The initial industrial revolution dating back to the late 18th century was triggered by the release of the steam engine for industrial applications enabling the mechanization of steam power. The increased productivity of the steam engine caused an ever-increasing demand for commodities enforcing additional industrial revolutions such as the introduction of mass production with assembly lines in the late 19th century. Besides increasing demand, technological advancements around the mid to late 20th century enabled further enhancements in which industrial machines were computerized allowing a more automatic operation and significantly increasing the efficiency of the assembly. In recent times around the beginning of the 21st century, the objectives behind automation got further intensified by developed countries through the utilization of cyber-physical systems leading to the 4th revolution of the industry .
Figure 1: The first four industrial revolutions and their distinct properties
The most recent revolution, as of writing this technology sheet, was officially introduced in 2021 by the European Commission as industry 5.0. The key objective of Industry 5.0 is to enable industrial production to achieve societal goals that go beyond jobs and growth, and to become a resilient provider of wealth. This involves designing the industrial production in a way that respects the planet's resources and puts the well-being of the industrial worker at the center of the production process .
To further elaborate on the motivation of the 5th industrial revolution it would be beneficial to contemplate a different concept which is analogous to the definition of the industrial revolutions known as the “societal revolutions. It was developed and approved by Japan’s Cabinet Office in 2016. Unlike the industrial revolutions which date to the invention of the steam engine, the societal revolution traces back to the origins of humanity. The analogy to the industrial revolution starts with the “Industrial Society” around the end of the 18th century, which is followed by the “Information Society” and ends with “Creative Society”. Whether it is a coincidence that the number of societal revolutions is the same as the number of industrial revolutions is not known, however, the similarity of its goals is not a coincidence when considering the currently ongoing global state of affairs.
Figure 2: Comparison between the industrial revolutions and the societal revolutions
The goal of the latest societal revolution is to balance economic advancements with the resolution of social problems. The economic advancements are about the challenges concerning the inequality of wealth distribution and additionally the increasing demand for energy and food caused by the growing population and its’ longer lifespan . The social problems on the other side are dealing with increased production to achieve affordable energy and food while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by promoting sustainable industrialization and redistribution of wealth to counter inequality .
To do this balancing act the “Information Society” intends to utilize digital transformation and artificial intelligence as the major problem-solving driver. Digital transformation in this context is the collection of large amounts of real-world data which are analyzed by AI to retrieve valuable information. This concept covers a broad spectrum of applications such as autonomous driving, embedded systems (compactification of AI), and recommender systems. However, it also treats more specific industrial aspects such as linked machines which would allow for automatic production in factories with on-site equipment as well as machines located in other facilities allowing to optimize productivity without the need for human supervision. This would not only lead to higher productivity but also provide higher levels of safety and more importantly pave the way for the creation of innovative products and services .
Similarly, “Industry 5.0” should be regarded as a solution provider for the people and the planet through improving resource efficiency, safety, and well-being. This builds on top of the ambitions behind “Industry 4.0” which among other things minimizes dangerous, repetitive, and dirty tasks handled by humans and instead enhances their development and skills in a more human-centric work environment. However, such disruptive improvements naturally face certain obstacles which require international standardization, regulatory and institutional reforms, and most importantly social acceptance.
- Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (European Commission), Industry 5.0: human centric, sustainable and resilient. LU: Publications Office of the European Union, 2020. Accessed: May 24, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2777/073781
- ‘Japan`s Approach to Degetalization - online presentation’. https://en.ppt-online.org/713321 (accessed May 24, 2022).
- ‘Society 5.0’. https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/english/society5_0/index.html (accessed May 24, 2022).
- C. Narvaez Rojas, G. A. Alomia Peñafiel, D. F. Loaiza Buitrago, and C. A. Tavera Romero, ‘Society 5.0: A Japanese Concept for a Superintelligent Society’, Sustainability, vol. 13, no. 12, p. 6567, Jun. 2021, doi: 10.3390/su13126567.