Are SMBs ready to embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution?
With the onset of the 4th Industrial Revolution, the world has witnessed a lot of developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and disruptive technology. But there are no free lunches in the world. So, are entrepreneurs ready for the revolution, and if so, are they aware of the trade-offs? Ian Fletcher, Director - IBM-IBV discusses.
From robotic surgeries to self-driving cars, everything we could have ever imagined has been transformed into reality, thanks to the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). While these advancements have allowed businesses to diversify their services and provide better and quicker solutions to common problems, they are paying for a price for it. Now the big question is whether the SMBs are actually ready to embrace the 4IR? If so, what are the results they should be prepared for? Over a candid conversation with Ian Fletcher, Director - IBM-IBV, we discuss the above in detail.
- 4IR is a fairly new concept and we’re still getting used to it. How has it impacted the world in the last few years since it came into being?
In my opinion, 4IR has changed the way everything works around us. There is not even a single industry or a vertical which hasn’t or wouldn’t be affected by it. 4IR has the power to change every aspect of our daily lives. It will unleash new journeys of discovery that will, in turn, force society to challenge a number of its core values and principles. As technological advancements continue to push new boundaries, we will constantly need to re-evaluate and balance the benefits of those advancements against the moral, ethical, social and economic impacts. What makes the Fourth Industrial Revolution different and perhaps harder to comprehend is that humans will be biologically interconnected with future technology, developing an interdependency and a reliance on its outcomes.
- Since many industries are adapting to 4IR quickly, which single technology is expected to dominate the 4IR?
The 4IR wouldn’t be dominated by a single technology or a corporation. In fact, the 4IR represents the convergence of many different elements that would impact our interactions and experiences in the physical and virtual worlds. Both traditional and physical worlds will be reshaped by new game-changing technologies facilitating human interconnectivity, using science, mathematics, and biotechnology. We’re entering a world with immense uncertainty and opportunity.
- Experts have been talking about the risks we’re facing due to the technological advancements. How true is that and can you explain with an example of what kind of risks are associated could be associated with it?
It is true that this technological breakthrough will come with real, but unintended risks to our personal and professional lives when they start to blur the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological.
Let’s take Quantum Computing for example. When a traditional computer reads a book, it does it line-by-line and page-by-page. Quantum reads an entire library – simultaneously. Or, put another way, what might take a traditional system a million years to perform a task, a quantum computer could complete in seconds. Quantum represents a new paradigm that has the potential to reinvent the worlds of business, science, education, and government. However, given the current developments of quantum computing, all electronic applications may eventually become insecure. In theory, quantum computers could provide a vehicle for hackers to crack our numeric PIN codes in seconds. Developers will need to create new security protocols to protect algorithms from quantum hackers at the source. This is known as post-quantum cryptography or homomorphic encryption. This is another area that IBM has already developed to safeguard future blockchain algorithms for example.
- While security does remain a big issue for businesses, do you think 4IR would further broaden the rift between economic parity too?
Yes, of course, but only for the short term. We’ve to understand that when technology is introduced, it is expensive. Over time, with increased demand and supply, the prices decrease. For example, Ayann Esmail, a 14-year-old entrepreneur who is the co-founder of Genis uses nanotechnology and quantum physics to significantly reduce the time and cost of gene sequencing. Genis allows an average person to sequence the genome, and to have access to personal medical treatments and bio-hacking tools. In 2008, the cost of extracting one genome was in the millions. Now it costs around $1,000.
- In your opinion, which verticals are more likely to be adversely affected by the 4IR?
Eventually, all businesses will be affected by 4IR because everyone wants to progress and implement the latest technology to provide better services to customers and to not be left behind in competition. We’ve already seen in the Fintech and the banking industry particularly how humans have been replaced by machines who’re now doing their jobs. Due to the early adaption of AI, many have lost their jobs.
- But in this case, wouldn’t entrepreneurs eventually start training their employees to adapt to the new technology?
As per a survey, it doesn’t seem like. Only 38% of Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) surveyed indicated their organisation had an obligation to retrain or upskill workers impacted by AI. And when AI ethics are considered, most executives feel that data responsibility is the most important issue to be sorted, which means that they’re more concerned about the impact of AI on their enterprise rather than the society at large, which in turn poses a real challenge to the workforce in the future. I strongly encourage business leaders to see the bigger picture though and recognise their moral and ethical obligations to secure the future of their workers.
- Considering all of the above, in your opinion, are SMBs actually ready to embrace the 4IR?
I don’t think so. I feel that society and businesses at large are quite unprepared to absorb the magnitude of the change. According to a recent study by IBM’s Institute For Business Value – Artificial Intelligence Ethics – executives are either unprepared for the changes or don’t understand the magnitude of what’s coming their way. While they recognise that AI is becoming central to business operations, they must consider how to address and govern potential ethical issues. Business problems will come from not being agile, lack of investment in skills, ecosystems, changing business models and innovation. The biggest threat will be through companies adopting short term strategies, which may have larger than expected adverse consequences.
However, if businesses wish to thrive and be ready for the 4IR, recognising the interconnected evolution from human-to-automation-to-digital-to-smart human, they must adapt agile business practices and develop continuously. They should develop long term plans based on innovation and transformation disruption, preparing themselves for the problems people 10-years down the line would face. The focus needs to shift from surviving today to creating a better tomorrow.