Democratizing Innovation for The Fourth Industrial Revolution

from The Stillman Disruption Journal

One of the highlights in Professor John Shannon’s Disruption course at Seton Hall University was when Frank Diana came in to speak. Frank is the lead futurist for Tata Consultancy Services, and he makes his living speaking to leaders and executives around the world about the ways that technology will likely disrupt the foundations of the way we live. These changes have been labeled appropriately as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which invites comparison to the three previous technology driven transformations of the same name. Frank’s presentation begins with a walk-through history, how transformation has impacted society previously, and followed up with an explanation of how it will change what we are seeing today. His presentation is what inspired me to write this piece. Looking back to the past is sometimes one of the best ways to understand the future. It is also an invaluable resource for ensuring that the same mistakes are not repeated.

The historical narrative around Industrial Revolutions generally focuses on the grandeur and spectacle of innovation, along with the inventors and business owners that drove it. In the history courses I took in high school, there were entire lessons taught on the Gilded Age leaders of industry like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. What we focused much less on, however, were the unjust labor practices and crony capitalism that built their empires. More importantly, we barely touched on the strikes and riots, a direct result of workers feeling displaced by new technological innovations that could perform their jobs much better than they could and at a cheaper price. If we return to the 1800s, we will find that the average individual did not see their lives greatly improved by technological revolution. While efficiency and production were both brought to levels previously unseen, economic inequality did not substantially change. Many previously labeled as “highly skilled” were driven out of their industries, and those who were able to keep their jobs did not see their earnings rise at a comparable rate.

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Posted in Future Thinking, Ideas, Innovation and tagged , , , .


  1. One of the issues that has most frightened me about the future is the dilemma we face with the rising inequality brought about by automation and other disruptive technologies. These technologies have great potential to both bring about a better future and a future which more closely resembles the gilded age of the late 1800s. College students such as myself, face the issue of entering a career field that is more secure from these technologies, than fields such as medical and accounting. It is thus important that us humans figure out which career paths we can still feasibly obtain in the future, and which ones will be unavailable to humans.
    The one of the most secure paths for humans is creative jobs, such as authors, artists, and musicians. It should be noted that even these jobs are under threat from disruptive technologies. The main problem with most of these paths is that a person must make a completely original work of art in order to profit from it. This is because intellectual property laws have been expanded over the decades, preventing intellectual property from entering the public domain for many decades, if not more than a century. When the intellectual properties enter the public domain, anyone can remake the works and earn a profit from doing so, this will grant many creative thinkers the ability to make more works of art then they currently could. We should thus seek to less the amount of time that intellectual property remains outside of the public domain.
    One of the fields that benefits the most from creativity is the development of video games, especially computer games. On computer games players can create modifications to their favorite games to otherwise improve their experience in said games. This has thus created an online community of people seeking to future develop the games that they love. Many modders have been able to use their experience gain from modding to enter the gaming industry whether through getting hired to a preexisting studio or by developing their own games. This allows for a great amount of development and creativity to exist in the computer gaming industry that is otherwise lacking many other industries around the world. With the rise of independent games “indie games” to the mainstream, it seem that the field of video game development is one of the most accessible for people to enter it is clear that we should take a look at what the gaming industry has done for ideas on how to move forward into this coming decade of disruption.

  2. The rapid advances made in the technological field and the affect it has made on the workforce coincides with the next industrial revolution. We have seen the results of industrial revolutions of the past, and we can see similar acts transpiring amongst us now. This can be seen through the widening gap between the rich and the poor, or the increase of job loss due to technological replacements. As the article stated, we only recall the winners or inventors of these past industrial revolutions but the actual affect on many middle-class and lower-class individuals was largely overlooked. Many professionals predict that nearly forty percent of jobs may be replaced by artificial intelligence in the next two decades. This is an extremely high number of individuals that can be affected by the technological advancements and may be ill prepared or equipped to transition to available positions.
    Although we may be facing serious changes to the workforce in the future due to technology, the article does bring a promising point to the table, the possibility of our society democratizing these innovations. The ability of our society to evenly distribute innovative advancements may be the cornerstone to negate further inequality. The inequality amongst our rich and poor is increasing at a rapid pace, and it is being aided by the monopolies that have flourished with some technological advances. The structure that we have in place now favors the rich and disenfranchises the lower classes, which will only increase with innovations that can only be advantageous to the well off. We must be able to reevaluate our current path and choose more equality in our structure or we may be experiencing similar results of the past industrial revolutions.
    The article offers an interesting perspective on the way to help adjust the current structure and increase equality especially as we are partaking in the next industrial revolution. The increased use of open source platforms does align with this guide and makes individuals and businesses very capable of innovation. Even though we have some possibilities arise with open source, the probability of it only aiding the higher classes is very real and should not be overlooked. The depletion of the middle class may be a serious consequence of this current industrial revolution, especially if we don’t change distribution of technological advancements and education of these innovations. The issues that we are experiencing may be our society repeating the past, and unless we are willing to divert course, similar results will ensue.

  3. A “Second Gilded Age”, I agree with this sentiment because in retrospect, think about how fast society has advanced in the past two decades alone, in comparison to the 150 years after the end of the of the industrial revolution. I will admit, as Andrew Kuttin wrote, that I agree with the growing fear of A.I. replacing up to 40% of the jobs in today’s market. However, while the fear does exist, it should be stated that the job market and the economy always adapts to innovation and technological disruption. Sure it’ll take some time, but it happens.

    The other thing that I feel that most theorists ignore (or fail to realize) is that no matter how smart an A.I. becomes, there will always be an absence of emotional intelligence and some of the core emotions that make humans, humans. On that topic, people will always choose a place of business (i.e. restaurants) based upon experience(s), and that experience is driven by human interaction. A.I. simply cannot replicate that.

    Lastly, what Andrew Kuttin mentions so well, is the growth in the gap of economic wealth among the middle and upper classes. As much as the economy has grown, so much of the growth has been by that of the top 10% while it is incrementally less for those below that threshold. Something here needs to change in order for society to progress to this aforementioned “Second Gilded Age”.

  4. When we speak of an industrial revolution, what comes to mind? At least for me, it means that a major improvement to society is coming. Whether that be in the form of a new concept that takes over or an improvement upon already existing technology, it will dominate society for the time being. Although I say it will benefit society, who exactly will it be helping? Rich company owners. With every new advancement in technology more companies are able to capitalize on it, therefore slowly replacing tasks done by humans. The article cites the solution in democratizing of technology. In the past couple centuries, it seems that slowly but surely employees are replaced by more efficient technology that emerges. The article touches on “Luddites”, who oppose change. The Luddites aren’t opposed to the advancement of technology itself, rather the effects it has on them. Any normal person would be outraged and choose to fight back against the thing that robbed them of a job. This trend of employees getting the short end of the stick continues even until today, and in even more aspects than before. As we previously touched upon in Professor Shannon’s class, arbitration is a problem that again marginalizes workers. While technology can kick people out from their jobs, arbitration makes conditions for those working very difficult. If sexual misconduct is taking place in a company, employees who are victims are dissuaded from taking any actions because they signed away their rights to file class action lawsuits. How does this tie into big tech? Big companies aren’t overly concerned about their ethical practices as long as it rakes in a larger profit for the company. In the article, that states that 40% of jobs will be replaced in the next fifteen years alone. According to the Department of Numbers, there were 155 million jobs in February of this year. If 40% percent of those jobs were to be replaced by AI, we are talking about over 62 million jobs being lost. At the same time, this the owners of these companies are profiting off a lesser workforce. Politicians have been working to combat these issues. Famously, Bernie Sanders has had a long-standing belief of combatting the top 1%. Sanders’s plan involved the Corporate Accountability Plan, which aimed companies to contribute 2% of their stocks annually to an employee-controlled fund annually until it reached 20% ( It is estimated that this plan would help nearly 56 million workers, however there would still be millions of workers without jobs if the trend is to continue. This is an attempt to require companies to delegate their earnings to their workers to prevent them from becoming more marginalized. With growing success, companies are bound to end up like the robber barons before our time. So, unless legislation work to even it out, we might become victim to it.

  5. It is always refreshing to see authors with a clear perspective on how big business monopolizes the industries that it is supposed to promote healthy competition. The reality being that unsurpassable barriers to entry and less than kosher business practices are commonplace within the modern economy. The analysis of Amazon’s rise as a multinational titan which evades taxes in ways that are considered representative of their superior business IQ rather than as criminal tax avoidance is a prime example of the corporate favoritism that the country desperately needs to do away with in order to create an environment which allows for unrestricted innovation by everyone instead of whoever has the most leverage. Sustainability also exacerbates the problem, as companies will undercut their prices to capture and contain as much of the market as possible and drive out the competition that cannot afford to stay in the game. The consumer will act in their best interest (many times out of desperation), which is abused and preyed on by large companies that strive to position themselves for massive profits by pushing the envelope as far as they can without raising too many red flags.
    The advent of a massive technological shift in all aspects of the economy is exceptionally beneficial to the idea of innovation democratization, as noted by the opportunities opened through the internet alone. The internet has allowed entrepreneurs to manifest their thoughts almost instantly with a fraction of the investment that was needed just a few decades ago. There is already a welcomed trend toward making resources available to everyone created by tech through tools that expand the availability of services like Robinhood or Uber. The idea that a radically open-minded society that welcomes individual expression without unnecessary resistance is gaining fruition, which makes the scenario where we can shift how the general public approaches tide shifting questions much more realistic. I agree very much with the idea that there is a need for a fundamental restructuring in how we view the world if we are to successfully tackle the problems presented by technology and capitalize on its advantages. The first thing that I believe is necessary is the coming to terms with the fact that maximal profit is not the optimal state of human existence. The unfortunate reality is that this is just not going to be realized until something aggressively drives home the point that we need to ask different types of questions. We see the impact that the current epidemic has had on politicians, with unanimous support for the most substantial cash injection the country has ever seen. The coming decades are undoubtedly going to see some of the most disruptive economic activity in modern history, and it is a very real possibility that this disruption is going to be enough to change our mindsets for the better.

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