The Fourth Revolution is impacting your life now

credit: Christoph Roser at

By now, you’ve likely heard something about Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning or deep neural networks. If not in a favorite science fiction read, then in the headline news as the media is craving this class of story. AI has been in development since the 1960s and only in the current decade is it starting to really find roots in our daily experiences. 

From recommendations in your online shopping to self-driving automobiles, computer software technology capable of guiding some of its behavior is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The foundation of AI is based on a variety of techniques referred to as “machine learning,” which is undergoing rapid development by scientists worldwide.

Our civilization has evolved through many technical revolutions that drove our capabilities as a species to a new level. First, it may have been the purposeful ignition of fire or the shaping of stones with sharp edges. We next progressed through wheels, irrigation, writing substrates, printing, and eventually computers. Our first industrial revolution that brought about the next level in how we produce things occurred around 1784 when steam power came online. Then, the early 1900s brought us the assembly line approach followed by electrical engineering (oh, how we love our light bulbs!) ushering a second industrial revolution. Only several decades later (suggesting a trend of exponential growth), the third industrial revolution washed over us with increasing computing power and advanced automated production processes that evolved rapidly through the end of the 20th century.

While machine learning sparked back in 1959 right along with the cusp of the third industrial revolution, it is now in the 21st century that AI is beginning to mature, although still in an infancy of its full potential. Its deepening integration into automated processes is proliferating through many industries, and we find ourselves on the cliff’s edge of the fourth industrial revolution: the AI revolution.

What is interesting to note is that since we are experiencing just the beginning of this revolution, we can see how engineers and developers are still down in the weeds figuring out the details of how to implement AI. While you may see many cover stories and promotional materials highlighting how AI is powering existing technologies, the industry doesn’t have anything close to perfection and are scrambling to understand how and where the AI integration will take us and our technologies. This rapid and convoluted discovery phase is reflected in today’s discussions from scientists and engineers, and it is exciting to witness this dynamic development occurring at a frantic pace.

An article published earlier this year by Inside HPC reflects this state of “not really knowing what we’ve got, but we’re plowing forward anyway” from those who are actively working the AI application problem. This is an interesting read to learn a bit more about our next industrial era (it’s happening, folks, one way or another) and how research teams are frantically working on it without quite knowing exactly where we are going. 

 “Artificial Intelligence: The Next Industrial Revolution” | Inside HPC, February 5, 2018 

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Last updated October 26, 2021