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Book Review:Third Industrial Revolution

Updated: Dec 25, 2019

In the Third Industrial Revolution, Jeremy Rifkin describes the fast approaching third industrial revolution and what it means for the future. The first revolution utilised print technology and cheap steam power to increase the speed and availability of print material, priming the western public school system. The second revolution saw communication and energy converge creating centralised electricity mediums such as television, phone and radio, thus dispersing the message ever wider. Additionally, fossil fuel energy and the development of the combustion engine led to suburban construction and the mass consumer society.

Rifkin postulates a third industrial revolution where the internet's lateral communication system combines with a new kind of (natural) energy source requiring a collaborative approach. The benefits of collaboration is all around as relatively free data becomes available to all. Increasingly, big data in the shape of algorithms will increase productivity and reduce marginal costs toward zero, unleashing an unstoppable disruptive force. Examples abound, ranging from the free encyclopedia - Wikipedia, to sharing renewable energy, the ultimate global disrupter. Rifkin predicts the next big bubble will be the 100 trillion dollar fossil fuel industry, as business increasingly plug into solar and wind and park excess energy into the social grid. Like Spotify changed the music industry, ever larger numbers of smaller users will create a new kind of energy gathering process, akin to the cooperative systems of old, but on a global scale. No industry will escape the disruptive nature of the new digital economy. Logistics for the transport system will be overhauled as large fleets of trucks collect data on the highways, preparing for a driverless future.

Will this lead to human capitol being replaced by technology and robotics? According to Rifkin, not immediately. He argues that there will be one generation (millennials) where wide scale activity will be required to retro-fit city buildings for renewable energy systems, transform the electricity grid to digital and upgrade the transport systems to electric vehicles. Every building will become a node to create an internet of logistics.

As the transformation gathers pace, will the population accept this dramatic change? Rifkin postulates that it will require a change of consciousness. Given humans are a social animal, story telling remains the most effective way to turn thinking, just as long as they get the story right! Millennial's will need to be convinced that the 'market economy' of ownership will not work in the third industrial revolution. Ownership will be replaced by access, market by network, and consumption by sustainability. Sharing talents will replace independent autonomy, top down pyramid structures will be replaced by lateral networks. Classes that look like factories will be replaced by sharing talents and skills on internet modules. Rifkin's vision is positive, but he notes the dangers of the dark net and the challenges of data security and cyber terrorism.


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