UK ‘well-placed’ for 4IR benefits

The UK is well-placed to benefit economically from the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, if it puts change “centre stage, not backstage”, the man responsible for coining the term said this week, as a new parliamentary group convened in Westminster to add political momentum to the debate.

4irlaunchKlaus Schwab, who founded and chairs the global non-profit World Economic Forum, was writing in the The Times with Alan Mak MP, the chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Schwab addressed the new group on Monday.

The fourth industrial revolution “will cause profound disruption to the global economy, becoming the defining issue of the next 10 years, just as the financial crisis has shaped the past decade,” the pair wrote.

The new wave would see an inexorable rise of artificial intelligence, alongside innovations like driverless cars and personalised medicine.

The changes offered economic opportunities, with UK GDP set to rise by 10% as a result of artificial intelligence, alongside the transformation of millions of jobs. “With one of the world’s most successful digital economies and a vibrant scientific community, Britain is well placed to benefit from the 4IR,” Schwab and Mak wrote.

Earlier this year, the WEF opened its first 4IR centre in San Francisco, bringing together scientists, civil society and policymakers to advance understanding and prepare for the changes ahead. “Britain should demonstrate similar leadership,” said the pair.

Mak leads the new group to “focus Westminster’s energy on getting to grips with the legal, ethical and economic questions that new technologies pose”.

Responding, digital minister Matt Hancock said the government’s industrial strategy outlined “what we’re doing to ensure the UK is a leader overall”. A new independent review of artificial intelligence set out plans to grow the UK Ai economy, he said. “The risk to jobs comes from not adopting new technologies. Our task is to support redeployment not unemployment,” he added.

Hancock confirmed that 5G infrastructure would be trialled around the UK, boosted by a £25m ‘testbed’ competition. “It’s all about preparing Britain to take advantage of these extraordinary new technologies,” he said.

Schwab’s 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, argued that “we are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another”. Where previous industrial revolutions had made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions, the new revolution was fundamentally different, he said.

“It is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril.”

All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution