem or battle the monster in the mental space. More mental health problems because of lifelong unemployment will provide the condition for the growth of drug abuse, addiction, and even suicide. This in itself triggers a demand growth for all kinds of mental health treatment centers and facilities. Therefore, there will be high demand for people talented trained in psychological therapy and mental care. Only through effective counseling services for this growing group of patients we can hope to keep the mental health conditions in the society in balance.

 You can watch and see the system maps in this video:


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