The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2036-9.ch001


History has always been a great indicator of past behaviour as well as of future trends. However, when you think of what future jobs may look like, you do not certainly expect to find a plausible response in the past. Technologies and scientific advancements in general make it almost impossible to predict what you will be required to know in order to get—or maintain—your job in the next six months, let alone in the next couple of years. Whilst disruption seems such a new concept nowadays, we will learn that disruptive innovations have always been part of our story. The authors look at the major industrial revolutions known to humans and discuss patterns to help us prepare for the forthcoming future.
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The Economy During The Industrial Revolutions

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an industrial revolution can be defined as “a rapid major change in an economy (as in England in the late 18th century) marked by the general introduction of power-driven machinery or by an important change in the prevailing types and methods of use of such machines” (see Following this definition, we can say that we are now experiencing the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution, as a result of fundamental technological changes, which are derived from fast-paced ground-breaking scientific and technological advances. To use the concept of a technology adoption curve introduced by Bohlen, Beal and Rogers (1957; Rogers, 1962), we will see that new products or solutions usually follow a predictable trajectory which resembles a bell, with innovators as the earliest adopters, followed by the early adopters, the masses and finally the laggards. So, if we are in the middle of a fourth revolution, which ones have we already conquered?

From an historical perspective, our concept of economy started off with the agrarian revolution, which happened thousands of years ago, when humans moved from foraging to farming, through an extensive use of animals for production, communication and transportation. Although the first revolution lasted for a very long time, industrial revolutions appear to be much shorter. In fact, the first one only lasted for eighty years, from 1760 to 1840, while the following ones were on for less than sixty years.

As highlighted before, it was only in 1760 that the first industrial revolution arrived, bringing with it railroads and the invention of the steam engine as main innovation. If only you can get your head around the shock people have felt while looking at the first steam engine, and the wonder of getting on a train to reach far away destinations that could have meant days of unsafe and perilous travel for them, then you might be able to understand the astonishment such revolution brought with itself. Started in Britain, the First Industrial revolution spread throughout the Western Europe and to North America. What triggered it, was a successful agricultural production, which of course gave people more food to eat, and the opportunity to look for work and earn money. This meant that building new houses and methods of transportation for commuting became a priority. Industrial labor opportunities drew people to the cities from the countryside, in such an explosive way if we think that in 1750 only 15 percent of the population of Britain lived in towns. By 1850, over 50 percent of the entire population of Great Britain lived in either a town or a city, and by 1900 such percentage reached 85, with London having 4.5 million people, Glasgow 760 thousands, Liverpool 685 thousands, and Manchester and Birmingham 500 thousands inhabitants.

In this era, mechanisation of processes and production is a key factor to enable mass transportation of goods and people. The availability of better metals and richer fuel also contributed to industrialisation, through the invention of the steam engine, as we said earlier. Using coal and iron both as construction materials and fuel, the steam engine could power factories, locomotives and ships. Roads, canals and railways, which allowed goods to be sent over long distances, changed Britain dramatically. Visually, the revolution was clear in the new industrial towns, with the skyline dominated by smoking factories and overcrowded and dirty streets to match strict rules and punishments. The First Industrial Revolution saw also the mechanisation of the textile industry, thanks to new inventions, such as the spinning mule and the power loom. At the same time, Henry Bessemer helped developing an inexpensive process for mass producing steel, which was a fundamental innovation because iron and steel were key materials for constructing the tools and machinery, steam engines and ships needed for the industrial progress.

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