Maria Montero

Can the IoT save the world by 2040? Dr. Jeremy …

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”:

  1. Communication technology
  2. New sources of energy
  3. 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:

  1. Steam printing (communication)
  2. Cheap coal (energy)
  3. Rail current motors (mobility)

The second revolution came from the United States and included:

  1. The invention of the telephone (communication).
  2. Texas Oil (energy)
  3. 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.