Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

"The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just happening, we can shape it in a positive way or we may miss the opportunity and thus the Fourth Industrial Revolution will shape us," said Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum as he began his dialogue session at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) at NUS on 5 July.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is commonly associated with the convergence of the physical, biological and digital spheres, blurring the distinct lines between each. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), genetic engineering, and autonomous vehicles that enable the interaction between human and technology are some examples of this ongoing revolution.

Moderated by Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy at LKY School, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, the dialogue session was themed “Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution" and discussed the possible impacts, as well as strategies to successfully adapt in this climate.

The speed of change and rapid rise of technologies that are characteristic features of this current revolution may be hard for the governments of today to grapple with, Prof Schwab said.

“We have a technology before us which takes place outside the normal government norms and capabilities to create the necessary framework to harness them. With the speed of those technologies, you cannot create rules or laws in the old-fashioned way, you have to create a platform where you always update protocols,” he said. He added that the Forum founded the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to facilitate that development of principles and frameworks to address this governance gap.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just happening, we can shape it in a positive way or we may miss the opportunity and thus the Fourth Industrial Revolution will shape us.

Prof Schwab also spoke of the rise of AI and robotics and its potential to cause alarm in the population. While he conceded that he cannot state definitively what the impact will be, he opined that society should remain alert. He pointed out another more intrinsic impact; one that affects the psychological state of the people.

“It creates a new class of society who are not sure if at any moment they will lose their jobs,” Prof Schwab explained. The political implications of this fear can already be seen, he added, giving an example of the voter characteristics of the recent American elections.

Questions came hard and fast from the audience keen to pick the brain of the eminent speaker, whose insight on the Fourth Industrial Revolution has led him to author a bestselling book on the phenomenon. Topics covered included the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the areas of culture, financial systems and healthcare, as well as the kind of uncertainties that may arise.


The audience paid close attention to Prof Schwab's insights

Ultimately, there is a need for leaders to be open to the influx of drastic changes. “Today’s dividing line is no longer left and right. The dividing line is to be open for change and open to the world, or to close down,” Prof Schwab concluded.

On 6 July, Prof Schwab was conferred the Honorary Doctor of Letters at NUS' main commencement ceremony, in honour of his outstanding and transformative leadership, and significant contributions to Singapore and the world.