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Book review: 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution' by Klaus Schwab

  • May 2017
  • Topics in science
  • Book or article

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

by Klaus Schwab

Published by Crown Business
ISBN: 9781524758868

Book review by Andrea Bandelli, Executive Director, Science Gallery International, Dublin, Ireland

The fourth industrial revolution is driven by the unprecedented level of developments in material sciences, digital technology and biology. To name only a few, 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, and research in neuroscience are revolutionising not only industrial processes, but also ourselves as human beings and as a society.

The first industrial revolution, powered by the steam engine, changed the world by replacing muscle power with mechanical power. In the second one, electricity and the assembly line made mass production possible. The third one was powered by digital computing and the internet, and it created automated production and the connected world we are living in now. In this short and very well written book Klaus Schwab argues that we are now witnessing the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution, and that we must prepare for the systemic changes that are ahead.

The fourth industrial revolution is the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological sphere. It affects not only industrial production, but basically all areas of society. It transforms how we manufacture, from fully autonomous, smart industries to synthetic biology; how we communicate, with ubiquitous and quantum computing, but also threats to privacy and transparency; and how we shape our society, in an era where a lot of human work becomes unnecessary and can be replaced by machines.

Klaus Schwab, founder and head of the World Economic Forum, has a unique observation point on the state of the world. Every year the Forum brings to Davos the world leaders from business, government, civil society, culture, academia, and the young generation. Throughout the year, the Forum engages with thousands of experts to produce analyses and reports that influence the decisions of governments and global industries.

In this book Schwab draws from Davos and the work of the World Economic Forum and argues that we need to create new narratives to guide us through the fourth industrial revolution. The technologies that enable this revolution can - and will - completely change how we work, how we communicate and how we live together. But their impact depends of how we design their development, and how a diverse set of individuals and communities are empowered to master these possibilities rather than fear them.

All of us, in our fields of work and action, have the responsibility to contribute to a comprehensive, positive and common narrative that shapes the opportunities and challenges ahead. This book is a useful toolbox to help us in this endeavour. It describes very well how technological innovations are already shaking the fundaments of industry and society, and it includes a “deep dive” into 23 major shifts that are ahead. But it is not a book about technology. It is a book about people, and about the qualities and the intelligence we need in order to master the fourth industrial revolution. It makes a very clear point about the importance of diversity as a fundamental resource for us all. It argues that emotions and feelings must be part of decision making processes, together with contextual intelligence; and that well-being and personal health are the pillars of good leadership.

It is a treasure trove of good data, unique insights and a powerful vision for humanity. The final chapter contains a beautiful quote by R. M. Rilke: “The future enters into us… in order to transform itself in us long before it happens”. If you want the future to enter into you, this book might very well be what you need to read.


  • good reads
  • economics
  • industrial revolution
  • innovation