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4IR: The Metamorphosis of Technology, Facilitated by Covid-19

Darcy Alexander
Darcy Alexander
4IR: The Metamorphosis of Technology

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4IR: The Metamorphosis of Technology, Facilitated by Covid-19

Welcome to The Fourth Industrial Revolution; where the physical, digital and biological spheres have coalesced, fundamentally altering the way we live, work and relate to one another. Evolving at an exponential pace that has no historical precedence, this revolution is disrupting almost every industry, in every country, with the capacity to transform entire systems of production, management and governance. In 2020, the global pandemic of Covid-19 ignited a seismic transition that forced everyone, all at once, to adapt to a new, technological world, presenting a rare opportunity for change. 

Introduced by Klaus Schwab (founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum) in 2015, the 4IR is defined by the blending of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, augmented reality, genetic engineering, cloud technology, quantum computing, machine learning and so much more. This amalgamation of collective forces has allowed us to create products and services that have fast become indispensable to our modern life. These advances have now been magnified and accelerated by Covid. But why did it take a global pandemic for humankind to embrace technology?

Industrial revolution 4
Physical, Digital and Biological systems

The human psyche resists change

Humans inherently resist change. We’re hardwired to. A part of the brain called the ‘amygdala’ interprets change as a threat and subsequently signals a hormonal response triggering fear and inducing the fight or flight reaction. In other words, our bodies physically react to an emotional situation by entering ‘protection mode’. We find comfort in predictability and stability. In fact, 93 per cent of all our actions can be predicted (think social media advertising and algorithms). According to a Northwestern study in 2010, our ‘clockwork-like’ desire for stability is a proven necessary for our development and feelings of wellbeing. Traditions have continually steered us to survive trouble, further embedding ritualistic behaviours and ingraining resistance to change – both within our societies and psyche. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

There are three main reasons people defy change;
1. Lack (or perceived lack) of reward,
2. Fear of the unknown,
3. Loss of status or visibility.

We’re always evolving and adapting – especially when it comes to how we interact with advancing technology. Just think, every time our favourite app performs an update and changes its features, we react with annoyance and confusion, but soon enough, we learn how to embrace and eventually reap its benefits. With every upgrade, we’re introduced to a new experience that we soon couldn’t imagine life without.
Technology has enabled a dramatic amelioration for innovation. In theory, nothing is impossible anymore – if it can be imagined and created, it can certainly be built. This has never been achievable before. The first smartphone was released for sale in 1994, in those 27 years, how we live has almost entirely changed; from how we communicate, pay our bills and transfer money, how we watch tv, listen to music, shop and even how we protect ourselves (home security apps). All these changes have occurred with subconscious submission. So why is it that when we are faced with a conscious change, we dig our heels in the ground?

The answer is to do with how the change is presented to us. First, we have to recognise that we are dissatisfied with the way things are now, then we need to position a positive vision of the future and finally, we need to plan definitive steps to make that vision a reality. People eventually comply and make changes if they genuinely believe it’s in their best interest to do so.

The crux, however, is that although we are adapting, we’re not doing it fast enough. Technology is advancing at a blistering pace, and we’re falling behind. It took simultaneous global lockdowns implemented for the safety of our society to force us to catch up. It was overdue that we needed to reevaluate our current situation (step one in the presentation of change) and realise that we were dissatisfied with it. It was delinquent to think that the way we were living and conducting – and finding – business was the most efficient, economical or profitable way.

The force of Covid

We’ve established that technology was always propelling us forward. Inevitably, we were always going to develop in the way that we have at some point or another, unfortunately, humans were the handbrake holding us back. The invasion of Covid forced a breakdown of our societal paradigm and loyalty to tradition. It was the stimulus that left us with no choice but to adapt.
Covid has undoubtedly been devastating in more ways than one. From the loss of lives, loved ones and jobs, this bleak time has been destructive. However, when it comes to societal development and technological adoption, Covid might have been a well-disguised blessing; it forced us to face, evaluate and change the way we work and live. We had no choice but to confront our out-dated practices, obsolete processes and archaic ideologies.
The fear of spreading a deadly virus meant we had to learn how to live, work and play from the confines of our homes. Meetings are now entirely being held virtually, home offices are no longer a privilege of freelancers and digital nomads – even our children are learning exclusively online. Here’s the irony though; this was always possible pre-Covid.
How many people in the office were already participating in ‘working from home days’ where they would dial-in to meetings and be blown up on the big screen as if they were physically in the room? This phenomenon is not new. The software and capabilities had already been invented and utilised for a while, so why weren’t more people doing it more often? Arguably, it’s to do with trust, perception, control and of course, that inevitable fear of change. Managers feared that their employees would take liberties and let the team down – in turn cause questioning of their ability to lead, and employees feared that their managers wouldn’t trust them. This would then possibly encourage a perception that they weren’t doing their job ‘properly,’ leaving them unworthy of promotions. This was a severely outdated social stigma that caused harm to employee satisfaction and innovation.
Hotels are now employing robots to deliver fresh towels. AI is replacing crowded recycling facilities. Automation has already replaced 85% of assembly and manufacturing jobs. 98% of loan officers are also at risk from automation invasion. The reality is that many employers aren’t intending to rehire laid-off workers in 2020. Technology proved to not only be more cost-efficient, effective and convenient, but in 2020, robots were safer – they don’t transmit the virus.

What’s next?

Covid took away face-to-face, coffee shop meetings. Gone are the days of big event networking. Today, we have to rely on the Internet to connect us.

But is that a bad thing?

From education to healthcare and farming, every industry is experiencing a technological trajectory. But the largest and most consequential businesses are born from the shifts in how people interact with that technology – rather than the tech itself. Until recently, automation was preferably implemented in a ‘big-bang’ or enterprise-wide approach, with changes and adaptations being made all at once. Today, there’s a phenomenal appetite for point-solutions that allows technology to be introduced partially. This helps reduce costs and ease the process of transformation.

Technology and the Internet have not only eradicated geographical barricades and increased efficiencies at lightning speed, but solution providers like N2 Technology are enabling and reflecting this moment in time. Services have become more sophisticated and are increasingly producing more intelligent results. Investors and entrepreneurs are now granted worldwide access to global connections – so what’s to stop an entrepreneur based in South Africa from partnering with their perfect investor based in Norway?

Technology is doing the long, arduous, administrative tasks, and algorithms will – and already are – transforming processes, freeing time for entrepreneurs and investors to do the important, intelligent, intuitive and creative work. Rex Woodbury referenced the economist Paul Krugman: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run, it is almost everything.” At its core, automation unlocks productivity. That phrase captures the promise of AI: if technology does its job, workers can focus on more high-value and rewarding tasks.”

Let’s embrace the opportunity that we’ve morbidly been granted. Covid was the unfortunate catalyst that has triggered immediate action, so why not make a bad situation into a good one? Covid and the subsequent lockdowns and isolations have reminded us of the importance of community and communication. In an economy desperate for data, knowledge and resources have been shared freely and discussed across continents, causing the world to unite. Physicians in the US are calling doctors in China for strategies, findings and treatment ideas.

The demand for collaboration made viable through technology has been exponential. With an already prominent shift in awareness for work-life balance, the way in which we work has witnessed the most profound transformation, expedited by Covid. Automation and algorithms are removing redundant processes and freeing up time for creativity and innovation – but in this fertile market, ideas need investment. So how do you go about it?

Sign up with N2 Technology, of course!

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