Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution! It’s already “well underway,” argues Schneider Electric’s Simone Gianotti, in a white paper published by
in October 2018.
This industrial revolution is being driven, the white paper reads, by “digital transformation and creation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). A key part of this revolution is technology that enables new realities—including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). These new realities are already being applied in industrial settings and are poised to grow exponentially in the next few years. Common use cases include deploying augmented reality to dramatically decrease maintenance costs and rapidly expedite the learning curve of new hires.”
Indeed, the rapidly evolving application horizon for innovations such as the IoT, VR, AR and MR is far greater than industrial facilities and video games. Whole new ways of working, living together and caring for one another are being envisioned and invented on top of the enabling foundation of these revolutionary digital technologies.
So what might all of these acronyms mean for us in Hopkins County? Well, before imagining that future, let’s look at some past for context.
It’s worth noting that, sometimes when industrial revolutions come around, it can take 40, 50, even 60 years or more to catch back up.
There are different ways to parse and categorize history. One way is to identify a first industrial revolution driven by steam power and mechanization in the 1800s; a second, by electricity and mass production mostly in the early 1900s. Then came computers, robotics and large-scale automation over the second half of the 20
century, sparking a third industrial revolution.
I think electricity is an especially meaningful historical example for us, right here in Hopkins County and right now in these early days of what may be a fourth industrial revolution.
Electrification came about unevenly across the United States over decades. Some places seized upon the opportunity in the late 1800s; electricity came later in other areas, however. Outside Corydon in Henderson County, there stands a historical marker:
Here in October 1937 Frank T. Street became first member-consumer to receive rural electric cooperative power in Ky. Energy was provided by Henderson RECC, first rural electric system in state to be energized. Cooperative electricity has provided a more stable and diversified economy and a higher standard of living in rural areas.
In fact, remembers Robert Adkins of the Historical Society of Hopkins County, many homes and businesses in the most rural areas locally weren’t on the electricity grid until even the 1950s.
What’s the problem with waiting? It’s not that all change is all good, and it’s not true that all of us should feel pressured to surf the bleeding edge of technological innovation.
But it is true when a group of people fails to embrace change—to proactively understand and define a new opportunity/problem, make intentional decisions about how to benefit and adapt appropriately—that history’s biggest transformations tend to happen more
those people than
So, getting back to our current, unfolding Industrial Revolution No. 4 …
Glimpses of a new world undergirded by IoT, VR, AR, MR, etc. are visible here already. But just as today we could hardly imagine a Hopkins County without mechanization, electricity or computers, there quite probably is coming a day in the not-too-distant future when our next generations will find it challenging to imagine life here before these innovations.
Don’t we owe it to them to at least start imagining and acquainting ourselves with that future reality today? I encourage you to learn about these technologies and wonder about their possibilities in your own context. How might our workplaces be transformed? What business models might be possible? How might our educational curricula and systems change? What might be the impact on healthcare and government services? In what ways could ethical adoption of these innovations lift up our most vulnerable citizens? What individuals or institutions could serve as catalysts for positive change in our community?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please come and see me at Kentucky Innovation Station at 38 W. Arch St. some weekday, or give me a call at (270) 821-1939. Let’s talk.
Ray Hagerman is president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation (
), which promotes and recruits commercial enterprises that offer quality jobs and encourages expansion and retention of existing businesses.