There has been some press recently around the announced 4th Industrial Revolution currently under way. From what I have read so far, this has been general marketing hype about the “Internet of Things”. That’s OK, marketing people are not generally authorities on any particular subject. And I am not so much concerned about which revolution we are talking about, but I would like to think that the naming of a 4th industrial revolution has some systematic thought or reasoning behind it.
Currently the thinking is that the first industrial revolution was the steam and mechanical revolution, the second was the electrical revolution and the third was the more recent revolution in automation. The 4th revolution in industry, and I think we should say manufacturing, is the information revolution in which Automation joins with Information Technology in a technology coalition that has economic benefits greater than the sum of the parts. Readers of this blog post may recall a post on this subject some months ago.
The problem I am having is that the nature of manufacturing and the nature of work are similar things, but they must be treated differently from a historical perspective. In the pursuit of food an water, wind mills are known to have been used for grinding grain from the 7th century in Persia which were imported to Europe and used both for grinding grain and pumping water.
In areas where water flows freely, water power replaced wind power and was harnessed for work using water wheels, gears, belts and pulleys and a broad array of mechanical solutions, some simple, some complex to do work. Water power is more reliable than wind, but only in certain locations, so the ability to do work and perform simple manufacturing processes was a function of location. In today’s technology driven world, location is less driven by natural resources as it is by the availability of manpower.
Another revolution in man’s work might have been the domestication of animals which was more reliable than wind power, and less a result of location and natural resources like water. Domestic animals have a great role in the agrarian economy as motive power, but they also have their limitation. Animal power was replaced by a giant leap forward, the steam engine. The coining of the term “horsepower” was the result of the need for a means of comparison between the horse and the steam engine.
By combining the steam engine with all the great mechanical innovations, a tidal wave was unleashed including the locomotive engine, steam powered automobiles and wide range of powered machinery capable of doing a wide range of tasks. This wave is what is generally referred to as the “Industrial Revolution” which started in the United Kingdom in the late 1700’s with Watt’s improved steam engine providing low cost mechanical power anywhere you could light a fire and store a little water.
More next week.