Sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2523-7.ch003
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The sustainable revolution constitutes a multiscalar process characterized by gradual interconnection and digitization in economic globalization. This work confronts the discourses derived from this socioeconomic process with the biophysical limits of the planet through the analysis of the material requirements of the basic infrastructure necessary for the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Through the study of the discourses and the current situation of natural resources, 13 metals have been identified whose availability in the next 30 years constitutes the limiting factors for the effective deployment of the technologies of this process. In this situation, the theoretical foundations of future potential are established where techno-optimistic and degrowth discourses coexist through uneven development, making sustainability a characteristic based on exclusivity.
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It is an easily recognizable reality that humanity is undergoing a series of socioeconomic changes derived from the vertiginous technological advance in recent decades. This change has finally been conceptualized as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from now on 4RI). The new generations, who have not known a world without the internet, assume its penetration in more and more areas of society. The speed of transport and communications has reaffirmed that maxim Henri Lefebvre (1973) promulgated “the annihilation of space by time.” Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), renewable energies, or increasingly efficient and adaptable smart devices, among others, are the characteristic signs of the societies of the most economical economies. Developed from the globe. The increases in efficiency derived from technological advances are in turn revolutionizing production processes which are beginning to be distinguished by “mass customization” (Schwab, 2016). With the 4RI ready to propel humanity into the digitized future, it remains to analyze the context in which it takes place.

The 21st century brings with it a series of material conditions typical of a finite planet. Global warming, the shortage of certain materials, or the depletion of fossil fuels will set the rates of socioeconomic development in the coming decades. Continued population growth will require an increasing volume of food and raw materials that compromise global supply capacity.

Refusing to see the two faces of the development process introduced here would constitute an example of human irrationality. This would be an unrealistic assumption within the prevailing economic perspective in the incipient digital capitalism that already governs almost all aspects of human life. Therefore, in the present work, both dimensions are addressed to understand and determine, as far as possible, the relationship between the 4RI and the resources of the planet in which it is developed.

Following the preceding, this work aims to determine the critical points of the general infrastructure of the 4RI that can help alleviate the problematic sustainability. For this, the following specific objectives have been determined:

  • Analyze the geological resource requirements of an energy matrix and a mobility system based on renewable energies and the generalization of the internet in new areas of society through smart devices (Smartphones, tablets, and computers).

  • Study the availability of these resources in the form of reserves on a global scale.

  • Analyze the long-term effects that consumption dynamics derived from the efficiency increases implemented by the 4RI may have on material reserves.

  • Approximate how the discourses about the sustainability of the 4RI are inserted within a model that includes the material conditions studied in the previous sections.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR): The Fourth Industrial Revolution is different from previous revolutions because of the unprecedented rate of change and increased complexity of related issues.

Energy Return on Investment (EROI): Energy return on investment (EROI) is a ratio that measures the amount of usable energy delivered from an energy source versus the amount of energy used to get that energy resource.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions.

Sustainability: Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also need social and economic resources. Sustainability is not just environmentalism.

Information technology (IT): Information technology falls under the IS umbrella but deals with the technology involved in the systems themselves. Information technology can be defined as the study, design, implementation, support, or management of computer-based information systems.

Automation: Automation is the creation and application of technologies to produce and deliver goods and services with minimal human intervention.

Internet of Things (IoT): The internet of things describes the network of physical objects, so-known as “things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that are used to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet.

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