4th IR 20 items
Highly Recommended: Davos, Blockchain, and the 4th Industrial Revolution (media.consensys.net)
The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos takes place this week in Switzerland.

World leaders and heads of state from over 100 governments, titans of industry from over 1000 of the world’s foremost companies, and movers and shakers alike from NGOs and cultural organizations have converged in The Alps to discuss the state of global economics and plot a better future as we edge ever closer to a new decade.

In addition to being a catalyst for global business and geopolitics, annual events at Davos are critical in developing global narratives that help guide us to a more equitable future.

Founder Klaus Schwab’s vision of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a theoretical driving force that has encouraged thinkers all over the world to consider the intersection of tech like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and automation as it relates to our near term future.

Last year, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and distributed ledger technology were some of the dominant buzzwords at Davos as excitement about these nascent technologies reached a global fervor.

In 2019, it’s all about action, and putting decentralized technologies to work. Just like last year, Consensys’ Ethereal Lounge will be the hub of the blockchain action.
We sat down with Sheila Warren, the World Economic Forum’s Head of Blockchain, to get an overview of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, how blockchain technology is integral to the 4IR, and what’s in store at Davos this year….

Can you give an overview of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and where we are in its progression?

So far we’ve seen a series of industrial revolutions. We start with the agrarian revolution to steel and the steam engine. Then, we have the digital revolution with computers, and now we’re in this fourth industrial revolution, where we’re seeing increased connectivity between different kinds of technologies. In a nutshell, we’re seeing a merging of technological and human processes in a way that becomes far more pervasive in our lives.

We see a number of technologies that range from being quite nascent to fairly well developed as critical to 4IR. Those include blockchain, distributed ledger technologies, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, 3D printing, robotics, machine learning, autonomous mobility, drones, AR/VR.

What we focus on in our San Francisco office — the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution — is these technologies, their intersection, and exploring policy mechanisms that can help these new technologies, as they become more embedded in society, develop in a way that’s inclusive, ethically considered, and has benefit at heart to society.

How does blockchain technology play into all of this?

We see blockchain as a foundational technology. While blockchain certainly has its own applications that are somewhat bespoke or unique, it also has the ability to serve as a layer in a tech stack that amplifies technologies like AI or IoT.

When you think about the potential of blockchain — which currently is not ready to serve as a substitute for a massive database — when you see scalability enter into the equation, there’s an opportunity for decentralization to enhance equality in addressing issues ranging from wealth inequality to access rights, to addressing personal autonomy around aspects like data in a way that’s more human centered.

We see blockchain technology as quite fundamental to the fourth industrial revolution, becoming a new layer that will amplify its speed, and provide opportunities to shake up in society that we think — if done thoughtfully and correctly — could be quite transformative in many ways.

Are there certain technological tracks that are most central to the 4IR?

Machine learning is quite critical. Robotics, which i’d put in a similar category. The idea that we’re actually going to be relying on machines to outsource some of our analytics processes is quite profound.

I think a lot of the attention on robotics focuses on labor displacement, machines taking people’s jobs, but I think the average citizen is not paying enough attention to things like algorithmic biases and our relationship to data in an automated world.I also think the Internet of Things is critical.

People use IoT devices every day without thinking about using them. There’s some media awareness around what it means to have smart devices in your home listening to what you’re doing — but it’s more from a surveillance perspective that people are concerned.

What they’re not thinking about what happens to us as people when we’re completely on-grid. The more we tech up in an IoT world, the more there’s a question of what that means. Concerns about this are often relegated to fringe groups, but this is extremely transformative.

Certainly, the way that my children are going to interact with machines and objects, and the expectations we have around privacy, are going to be quite different than before, and very rapidly so.

Watch Sheila Warren discuss ethics and blockchain at Ethereal Summit NY 2018. Tickets for Ethereal 2019 are on sale now!

What does your work at the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution focus on here?

The reality is that these technologies are already big money businesses. Where you have rapid opportunities for ROI, there isn’t necessarily the thought put into what the downstream consequences are when taken collectively, and how they may impact our world. We’re very focused on the ethical implication of these things and their intersectionality.

Every incremental device or app doesn’t seem like a big deal, and addresses convenience or access to data or property remotely in a way that seems simple. But when you aggregate of all the things connected, what you have is a totally new way of existing.

What we worry about at the Centre, particularly with the blockchain ecosystem, is that we’re just replicating a lot of our problematic systems, and we’re not really blowing them up! The reason i’m so passionate about DLT specifically is because it’s very distributive nature actually makes us more prone to being aware about these sorts of things.

Which is not to say that we’re not already replicating a lot of historical power structures inn crypto asset holdings, who’s making the money, things like that.

But, the technology’s nature if not a centralized one. It’s not a tech that is looking for a centralized body to control everything. It’s the opposite. It’s one of our best shots at actually mitigating some of the system replication and doing better.

What do you think the conversation around blockchain will be at Davos this year?

Last year, Davos was crypto crazy. It was insane! I feel like it’ll be a little more collected this year, which I’m grateful for personally! I think there’s a lot of interesting conversation happening around stablecoins, digital fiat, central bank digital currencies, digital identity is of course a big topic that’s important. Supply chain is really where enterprise is focused.

There’s going to be a lot of focus on layer two solutions. It’s not different subjects than last year, things are just more involved.Personally, I’m really excited about conversations we’ll be having around government use of blockchain and DLT.

Whether we like it or not, governments are some of the most successful distribution platforms. If we can find a way to use government to actually deploy and use blockchain technology, we’re going to move a long way towards adoption.

Much of what we do with the Forum is speak to governments, central banks, and other bodies about their own exploration of this technology. There’ll be a lot of that.

Are there certain regions that you see taking big strides in blockchain integration this year?

My eyes are really on Asia. I think Singapore, China, are doing a lot of fascinating work across the 4IR. I think the autonomous urban mobility movement in Japan is really exciting. They have an aging population, so there’s a need for considerations about transit.

The government is doing a lot of experimentation there. What i’m excited about is that a lot of high growth, emerging economies are doing a lot of the most innovative experimentation.

My hope is that some of those experiments will be picked up by some of the big, market making G-7 economies of the world, and we’ll see more willingness to take on some of those solutions.I do think India’s poised to be a big player in a lot of this 4IR technology. There’s challenges in every country, but India is a very tech minded country and they’re ready for a lot of change. The scope and scale of India — it’s its own market.

We opened up a Centre for the 4IR in Mumbai that’s focused on blockchain, AI, and drone technology, and we’ve got some exciting work coming out of there that we’ll be talking about more soon.


The views expressed by the author above do not necessarily represent the views of Consensys AG. ConsenSys is a decentralized community with ConsenSys Media being a platform for members to freely express their diverse ideas and perspectives. To learn more about ConsenSys and Ethereum, please visit our website.
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    Francisco Gimeno - BC Analyst Sheila Warren explains here very well how 2019 s the year of blockchain (as 2018 was the crypto's year), as a global movement. We would like to see her also speak about what the 4th IR is going to be for emerging economies such as those in Africa, where we believe blockchain integration and implementation together with other technologies will be essential for a big 4th IR African leap to the future.