We are experiencing an era of unparalleled innovation and technological change – the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution or 'industry 4.0'. Like its predecessors, it has the potential to transform life for populations around the world.
But, in many ways, the human and economic development resulting from past industrial revolutions has been created at the expense of the planet – there is a growing consensus that our climate, water, air, biodiversity, forests and oceans are under increasing strain.
The challenge now is to ensure the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a sustainable one – delivering a clean, resource-secure and inclusive economy enabled by technology and supported by public policy and investment. It's a task that even our largest tech giants can't tackle alone.
Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, has the potential to help solve environmental issues – from climate change to biodiversity. But AI ethics and safety needs to be extended to include 'earth-friendly' AI – otherwise, left unchecked, it could exacerbate and even accelerate our current problems.
A 'responsible' Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to need to be built on partnerships between organisations ranging from companies and investors to governments and research institutions.
Take cars as an example – the efficiency savings from using robots on production lines have meant more people can afford to buy a new vehicle, increasing the number of cars on the roads and the overall emissions from our roads. Even if many of these vehicles were replaced with zero-emission electric cars, there are still emissions associated with production, disposal and electricity supply.
A partnership approach, on the other hand, could see car manufacturers and technology innovators joining forces with road hauliers, local authorities and spatial big data experts like GeoSpock to shed new light on the problem and find a sustainable way forward.
Data on everything from traffic volumes and congestion hotspots to peak travel times and delivery traffic patterns could lead to improved road planning or more efficient road haulage delivery schedules, for example.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so the saying goes – and that's certainly true for industry 4.0. After all, when it comes to saving the planet, we're all in it together.
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