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Humanising the Fourth Industrial Revolution

From the First Industrial Revolution, powered by the invention of the steam engine, we have seen exponential technological transformation, and we are currently witnessing the unravelling of what the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab terms “the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. This Revolution is characterised by the convergence of; automation, an expanding Internet of Things, AI, biotech, nanotech, quantum computing and 3D printing; all powered by supercharged internet connectivity. Since the Luddites, there has been long-lasting anxiety about the prospect of machines replacing human labour. However, this time round automation truly seems set to cause mass disruption like never before; with analysis firm Oxford Economics predicting up to 20 million manufacturing jobs being replaced by robots by 2030. The rapid development of AI, machine learning and the Internet of Things has the potential to change our impact for the better. However, this potential can only be realised if the self-interest-motivated dogma of late-stage capitalism is buried once and for all. In the wake of the next Industrial Revolution, there has never been a more crucial time for the philosophies of Regenerative business to be adopted by the changemakers who are shaping our common future.

Technological transformation should bring confidence for the future, however its capacity to bring reassurance is thwarted by private interests and the ideology of self-enrichment. There is something quite dystopian about the fact that the introduction of revolutionary technology is met by fears of unemployment, privacy breaches, and deadly military applications. In theory, cutting-edge technology should improve life, bearing gifts such as fewer working hours, better security regarding necessities such as food and shelter, and lowered carbon emissions. Instead, we are haunted by statistics such as Bain & Company’s prediction that automation could eliminate 20-25% of jobs in the United States over the next decade. For workers on low-to-middle incomes, automation is accompanied by rampant social inequality, cursed by a lack of resources for retraining and exclusion from higher education opportunities. It is clear there will be a need for innovative solutions such as Universal Basic Income if society is to overcome the incoming frictions brought by the next Industrial Revolution.

If we want to understand how the impact of technological change reaches further than productivity, we simply have to consider division of labour during the rise of industrial capitalism. Although the modern production line led to soaring productivity rates, the increasingly specialised nature of work (fused with automation and globalisation) has left us in quite a predicament today. The exploitative dynamics of this late-stage capitalist system are blurred by elaborate structures which hinder accountability and transparency. In addition, ultra-specialised work restricts workers’ ability to react to changes in the world of work, which feeds back into the anxieties brought from automation. The dependence on multinational corporations for job creation creates a painful conflict; where people’s need for employment - in order to survive - is at the expense of environmental justice, mental wellbeing, and social cohesion.

By adopting a Regenerative Economy, coercion cannot plague the job market; damaging, needless jobs cannot exist purely to maintain social order; and people and the planet must be at the centre of the work we do. Involving each person’s whole self and encouraging empowered participation, and shifting from a model of extraction and exploitation towards one of healing and restoration, Regenerative businesses can elevate their workers potential to something much more than a cog in a machine. As conscious, balanced organisms, these trailblazer businesses have the diversity, ethos, and know-how to account for all and work for all. By fostering inclusivity and wholeness at meta, macro and micro levels, businesses can begin to see the Earth, society, and the individual as whole beings. Long gone will be the days of stateless corporations which rape nature and avoid tax. Bearing witness to this violent pillaging of lands by corporations with no allegiance to places and people, we are learning that we need a new economics; an economics of biodiversity and locality. SMEs are best placed to initiate this Regenerative revolution. Only by adopting the Positive philosophy can businesses rise together to overcome the challenges posed by climate change, automation, and staggering inequality.

Who controls the data…

The fundamental issue is that technological change is driven by those in a socio-economic position to effectively finance it, and hence its direction and future profits are controlled by individuals of the highest wealth status. No wonder the top one percent of wealthiest people in the world are set to control two-thirds of global wealth by 2030. The fruits of technological change should be available to all without anxieties of unemployment and defaulting on debts & mortgages.

The finest example today of how ideology and interests influence technology’s path is within Big Tech. The likes of Facebook and Google allocate the vast majority of their resources and manpower to utilise AI and machine learning’s power for better marketing accuracy. Since these firms, along with Amazon, have a monopoly over data, which is essential to improve AI capabilities, they effectively dominate all technology in this space. It seems wasteful to channel the powers of state-of-the-art technology towards maximising the extraction of user data with the ultimate aim of promoting mostly consumeristic purchases.

There are however some inspiring breakthroughs with the use of AI to tackle climate change-related issues. For example, LarvalBot, a creation of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, is an underwater drone which disperses coral larvae in order to increase the resiliency of reefs against warming oceans. There is also Rainforest Connection, which is fighting to protect rainforests in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The company transforms second-hand mobile phones into solar-powered, wireless listening devices which are being used by rangers to stop illegal poaching and logging, as well as by conservationists to track species. The San Francisco-based start-up uses TensorFlow, Google’s open-source, machine learning framework to analyse the audio recordings in the cloud. This demonstrates how significant Big Tech’s role can make a positive impact.

It is true that some multinational corporations are investing much more heavily in sustainability-focused tech start-ups, and this is a move we laud and respect. However, without an ideological shift this will not be enough to re-design the exploitative and extractive relationship we have with nature. With the 5 Ps of the Positive Compass as our guide, changemaker businesses can contribute to technological innovation which benefits people and the planet, not just private profit. Planet leads the way towards a decarbonised future; People are the key to social and environmental consciousness; Partners empower us to tackle global challenges; and Places allow us to build healthy, sustainable lives. Purpose is the force which brings all these together, unleashing our potential to create a positive impact.


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