The COVID-19 pandemic is being used by the leaders of many governments around the world to retool and reshape the economy. This "new normal" is being created at the behest of the World Economic Forum, a group formed back in 1971 as the European Management Forum by Klaus Schwab, a German engineer/economist born during the rule of the National Socialist Party in 1938. While some people believe that Schwab's vision of the future is worthy of praise, in fact, it is quite clear that his version of social utopia is not shared with the vast majority of humanity in the Western world as well as those living in developing economies. In this posting, I want to take a look at a publication from the World Economic Forum (WEF) which clearly outlines Schwab's vision of a social utopia, one that he has convinced many influential government leaders and private sector plutocrats is the answer to society's woes and to their personal benefit. In the first of this two part series, I want to look at some background regarding the Fourth Industrial Revolution followed by Part 2 which will look at the WEF's more specific scenario for our collective futures.
In his 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab begins by stating the following:
"Of the many diverse and fascinating challenges we face today, the most intense and important is how to understand and shape the new technology revolution, which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind. We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, what I consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is unlike anything humankind has experienced before.
We have yet to grasp fully the speed and breadth of this new revolution. Consider the unlimited possibilities of having billions of people connected by mobile devices, giving rise to unprecedented processing power, storage capabilities and knowledge access. Or think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few. Many of these innovations are in their infancy, but they are already reaching an inflection point in their development as they build on and amplify each other in a fusion of technologies across the physical, digital and biological worlds."
Here is a WEF documentary on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in case you needed more background:
Schwab has a clear fixation with technology as the ultimate solution to the world's problems. His obsession with technologic solutions is very clearly outlined in a WEF report "Deep Shift – Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact" which you can find here. In this September 2015 Survey Report, the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society (note how the two are linked even in the title of the report), the WEF surveyed over 800 executives and experts from the information and communications technology sector on the "tipping points", moments when specific technological shifts will hit mainstream society, shifts that will shape our collective digital futures. The report outlines 21 factors or tipping points (all of which are technological) that form the blueprint for the Fourth Industrial Revolution as seen by Schwab and his World Economic Forum.
Here is the front page of the report:
According to the report, there are six megatrends which are shaping society:
1.) People and the internet – How people connect with others, information and the world around them is being transformed through a combination of technologies. Wearable and implantable technologies will enhance people’s “digital presence”, allowing them to interact with objects and one another in new ways.
2.) Computing, communications and storage everywhere – The continued rapid decline in the size and cost of computing and connectivity technologies is driving an exponential growth in the potential to access and leverage the internet. This will lead to ubiquitous computing power being available, where everyone has access to a supercomputer in their pocket, with nearly unlimited storage capacity.
3.) The Internet of Things – Smaller, cheaper and smarter sensors are being introduced – in homes, clothes and accessories, cities, transport and energy networks, as well as manufacturing processes.
4.) Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data – Exponential digitization creates exponentially more data – about everything and everyone. In parallel, the sophistication of the problems software can address, and the ability for software to learn and evolve itself, is advancing rapidly.
This is built on the rise of big data for decision-making, and the influence that AI and robotics are starting to have on decision-making and jobs.
5.) The sharing economy and distributed trust – The internet is driving a shift towards networks and platform-based social and economic models. Assets can be shared, creating not just new efficiencies but also whole new business models and opportunities for social self- organization. The blockchain, an emerging technology, replaces the need for third-party institutions to provide trust for financial, contract and voting activities.
6.) The digitization of matter – Physical objects are “printed” from raw materials via additive, or 3D, printing, a process that transforms industrial manufacturing, allows for printing products at home and creates a whole set of human health opportunities.
The respondents to the survey rated the selected technology tipping points by their likelihood to occur by 2025 as follows:
Here is a diagram showing the average year that the respondents expected each tipping point to occur:
Let's look in detail at four of the tipping points and their positive and negative impacts according to Schwab:
1.) Implantable Technologies – People are becoming more and more connected to devices, and those devices are increasingly becoming connected to their bodies. Devices are not just being worn, but also being implanted into bodies, serving communications, location and behaviour monitoring, and health functions. Pacemakers and cochlear implants were just the beginning of this, with many more health devices constantly being launched. These devices will be able to sense the parameters of diseases; they will enable individuals to take action, send data to monitoring centres, or potentially release healing medicines automatically.
Smart tattoos and other unique chips could help with identification and location. Implanted devices will likely also help to communicate thoughts normally expressed verbally through a “built-in” smartphone, and potentially unexpressed thoughts or moods by reading brainwaves and other signals.
Positive impacts are as follows:
– Reduction in missing children
– Increased positive health outcomes
– Increased self-sufficiency
– Better decision-making
– Image recognition and availability of personal data (anonymous network that will “yelp”2 people)
Negative impacts are as follows:
– Privacy/potential surveillance
– Decreased data security
– Escapism and addiction
– Increased distractions (i.e. attention deficit disorder)
2.) Robotics and Services – Robotics is beginning to influence many jobs, from manufacturing to agriculture, and retail to services. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the world now includes 1.1 million working robots, and machines account for 80% of the work in manufacturing a car. Robots are streamlining supply chains to deliver more efficient and predictable business results.
Positive impacts are as follows:
– Supply chain and logistics, eliminations
– More leisure time
– Improved health outcomes (big data for pharmaceutical gains in research and development)
– Banking ATM as early adopter
– More access to materials
– Production “re-shoring” (i.e. replacing overseas workers with robots).
Negative impacts are as follows:
– Job losses
– Liability, accountability
– Day-to-day social norms, end of 9-to-5 and 24-hour services
– Hacking and cyber-risk
3.) 3D Printing and Human Health – One day, 3D printers may create not only things, but also human organs – a process called “bioprinting”. In much the same process as for printed objects, an organ is printed layer by layer from a digital 3D model.27 The material used to print an organ would obviously be different from what is used to print a bike, and experimenting can be done with the kinds of materials that will work, such as titanium powder for making bones. 3D printing has great potential to service custom design needs; and, there is nothing more custom than a human body.
Positive impacts are as follows:
– Addressing the shortage of donated organs (an average of 21 people die each day waiting for transplants that can’t take place because of the lack of an organ)
– Prosthetic printing: limb/body part replacements
– Hospitals printing for each patient requiring surgery (e.g. splints, casts, implants, screws)
– Personalized medicine: 3D printing growing fastest where each customer needs a slightly different version of a body part (e.g. a crown for a tooth)
– Printing components of medical equipment that are difficult or expensive to source, such as transducers
– Printing, for example, dental implants, pacemakers and pens for bone fracture at local hospitals instead of importing them, to reduce the cost of operations
– Fundamental changes in drug testing, which can be done on real human objects given the availability of fully printed organs
– Printing of food, thus improving food security
– Uncontrolled or unregulated production of body parts, medical equipment or food
– Growth in waste for disposal, and further burden on the environment
– Major ethical debates stemming from the printing of body parts and bodies: Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?
– Perverted disincentives for health: If everything can be replaced, why live in a healthy way?
– Impact on agriculture from printing food
4.) AI and White-Collar Jobs – Just in case white-collar workers felt safe, Schwab believes that a significant portion of white-collar jobs could be computerized, thanks to Artificial Intelligence. He notes that AI is good at matching patterns and automating processes, which makes the technology amenable to many functions in large organizations. An environment can be envisioned in the future where AI replaces a range of functions performed today by people.
Positive impact are as follows:
– Cost reductions
– Efficiency gains
– Unlocking innovation, opportunities for small business, start-ups (smaller barriers to entry, “software as a service” for everything)
Negative impacts are as follows:
– Job losses
– Accountability and liability
– Change to legal, financial disclosure, risk
– Job automation (refer to the Oxford Martin study)
One thing that is interesting is that a very significant number of the tipping points have "privacy concerns" as one of their negative impacts. This is not terribly surprising given that we live in the surveillance era where everyone from governments to the technology sector are in the data collection business, accumulating our personal information and using it for purposes that clearly breach our privacy.
Schwab is so fixated on the advent of a Fourth Industrial Revolution that he has written a book on the subject in 2016 entitled "The Fourth Industrial Revolution", another book in 2018 entitled "Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution" and a third book was just released in July 2020, entitled "COVID-19 – The Great Reset" which outlines how the current pandemic will be used as a launching pad for the "Great Reset" aka the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Here is a brief quote from the book's introduction:
“Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never. Nothing will ever return to the “broken” sense of normalcy that prevailed prior to the crisis because the coronavirus pandemic marks a fundamental inflection point in our global trajectory. Some analysts call it a major bifurcation, others refer to a deep crisis of “biblical” proportions, but the essence remains the same: the world as we knew it in the early months of 2020 is no more, dissolved in the context of the pandemic. Radical changes of such consequence are coming that some pundits have referred to a “before coronavirus” (BC) and “after coronavirus” (AC) era. We will continue to be surprised by both the rapidity and unexpected nature of these changes – as they conflate with each other, they will provoke second-, third-, fourth- and more-order consequences, cascading effects and unforeseen outcomes. In so doing, they will shape a “new normal” radically different from the one we will be progressively leaving behind. Many of our beliefs and assumptions about what the world could or should look like will be shattered in the process.”
Here is a quote from the section entitled "Accelerating the digital transformation":
“With the pandemic, the “digital transformation” that so many analysts have been referring to for years, without being exactly sure what it meant, has found its catalyst. One major effect of confinement will be the expansion and progression of the digital world in a decisive and often permanent manner. This is noticeable not only in its most mundane and anecdotal aspects (more online conversations, more streaming to entertain, more digital content in general), but also in terms of forcing more profound changes in how companies operate, something that is explored in more depth in the next chapter. In April 2020, several tech leaders observed how quickly and radically the necessities created by the health crisis had precipitated the adoption of a wide range of technologies. In the space of just one month, it appeared that many companies in terms of tech take-up fast-forwarded by several years. For the digitally savvy, this meant good things, while, for the others, a very poor outlook (sometimes catastrophically so). Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, observed that social- and physical-distancing requirements created “a remote everything”, bringing forward the adoption of a wide range of technologies by two years, while Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, marvelled at the impressive leap in digital activity, forecasting a “significant and lasting” effect on sectors as different as online work, education, shopping, medicine and entertainment.”
I believe that is enough to digest for this posting. While on the surface it may appear that Klaus Schwab's vision for the post-pandemic world/Fourth Industrial Revolution is laudable, in fact, his concentration on the growing use of technology to solve all of the world's woes is leading to one key fact that he seems quite capable of ignoring – enriching the few (technology sector players) at the expense of the many (the proletariat). What I find truly appalling is that one man who is really a nobody in the grand scheme of things has somehow managed to get the attention of the vast majority of the Western world's leadership (i.e. useful idiots), convincing them that his vision is the only path to the future
Dystopia here we come. In Part 2 of this posting, I will take a much more intimate look at the World Economic Forum's more specific predictions for what lies ahead over the next decade and the massive changes that they anticipate for "the proletariat".
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