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Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution that is underway can compromise humanity’s traditional sources of meaning – work, community, family, and identity – or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. Which outcome emerges is up to us.

GENEVA – Of the myriad challenges the world faces today, perhaps the most overwhelming is how to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution that began at the turn of the century. New technologies and approaches are merging the physical, digital, and biological worlds in ways that will fundamentally transform humankind. The extent to which that transformation is positive will depend on how we navigate the risks and opportunities that arise along the way.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, which entailed the proliferation of computers and the automation of record keeping; but the new wave of transformation differs from its predecessors in a few key ways. First, innovations can be developed and diffused faster than ever. Second, falling marginal production costs and the rise of platforms that aggregate and concentrate activity in multiple sectors augment returns to scale. Third, this global revolution will affect – and be shaped by – all countries, and have a systems-level impact in many areas.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to empower individuals and communities, as it creates new opportunities for economic, social, and personal development. But it also could lead to the marginalization of some groups, exacerbate inequality, create new security risks, and undermine human relationships.

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