The Fourth Major Economic Revolution


Scientists generally agree that the first modern humans who looked like us, homo sapiens, evolved during the Stone Age at least 130,000 years ago.  They were nomadic hunter-gatherers, fashioning simple tools and weapons from flint.  During this time, there was no class discrimination: everyone was universally poor.

About 10,000 years ago, humans moved into permanent settlements, progressed to farming and the Agrarian Age began.  No longer existed the need to constantly follow migrating herds.  Plants and animals were cultivated inside enclosures year-round, storing enough food to survive the winter months.

Such developments lead to the acquisition of wealth by owning land.  The landowners, the Landlords, allowed farm labourers and peasants to live on and work their land, in return for a portion of the harvest.  Thus, the Agrarian Age divided society into two economic tiers: the rich and the poor.

During this period, approx. 3,200 – 1,200 BC, the Bronze Age evolved.  Copper and tin were mined and smelted to make bronze tools.  This was followed by the Iron Age, 1,300 BC, when iron ore was mined and smelted to make more durable iron tools.  This period lasted until 800 AD during the Viking Age.

The next most recent historical advancement was the Industrial Age, consisting of the First Industrial Revolution, taking place between 1760 to 1840; and the Second Industrial Revolution, which took place between 1870 and 1914, just before World War I.

The First Industrial Revolution, occurred primarily in Europe and America. This period was characterised by the movement of mainly agrarian and rural societies into the industrial and urban centres where the factories were located.  Iron and textile industries were major features of this period.

The steam engine played a major role during this period of industrialisation.  Coal provided the chemical energy required to heat water into steam, creating the explosive force needed to drive mechanical engines, leading to the advent of mechanised production.  Such developments created another means of acquiring wealth – owning the production process itself.  Thus, the Industrial Age divided society into three economic tiers: the rich upper class, middle class, and poor working class.

The Second Industrial Revolution witnessed the growth of pre-existing industries with the creation and expansion of new ones such as steel, oil and electricity.  Other major technological advances during this period included the light bulb, phonograph, telephone and the internal combustion engine.  The internal combustion engine fuelled by petroleum (gasoline) refined from crude oil, powered turbines that created electricity, to drive the development and rapid growth of mass production.

Unlike steam power that requires the chemical energy of coal to heat water and to create the explosive, mechanical force of steam, oil could do both.  As a liquid fuel, petroleum expands explosively when ignited, to power the mechanical force needed to drive this new industrial period.

More recently, humanity moved into a new era, the Information Age, comprising the Third Industrial Revolution and Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution, began during the 1980’s and is ongoing.  This period of industrial development is characterised by the advancement from analogue and mechanical devices to digital technology.  Major technological advances during this period included the personal computer, internet, information and communications technology.  Such developments created another means of acquiring wealth – monetarising information, or digital data.  Thus, the Information Age divided society into four economic tiers: the super-rich, rich upper class, middle class, and poor working class.

The phrase ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ was first coined by the World Economic Forum in 2016.  This period builds upon the Digital Revolution and technology is becoming increasingly embedded within society, including the human body.  A number of technological breakthroughs are emerging in various fields including robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is fundamentally different from previous eras, which were characterized mainly by technological advances. These recent technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions more people around the world to the internet, drastically improving the efficiency of business, organizations, exchange of ideas and research, conflict resolution, and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.

Whereas previous eras of technical progress lasted millennia, more recent periods of technical progress have lasted only decades.  The time period between the Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions, for example, is little more than thirty years.  This rapid increase in modern technical progress is only going to get faster.

Consequently, we are very unlikely to remain in the same job throughout our careers.  Automation will take many jobs and we need to consider other options for creating independent incomes for retirement.

Putting off long-term retirement plans and leaving them to chance, is a very risky endeavour.  You need to create an independent source of income as early as you can.

Period Revolution Economic Classes Date Years
Hunter-Gatherer   Poor 130,000 BC 120,000
Stone Age   130,000 – 9,000 BC  
Agrarian   Rich, Poor 10,000 BC 11,760
Bronze Age   3,200 – 1,200 BC  
Iron Age   1,300 BC – 800 AD  
Industrial Age Industry 1.0 Rich, Middle Class, Poor 1760 -1840 110
Industry 2.0 1870 – 1914 90
Information Age Industry 3.0 Super-Rich, Rich, Middle Class, Poor 1980 36
Industry 4.0 2016