Is this the third industrial revolution?


We are standing at a moment in history where we are about to witness a third industrial revolution brought about by the fast increasing adoption of digital technology by industry after industry.

We have already seen the Internet deliver a second industrial revolution in the postal and telecoms industries, the publishing world and the music industry to name just a few that are extremely obvious.

We also seen new disruptive business models from companies like Uber and Airbnb. This has been called “innovation through creative disruption” by economist Joseph Schumpeter.

I agree with Matthias Stettler of greenmatch AG, who says in a recent Medium article that although there is a tendency for some to focus on the risks apparently associated with the speed at which the digital world is taking over our lives, there is a lot more that needs to be said about the opportunities it offers.

There is the Internet of Things as well as the Internet of Assets, which Stettler suggests combine the real and virtual worlds. And in this realm, it is the Fintechs that are seeing the opportunity to disrupt the conventional financial services, a sector that hasn’t had a shake-up since the first industrial revolution in the 19th century. In this respect, it seems rational to say that it was due for a change.

One thing that fascinates me about Stettler’s view is his argument that what we are seeing now is another industrial revolution. We know that the first one changed society dramatically with the advent of the steam train, followed by the invention of the telephone and so on.

He argues that we most definitely can call it a third industrial revolution, and says: “Considering that an industrial revolution occurs whenever a new primary energy source starts being used (keyword renewable energies), and that new communication technologies (the internet) emerge and changes in mobility (autonomous driving) are involved: then the answer is yes!”

He also points out that robotics and AI are making rapid progress, plus the new technology is decentralised and has virtually no marginal costs. It will also impact on society in every way. Already we are seeing a move towards one that is less divided by the notions of left wing and right wing: these are being replaced by “liberal-global and national-conservative,” as he puts it.

What personally interests me most is this: “Industrial revolutions are times of tremendous opportunities for founders of new businesses.” This third one will be blockchain-backed I would predict and we will see some interesting new products in the fintech arena in particular.




Bringing AI and the blockchain together


Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the major technologies of our time. It has introduced numerous innovations, many of which we are not even aware of as we use apps employing it. The blockchain is the other technological breakthrough that is introducing radical shifts in the way we store information amongst its many other potential uses.

Each of these technologies has its own complexity and business use cases, but what would happen if we brought the two together? There are some interesting possibilities, benefits and challenges arising from coupling them.

The blockchain technology is a “foundational technology” changes the basis of relationships from a centralised model to a decentralised one. It has the potential through the distributed ledger technology (DLT) to “reduce both the costs of verification and networking, influencing then the market structure and eventually allowing the creation of new marketplaces.” It could change business models, because it doesn’t just store information or allow transactions, it can also support smart contracts that operate effortlessly.

AI could change various current aspects of the blockchain. For example, mining new blocks on the blockchain uses a lot of electricity. AI is known to optimise energy consumption, so this is one way in which it could positively affect the blockchain and the mining operations.

It could also solve the blockcian’s scalability issues with the use of an AI sharding technique or decentralised learning system. Security is another major headache for the blockchain. It is supposed to be unhackable, but theft from exchanges like Mt. Gox and Bitfinex show that isn’t the case. AI could come into play here and add another level of security.

Of course, the blockchain may also have an effect on AI. It could help AI explain itself by providing a clear audit trail. It could also make it more effective by supporting better AI models, actions, results and networks. And it could increase artificial trust. For example, where bots manage various tasks, the clear audit trail will help these bots to trust each other more.

So far, we have not seen many companies operating an AI-blockchain convergence, with the majority in the decentralised intelligence sector, although there are a few in conversation platforms, trading, intellectual property and data provenance. But, they are literally a handful, and it is still difficult to assess the potential impact of bringing these two world-changing technologies together.