How do industrial revolutions happen? Here’s a look at how the 2018 electronica keynote speaker says that specific technologies determine our destiny, and why we must embrace change before 2040.
electronica 2018 kicked off in Munich on Monday with a speech by economist Dr. Jeremy Rifkin.
Dr. Rifkin, introduced by Dr. Michael Ziesemer, President of ZVEI, is an economist renowned for his insight into the effect of technology on economic development. He is the founder of the United States. Foundation on Economic Trends, adviser to the EU Commission, and has served as a consultant to world leaders such as Angela Merkel on economic development through technology and science.
After his introduction to the assembly, Dr. Rifkin immediately took the podium on stage to encourage the passing of the audience. He also banished photographers to the back, all in the hopes of creating a more conference room-like atmosphere.
Image used courtesy of Irina Gillentine.
His hour-long presentation was an equal parts assessment of current trends and history lesson, spanning past industrial revolutions and the one he says we are on the cusp of today.
Identifying industrial revolutions
In the simplest terms, Dr. Rifkin believes that we are ready to enter the third industrial revolution of the last 100 years.
There are three elements, he says, that define previous major industrial revolutions in this time period, also known as “world-changing technologies”:
- Communication technology
- New sources of energy
- Mobility methods
With this model in mind, he argues that the first industrial revolution of the last century came from the British in the form of:
- Steam printing (communication)
- Cheap coal (energy)
- Rail current motors (mobility)
The second revolution came from the United States and included:
- The invention of the telephone (communication).
- Texas Oil (energy)
- Henry Ford’s cheap cars (mobility).
The introduction of (relatively) cheap cars was instrumental in what Dr. Rifkin calls the second industrial revolution
Dr. Rifkin believes that this second revolution carried the world until 2008, when the oil that propelled it to its peak.
The key to understanding Dr. Rifkin’s comments is the concept of climate change. Globally, many European leaders vocally support initiatives such as reducing carbon emissions and creating more efficient cities. Rifkin believes this is necessary before we pass a tipping point where life becomes unsustainable.
To make a green industrial revolution, Rifkin says we will need, by 2040, “a new economic vision for the world. And it better be compelling.” The next generation will be instrumental in paying what he calls the “entropy bill” of the last 200 years of growth, that is, the cost to the climate that comes from dependence on fossil fuels.
Rifkin’s concept for this compelling economic vision is, in short, a single platform: the IoT.
“Things” as Distributed Data Centers: The Side Network Effect
The IoT as a platform for the industrial revolution, Rifkin says, looks like a nodal system that spans the world and functions like a brain. He calls this the “side network effect” where, like many IoT systems, processing takes place laterally across multiple nodes.
An important point Rifkin makes here is that he is talking about the IoT as the Internet of Things, not the cloud but real, physical things.
Buildings, in particular (which he cited as the number one contributor to climate change), are key to this concept. Buildings can be modernized with IoT capabilities, making them nodes in a larger network of distributed data centers.
Using these nodes in “systems on systems” could help add better efficiency across data. This move to lateral networks requires transparent data processing and use, effectively sharing data and processing between nodes.
Property access: the sharing economy
The trade economy, according to Rifkin, came as a surprise to economists. Based on earlier economic models and attitudes, it was not immediately intuitive that modern people preferred access to property.
Simply put, a sharing economy is one that is based on the idea that a person might prefer constant access to a resource rather than owning it directly.
We have seen the effects of interconnectivity in newspapers, music, books, etc., which have needed to be adapted, often to a subscription model. Now, Rifkin says, this mindset is moving to the IoT, from the world of digital to the world of things.
The best demonstration of this is Uber, where a new generation would rather share a car as a resource than own oneself. For every car that is shared, Rifkin says, 15 are taken off the road, creating a massive impact on the industry.
One of the most important places this sharing economy will have an effect is in the energy portion of this third industrial revolution. Wind and solar power sources are seeing the “side-grid effect” when small electricity cooperatives occur across Europe.
Rifkin claims that renewable energy provided by wind turbines and solar panels is an important aspect of the third industrial revolution.
Rifkin says that the growth of wind and solar power is on an exponential curve. This is especially relevant for a sharing economy because, as Rifkin puts it, “The sun hasn’t sent you a bill. The wind doesn’t bill you. “
The future of the lateral grid, Rifkin suggests, does not include making a profit by bringing energy into the grid, but rather by managing energy throughout the supply chain. To see examples of how this could be, he suggests, “Watch Europe. Look China. “
The role of the electronics industry
But if we’ve already designed the technologies that comprise the ingredients that Rifkin believes will spark our next revolution (e.g., smartphones, solar and wind power, electric vehicles, IoT, data aggregation, etc.), why is this revolution already not on us? ?
“The problem is that we are not climbing,” says Rifkin. “We are doing pilot programs.”
As technologies are developed, they are often only demonstrated in one-time smart buildings or other small exploratory programs. If revolution is to happen, Rifkin says, these efforts must be scaled up.
It is here, he says, that the electronics industry will be important: scaling the revolution through the IoT.
At the end of his presentation, Rifkin stated that the “mission of electronics in Europe” should be “to create unity in the industry”. Suggest this be done with empathy, the trait that regards our strongest stick as a species.
“If we do,” he says, “we have a chance.”
The Third Industrial Revolution
This is simply a look at the complexity of Dr. Rifkin’s presentation, which involved explanations of the theory of thermodynamics, economic concepts such as zero marginal costs, and an evaluation of the change in temperament between generations.
If you would like more information on Dr. Rifkin’s positions on these issues, he has published a book entitled The Third Industrial Revolution. She also worked with VICE Media on a documentary that is currently free to watch on YouTube, which you can watch below:
electronica 2018 is off to an ambitious start, setting the tone with a thought-provoking keynote speaker who painted a vivid vision of the future of technology.
Rifkin’s presentation brought home the 2018 electronics theme “Connecting everything. Smart, safe and secure “with its points on connectivity, investment in the next generation and a strong sense of optimism that Europe, and Germany in particular, will be the leaders in these next steps of technological advancement.
Do you think the IoT will be the key to the next industrial revolution? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.