Nicholas Davis, Head of Society and Innovation, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum (WEF) reveals the organisation’s attitude towards the 4th Industrial Revolution and the value of the implementation of Industry 4.0 in the UK.

The Geneva-based WEF is dedicated to engaging the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to “shape global, regional and industry agendas”. It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos in Switzerland at the end of January, as featured in the world’s media a few weeks’ ago. The expression The Fourth Industrial Revolution comes from a book by Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF. So, it is appropriate and apposite that the WEF’s head of society and innovation should speak to us ahead of Industry 4.0 Summit.

How has the concept and implementation of the 4th Industrial Revolution changed since first recognised?

“The pace of change has accelerated and more and more leaders across sectors are starting to realize that the fourth industrial revolution is a critical structural shift. It is already affecting corporate strategies and government policy – look for example at how governments from the UK to UAE are developing and adopting new strategies and policies focused on AI, distributed ledgers and biotechnologies.”

Are the challenges being overcome and the opportunities realised, and is cooperation and exchange of ideas key?

“None of the benefits or challenges can be effectively understood or managed without cooperation across disciplines, countries and stakeholders. This is because the economic, institutional, academic and geographic boundaries that were created during the first and second industrial revolutions are being broken down thanks to the impact of new technologies, as well as the way that they are develop and how they spread. In itself, this crossing of specialisation and boundaries is one of the more disruptive aspects of the fourth industrial revolution. But the good news is that it also unlocks a huge amount of new opportunity, as the exchange of ideas generates whole new ways of creating, exchanging and distributing value.”

Please describe the role and work of the WEF in relation to 4IR?

“The World Economic Forum is the International Organization for Public Private Partnership. As such, we have developed and conduct a wide range of research and stimulate public dialogue around the concept and impact of the 4IR to help ensure that our economic and social systems are able to take advantage of the opportunities of emerging tech while managing the risks. We also have created the World Economic Forum Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and are creating a global network of other Centers – to tackle specific governance challenges and assist the public and private sectors with developing agile approaches around technologies such as autonomous vehicles, drones, AI and precision medicine.”

How do you see SMEs implementing 4IR and smart factories?

“SMEs are of course critically important in the industrial ecosystem, playing diverse roles as innovators, key suppliers and service specialists throughout value chains. The 4IR as a vision for manufacturing, which includes smart factories, is therefore not something we can think about or develop as confined to a single organization or facility – it means that SMEs must be co-designers of new approaches.”

What are major issues going to be for society?

“The three biggest social issues we see are first, ensuring that the benefits are fairly distributed. This means thinking about who has access to new tech, anticipating labour market shifts and rethinking how we manage our tax systems in a world where smart capital becomes more important.

“Second, ensuring that the externalities – whether environmental, related to health and safety or bias and discrimination – are minimized and don’t fall on the most vulnerable. All technological systems are political in some way, embodying our values. There are many recent examples of how AI and machine learning systems can be very biased and discriminatory, and this can spell disaster for people with less voice and power.

“Third, we have to ensure that we build trust in new technologies as they emerge, and that we appreciate how they change us as human beings. It’s important to make sure that technology strengthens our communities and interpersonal relationships – but we also know that technology can have big impacts on how we view and relate to others.”

What are your thoughts on the UK government Smart Industrial Review?

“It’s great to see the UK continuing to lead in analysing the business case for adopting and extending the impact of new technologies. The benefits of new technologies don’t emerge unless we adopt them – and unless we do so in a way that is responsible to potential risks. The Made Smarter review suggests that over the next 10 years industrial digitalisation could boost UK manufacturing by £455bn, increase sector growth up to 3% per year, and create a net gain of 175,000 jobs whilst reducing CO2 emissions by 4.5%. The question for everyone should be: how can I help the UK achieve this, and do even better?”

What do you see as the importance of events like Industry 4.0 Summit?

“Events like this summit are critical to bringing people together from different firms, sectors and parts of the country and the world. The ability to exchange ideas, find new partners and identify trade-offs and risks well in advance is essential to ensuring the 4IR is value enhancing, sustainable and inclusive.”

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