Human civilisation has gone through three industrial revolutions over the past three centuries as the agriculture-based economy transcended into an industrial economy.
Each revolution established new norms and values suited to each period. The first industrial revolution was initiated with the invention of steam engines that changed the overall production process. As a result, a major part of the production was taken over by machines instead of human labour. This was a turning point in the history of industrialisation.
The second industrial revolution took place in the 19th century with the advent of electricity, oil and gas. During this period, the invention of fertilisers boosted agricultural production, communication system was revolutionised with the coming of the telephone and the telegraph.
The third industrial revolution began in 1969 with the invention of newer sources of energy like nuclear power. Computer, semi-conductor and microchips progressed massively during this time. Internet and email resulted created a new communication system. Medical technology and the pharmaceuticals industry also progressed. The main players of third industrial revolution were the USA, UK, Russia, China and India.
The fourth industrial revolution, as Professor Klaus Schwab – founder and executive chairman of the "World Economic Forum" – describes it, is now a major concern and topic of discussion around the globe and in Bangladesh.
The business world and its stakeholders are organising roundtable discussions and seminars to foresee the effect of fourth industrial revolution in business and prepare accordingly.
Having similarities with the third industrial revolution, experts say that the fourth industrial revolution will be characterised by significant industrial advancement with emerging technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, nanotechnology, fully automated vehicles and so on.
According to an Oxford study, around 20 million machinery jobs will be replaced by robotics. The use of social media like Facebook, Twitter will increase.
Business and commerce will be more dependent on digital technology and e-commerce will become more popular. As a result, traditional marketing systems will be abolished and demand for high skilled jobs will increase tremendously.
According to McKinsey, around 800 million people will lose their jobs due to the use of robotics and AI. The World Economic Forum in its 2018 flagship report titled "Future of jobs" has warned that 75 million jobs will be replaced by AI, robotics and automation. The report also mentioned that 133 million new jobs will be created – meaning the fourth industrial revolution will create 60 million new jobs. The report emphasised that only skilled workers who meet the market demands will get these jobs.
Now let's come to Bangladesh and its preparation to face the challenges of fourth industrial revolution. Is Bangladesh prepared to face a new revolution and create enough jobs for the youth?
No, Bangladesh is not well prepared to face these challenges at all. In this context, experts are suggesting entrepreneurs improve workers' skills to adapt to the new technologies. Producing the right products for export has also been suggested.
Experts predict says that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will suffer more with the onset of fourth industrial revolution, as almost all the SMEs use the same types of machinery and the product quality is subpar. If the SME sector cannot bring quality variation, then a large number of them will disappear.
The banking sector too will face challenges.
Almost all economic experts stress the need for skills development to prepare workers to face the challenges. They have warned that technology will grab the place of workers – a huge number of bankers will go jobless.
Our country has already started to experience the effects of the fourth industrial revolution. A large number of entrepreneurs have lost their market share as they could not adapt to technological advancement. Not only in Bangladesh, international companies like Kodak, Fuji and others also could not sustain in the market after failing to cope with technological changes. The workers of these companies had to take the heat as they were not skilled enough – making the case even stronger for developing competent human resources.
Entrepreneurs need to know which products have high demand in the global market, which machineries are appropriate to produce export-oriented products, where these machineries are available, how to purchase them and how to install them.
It is good news that sophisticated technology has started to come to Bangladesh and a large number of manufacturers have already started to use them in their factories.
The public and the private sector must jointly face the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution through a strong commitment and active participation.
Meanwhile, our government has taken some initiatives. They have given top priority to science, technology, technical and vocational education to create skilled human resources. The government has developed some schemes; these include the 2011 "National Skill Policy", the 2017 "National Youth Policy", and the "7th Five Year Plan." Along with these schemes, they also developed strategies, policies and plans to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 5,257 Union Digital Centres have been set up across the country. The government is committed to setting up a technical college in every Upazila. 500 poly-technical institutions have been established at public and private initiatives.
The phenomenon of automation is not new to the world. Automation increases efficiency as well as overall productivity - reducing cost. If the human resource of an organisation can cope with the changing environment, then automation will become a blessing to them, otherwise it is a curse.
New technology brings both new opportunities and new challenges. When the computer first came, people thought it would take away jobs. But has that turned out to be true? No. It was absolutely wrong. Rather, computers have created more jobs.
Digital technology will assist workers concentrate more on complex business issues. It will change how we live, work and communicate. It will change our relationships, our opportunities as well as our identities.
Education, business, health and communication will be reshaped by technology. Developing countries like Bangladesh will be either a beneficiary or a loser because of the fourth industrial revolution. The country may as well use its overpopulation in its favour along the course of the fourth industrial revolution.
The writer is a banker, working at Pubali Bank. He is also an Associate Member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries of Bangladesh (ICSB).