Everything that exists today was at one point considered a technology. The concept seems strange, but there was a time when steam power and the telephone were considered groundbreaking achievements in engineering. The truth is that these technologies still are groundbreaking achievements in engineering, though their impact has been overshadowed by the ideas and technology built from their foundations.
Over the last 10 years, our society has witnessed so many jaw-dropping achievements that it would take a Herculean task to count them. If it feels like the pace of technology is accelerating faster than it ever has in history, it actually is. In the words of Canada’s affable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”
The pace of change is increasing so much so that Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, has proposed that we are in the midst of yet another industrial revolution– Industry 4.0.
Like any societal shifts of this scale, it is challenging to know where some trends end and others begin. In the built environment, many of the changes taking place are obvious. For example, mobile devices on job sites were once groundbreaking. Today, they’re ubiquitous. Five years ago, cloud-based project management software was just breaking through, today a major project doesn’t start without it.
Industry 4.0 is distinct from past revolutions in three fundamental ways.
Huge Data Sets: More processing power means more data will be created than humans have ever seen. Industry 4.0 gives us the technology to manage and use this massive amount of data.
Limitless Connection: Everything from sensors in a bridge, to thermostats in a hotel room will be connected and produce data. Most of the data created will come from connected sensors and devices.
Artificial Intelligence: More data breeds more intelligence. Machine Learning and AI will give us answers to questions we don’t yet have, and it will power incredible analytics and insights for business.
While the concept of Industry 4.0 may have been first popularized by Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum is not the only leader to pick up on the trend. Managing consulting firms, technology companies, and the world’s biggest thought leaders all see the value of connected devices, artificial intelligence, and big data– and they know how valuable these tools will be. KPMG has an entire website dedicated to the concept, which describes Industry 4.0 as “IoT-driven technologies, augmented decision making and advanced automation.”
It took society 200 years to bridge the gap between steam and computer processors, but only 40 years have passed since the personal computer. As the pace of innovation increases, companies in construction, infrastructure and real estate must play closer attention to these trends. The question is not “Are we entering a new industrial revolution?”, but rather “How can I ensure I don’t miss out?”