THERE has been much hype about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), especially by academics, scientists and politicians. We are given the impression that this technological revolution would drastically change and undermine the traditional ways of life that focuses on human endeavours and enterprises.
Such a revolution may be apocalyptic for it paves the way for the rise of the machines and it presages an upheaval of the current existential narrative of existence. Politicians and academics have been harping on the need to prepare the nation to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0. To this effect, the higher education minister is contemplating a review of university curriculum to be compatible with the demands of this digital and robotic revolution. His ministry is also planning a new education blueprint to address the onslaught of this technological revolution.
The international trade and industry minister had also urged the manufacturing sector to make the changeover and adjust accordingly to this digital robotic revolution so as not to be left behind and be regarded as anachronistic or antediluvian. For they may lose out in the competition. The prognosis of the impact of Industry 4.0, as articulated by politicians, scientists and other academics, is quite challenging, such as loss of jobs in manufacturing and service industries, robotic teachers displacing humans, and the advancement of artificial intelligence making machines smarter than man.
As an example, these robot teachers would have a broad spectrum of knowledge stored in their memory banks and would use sophisticated technology like 7D projections and holograms to make history, literature and science come alive. And, students could experience and interact with the events in real time. And, who knows some time in the future, in a full-blown robotic digitalised world, the transfer of knowledge from the verbal and experiential transmission may be replaced by memory implant.
There is an air of trepidation that pervades the thinking elite and populace that digital and robotic technology would make man obsolete.
Is Industry 4.0 the harbinger of human apocalypse?
According to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, computers will be more intelligent than man. Science fiction movies, such as Bicentennial Man, The Terminator, Star Wars and HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, had presaged Kurzweil’s predictions.
In addition, he postulates the idea of singularity when man and robot will converge.
Is there a possibility that in the future, human beings and race as we know today will not exist and be replaced by cyborgs?
However, Industry 4.0 is not like a tsunami effect that suddenly swoops upon you as a destructive technology. It will phase in progressively. In fact, we have been living in a digitalised and robotic world without realising its impact because it has been phased in progressively. As a matter of fact, the manufacturing sector, for the past 20 years, has employed robotic assembly lines, precision engineering and computer-controlled process. For example, robotics technology is used in the auto industry and most of the manufacturing sectors are automated, with the exception of lower-level labour-intensive small industries.
We have taken for granted the pervasiveness of the Internet and cyberspace in our lives. The mobile phone is indispensable, and its future development promises to become a diagnostic health tool, services provider and everything you can imagine in the palm of your hand. The automated teller machine is, in fact, a passive robotic appliance. Digitalised memory stick that replaces films in photography and the various digitalised storage tools are now an integral part of our lives.
Transmission of information has been revolutionised by digitalised technology and has allowed the public to access information in real time and put paid to the monopoly of government information and propaganda agencies. In the offing are smart cars, robotic teachers, robotic maids, robotic partners (which are available in South Korea) and a host of other robotic digital amenities that would replace human labour. Robots would provide all your needs and manage your lives.
Do these developments sound the death knell for the human race?
Some scientists are of the opinion that artificial intelligence will make humans obsolete.
Where do humans fit in the future equation of existence? From the exhortations of scientists, academicians and politicians with regard to Industry 4.0, they give the impressions that we are at a critical phase, and need to quickly adjust and embrace these technologies or be left behind economically and lose out on the comforts of life.
In fact, Industry 4.0 did not just suddenly emerge. It is part of a phase in the technological revolution that we humans have been experiencing as a result of our ingenuity and innovation. And, we have employed these technologies to serve us, although they have periodically been employed by belligerent groups to destroy mankind, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the military assets that have been used to kill and maim humans in ideological and territorial disputes.
We have seen in the last century
But, the human race is resilient and it will survive by reinventing itself using these technologies to serve him rather than be subservient to it. Its physical and mental image, however, may undergo a revolutionary change. We are still a long way off from being replaced by machines and should not be overwhelmed by Industry 4.0the 4.0 Industrial revolution. It is only a phase in the revolution of technology that would progressively change our body and mindset affecting the mode, function and narrative of our existence.
The writer is an emeritus professor of Performing Arts at the School of Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang