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Is the Internet of Things Another Industrial Revolution?

When looked at through the lens of industrial revolution, there’s been an incredible progression through the manufacturing industry in a relatively short period of time. The first and earliest industrial revolution was marked as the advent of mechanization. This was a time where steam and water offered never-before-seen power and opportunities to propel people and goods faster than ever before. Mechanization oversaw the steam engine and the combustion engine, innovations that continue to inspire even today.

Not long after, the first industrial revolution gave way to the second industrial revolution. This revolution introduced mass production and assembly lines powered by electricity. The advent of electric lights and the creation of alternate and direct current changed how people lived and worked. The use of electric lights allowed factories to stay open for longer shifts and this forever changed what we think of as the modern workday.

The third revolution ushered in electronics, IT systems and increased automation. Manufacturers that implemented such technologies soon found themselves navigating a different world. In this environment, humans shifted more control to the machines with automated systems that governed using data. This was also a time that forever changed the manufacturing industry as more jobs were automated to increase efficiency within the workplace.

Many predict another industrial revolution is already on the horizon. This is clear in the introduction of smart manufacturing and smart factories that employ cloud and cognitive computing and an Internet of Things (IoT) network. These connected devices and systems use networks to exchange real-time data and information to help with tasks and improve processes.

This is what is referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. Beyond IoT, this includes industrial and cyber physical systems, smart manufacturing, smart factories, cloud and cognitive computing, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is increasingly woven into everyday life from the use of smart devices within the car, home and business to the smartphone that’s never far from reach.

It’s probably fair to say that each industrial revolution has brought both excitement and fear to the masses, as new things often do. What might be different about this industrial revolution, as compared to the earlier three, is the blurring between the realms of digital, physical and biological. Also, with the many unknowns associated with Industry 4.0, it will be difficult to figure out how machines will interact with humans moving forward.

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