Manilka Ediriweera discusses the impact of the Fifth Industrial Revolution

We have experienced multiple socioeconomic transformations beginning with the First Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. And now, we’re in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) and on the brink of yet another, which is bound to transform the way we live, work and relate to one another.

Before we begin to unpack what the ‘Fifth Industrial Revolution’ is and how it will change our lives, let’s understand what ‘industrial revolutions’ mean.

These are periods marked by the creation or development of new technology and innovations, which then bring about changes in production and profound shifts in human society. Such revolutions are not stand-alone events – each of these sets the stage for the next.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is the one we are living through, emphasises the exchange of information through the hyperconnectivity of machines, people and businesses. Revolutionary events in tech domains led to the development of technologies such as IoT, 3D printing, virtual reality, AI and robotics.

However, there have been claims that Industry 4.0 is ‘human-less’ and is hard not only on people but the environment too. This is where ‘Industry 5.0’ differs from its predecessor.

In Industry 4.0, efforts were made to harness the continual advancement of technology to maximise profits and enhance customer experiences. There was also a trend towards dehumanising and deskilling, and replacing employees with advanced tech. But we must remember that this is only one side of the coin… this trend also has the ability to take humanity to greater heights.

The main difference between Industry 4.0 and 5.0 lies in the fact that the emphasis of the latter is on collaboration between humans and technology, and not on one replacing the other. It’s about bringing into being a new socioeconomic era that bridges the divide whilst creating extensive opportunities for humanity and the planet.

Industry 5.0 will essentially be a waltz involving people, purpose and profit. During this period there will be a trend towards sustainability, and given the current status of our world – where climate change, global warming and other environmental issues are at the forefront – isn’t this precisely what we need?

A new era in which the shared purpose of engendering and achieving sustainability drives humans, machines, technology and profitability… That’s why the time has arrived for the Fifth Industrial Revolution.

That revolution will be all about harnessing the existing tech we have for people, purpose and profit. In this new era, we will make technology work for us. We’ll no longer be owned by technology but we will own it instead, and make it exist for us.

But despite this revolution being driven by the shared purposes of sustainability, it’s still possible to look at it from a place of negativity. As a result, people may begin to believe that machines will replace humans and their roles, and come to dominate the world as has been portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. While this is a fair enough apprehension, there is a positive aspect.

Machines and robotics will undoubtedly transform the way we live and work; and will surely improve our quality of life. And yes, they’ll replace specific roles played by humans. Since these will be highly repetitive and menial roles, we will in turn be allowed more time to focus on highly complex tasks that require human intelligence and creativity.

Because – in spite of robots being more capable of consistency than people with regard to specific tasks – robots lack the one thing that defines us as a species: human intelligence.

With the accelerated onset of Industry 5.0 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, humans will without doubt have to work with robotics and intelligent machines soon.

But as the Cofounder of Salesforce Marc Benioff says, there is “a crisis of trust in technology.” And without trust, it’s difficult for businesses to operate successfully. So while humans and machines will need to collaborate, the former will undoubtedly also be required to change.

As with all industrial revolutions, this one won’t take place simultaneously everywhere. Industry 4.0 will gradually give way to 5.0 in various ways across the planet.

The Japanese seem to have forged ahead of the rest with their concept of ‘Society 5.0’ – a super-smart society in which people will lead more comfortable and sustainable lives by harnessing the power of technologies such as IoT and AI. Through this model, Japan is currently changing its healthcare, mobility, infrastructure and fintech industries to solve social and environmental challenges ahead of other nations.

From cybernetics to convergent technologies, Industry 5.0 is here to help achieve purpose led profitability. Are you ready?