The world and technology are changing at a faster rate than ever before.
The first industrial revolution introduced the steam engine, the second mass industrialization, and the third is known as the digital revolution.
Coined by Schwab (2016), the term Fourth Industrial Revolution, 4IR or Industry 4.0 denotes the unique convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds. At the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution lies the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is a network upgrading the functionality of everyday objects. The IoT is expected to have a big influence on citizen’s lives (Rouse 2019), through disruptive technologies and trends such as Smart Cities, Robotics, Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which together constitute 4IR.
4IR offers huge potential to transform and realign economies and societies. It is expected to create a profound shift in all industries by reshaping production, consumption, transportation and the delivery of services. According to Li et al (2017: 637), it provides great opportunities especially for developing countries to upgrade industrial capacity and create markets at a faster pace.
Regarding public services, the Fourth Industrial Revolution –and the innovative use of technologies in e-governance processes more generally– allows improving the quality of life of citizens. For example, Smart Cities can assist citizens and the public service to reduce water and energy consumption. Public services such as education and healthcare can be delivered at lower costs, with improved efficiency and effectiveness, and more transparency, accountability, engagement and communication with citizens (Schwab 2016: 127).
Yet 4IR also creates numerous challenges for governments, public servants and citizens.
Most governments are still struggling to understand the implications of the fourth industrial revolution (Schwab 2016: 36). Adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and new technologies is taking time: facts or information need to be collected, and regulatory frameworks designed. Yet citizens, especially millennials, live in an on-demand society (the now world), and expect public servants to respond immediately to their needs and expectations. Governments thus need to make swift decisions without full information, at risk of failing to seize the opportunities of better public services offered by the 4IR. At the same time, they also need to carefully plan for the future (Lye 2017).
4IR could also cause disruptions to citizens. Governments should be prepared for increased unemployment and inequality flowing from automatization of routine tasks. Failing to mitigate the effects and consequences of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Lye 2017) could result in social unrest. Overall, governments must maximize positive social and environmental outcomes unlocked by 4IR innovations while mitigating their risks. This supposes the development of knowledge, skills, human and material resources.