Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring us Utopia or Dystopia?

Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring us Utopia or Dystopia?
Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring us Utopia or Dystopia?

Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring us Utopia or Dystopia?
Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring us Utopia or Dystopia?

A future past
In 1982 the movie Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, hit cinemas. Blade Runner explores a future dystopian world where technology has been used to create replicants (synthetic humans) engineered to look just like us and to work in so-called off-world colonies. It is a story about disconnection.

In the same year, the first Commodore 64 computer was released and what made it especially significant was its availability in retail outlets, not just specialist electronics stores. A Rubicon had been crossed, computers were going mainstream. The Commodore 64 was like a bullhorn, signalling the big leap the world was about to take into the arms of technology. Unlike the Blade Runner story, the Commodore 64 story is about connection. So significant was this shift that Time Magazine named ‘The Computer’ person of the year in 1982. Let that sink in for a moment.

Come 2018 we’ve not had any ‘real’ synthetic humans do work on our behalf on distant planets (as far as we know), but where we are, is on the edge of the single most significant threshold in human history, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

It is all about connection
Like its predecessors, 4IR will completely change how we live and work. Facilitated by the emergence of digital systems, communications that are networked, AI and machine learning as well as powerful large-scale data analysis the Fourth Industrial Revolution will centre on the integration of these technologies into streamlined business and production processes in order to make them self-sustaining and optimised for efficiency. In short, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about being connected, to everyone and everything at all times.

In business we will be closer to our customers than ever, making customer experience (CX) even more critical. To deliver meaningful experiences in an uber-connected world, CX innovations will be from the outside in with a far deeper understanding of customer needs and then the ability to align product and service experiences to these specific identified needs. This in turn will up the ante in terms of customer expectations which will mean that CX continues to evolve at a very brisk pace.

True mass-customisation
An early-adopter in the 4IR space, setting new standards in customer experience, is Netflix whose online streaming service is founded on personalisation coupled with an intuitive and well-thought through user experience, offered at a good price-point. Netflix makes it easy for a customer. You’re not locked into a contract, it’s a monthly subscription-based model and if the ‘product’ doesn’t deliver, you unsubscribe.

Netflix also appreciates and accommodates the realities of multi-device connectivity and allows you to watch where and when is convenient. Content-wise, they use technology to create personalised viewing experiences, with an algorithm predicting and suggesting content, based on viewing behaviour.
The Netflix example is handy for understanding how customer-relevant digital strategies will be developed in 4IR, across business functions and customer experiences. The critical factor remains having a deep and clear understanding of who your customer is and what is important to them. This touchstone will serve to align all aspects and divisions of your business towards plotting a course that will optimise engagement between your brand and your customers.

The future is still about people (and machines)
This omnichannel customer experience will be another hallmark of 4IR. The evolution of how customers engage and interact with your organisation has expanded from single channel to multi-channel through to cross-channel and now in 4IR to omni-channel. Single-channel only provided one avenue for customers to engage with a brand, multi- and cross-channel provided various options but often still restricted by functional silos. Omnichannel experiences are far more brand aligned and more integrated across all channels while a single view of the customer is leveraged and coordinated in a far more strategic way.

There is no doubt that 4IR will be transformative. Rapidly introducing new technologies, unrelenting streams of innovation will inspire and maybe even frighten us sometimes, working together in ways we’d never imagined and forcing us to reconsider what privacy means. Recently, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, called on leaders and citizens, in a presentation about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first, and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Only time will tell whether a future world, where we are all connected all the time and never switch-off will be the realisation of a utopian dream or the fulfilment of a dystopian nightmare, but one thing is certain, we are closer than ever to knowing if androids do indeed dream of electric sheep.

By Brendon Bairstow-Klopper, Director at nlighten