Controversy over who really coined 4IR


READERS may be reminded of one Terry Bell, a columnist for News24 and his hokey reference to the ‘Second Industrial Revolution” (2IR). Medialternatives took Bell to task for suggesting we were all about to enter, wait for it, the ‘Second Industrial Revolution’, this sometime in 2015. And that’s from a company which attempted to gag and silence me, and when they could’t achieve that, they corruptly bought a decision in the labour court of South Africa effectively trashing the TRC Act and Preamble to our Constitution.

Well, this morning I read another equally galling piece by Sarah Gravitt published by the Mail & Guardian, blithely suggesting alongside so many google addicted learners, that none other than Davos founder, the German economist Klaus Schwab was the brains behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Readers may therefore be interested to gain some insight into the controversy between Jeremy Rifkin and Schwab. Rifkin is an erudite futurist whose various books  on economics, and labour have painted a picture of essentially a ‘third industrialisation’ only to have Schwab rebrand most of the central thesis touted by Rikfin in his books, as a “Fourth Industrialisation’.

A shout out to visionaries such as Alvin Toffler whose prescient writing on the ‘Third Wave’ predate both Rifkin and Schwab.

For all its pitfalls, I agree with those who suggest the term 4IR is a convenient way of talking about where we are now, especially when it comes to the impact of technologies such as AI, augmented and blended reality, and most obviously when their capacity for exponential improvement in human progress is concerned. The distinction between third and fourth industrialisations is of little significance when the overall pattern of industrialisation is considered, but will no doubt make for much academic tinkering. In fact one can pretty much guarantee that some pundit will propose a fifth industrial revolution in five years time, in the same way web 2.0 begat web 3.0 ad infinitum.

And it won’t matter which conferences you attend, or which degree you have, so long as somebody is making money out of selling you on the idea.

Rifkin writes: “Professor Schwab introduced the theme in a lengthy essay published in Foreign Affairs in December 2015. He argues that we are on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that will fundamentally change the way we work and live in the coming decades. Much of the essay’s text eloquently describes the vast technological changes brought on by the digitalization of economic and social life and its disruptive impact on conventional business practices and social norms. I don’t disagree. Where I take exception is with Professor Schwab’s suggestion that these initiatives represent a Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

For my part, I tend to believe that we are approaching a singularity in which the term ‘industrial revolution’ will cease to have any significance so far as economics is concerned. The post-human epoch, predicated as it is on technological prowess on the one hand, and species extinction on the other, will most certainly lead to the demise of humans in their current form, but this is a debate for another time.

Readers may therefore wish to review my 2018 piece on the End of the Anthropocene.

And caveat emptor to all those wising to steal the singularity.

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