Society, Governance & The Fourth Industrial Revolution
In addition to the overwhelming hate and hostility, Twitter regularly produces some of the most creative, prescient and nuanced witticisms. Sample this tweet that satirises Delhi’s road-rage notoriety, the Government’s ambitious ID programme – Aadhar and our technological future in a pithy 140 characters.
Two autonomous Aadhar-enabled cars crash into each other in Delhi. Both already know who each other’s fathers are. Traffic returns to normal.
Considering that we are on the verge of a monumental technological revolution that is unprecedented in scale, complexity, and scope, even the staunchest of sceptics would have a hard time explaining the impossibility of this future in the next few decades. This paradigm shift – the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – is characterised by the fusion of technologies in the physical, digital and biological spheres. 3-D printing, nanotechnology, quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence (autonomous vehicles, robotics) are some of the popular technologies that represent this revolution.
As with any disruption, this revolution has the potential to completely alter our lives and presents to humankind a myriad of opportunities and challenges. On one hand, there is the promise of transportation and communication costs dropping, quality of life improving and productivity and efficiency sky rocketing. On the other, there is danger of widening of the inequality gap, disruption of labour markets and an increasingly tenuous relationship between the citizen and the state.
The erstwhile nature and structure of government systems and institutions are under tremendous pressure to evolve and adapt to ensure their survival. As citizens find an assortment of platforms to voice their opinions and engage with the government, the state will have to find novel ways to pivot itself in the role of policy making and public engagement. Though it remains to be seen how governments across the globe adapt to the disruption, it is almost certain that the path adopted will be instrumental in shaping the nature of society at both a global and national level.
Firstly, with the invasion of technology in the arena of governance, the focus on efficiency and transparency will be paramount. The role of accountability in governance is expected to take primacy, especially in the global south where corruption and inefficiencies are rife. The non-linear and rapid pace of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will also pose a pernicious challenge to the government especially in domains of regulation and security. Careful management of data privacy laws, information system policies, and technologies shall form the bedrock of governance in the future.
Secondly, the data revolution will inevitably alter the face of democracy from its current manifestation. Technology and information will decentralise and localise power to the lowest denominator in the society, thereby empowering the common man in ways never witnessed before. Such a scenario would force the devolution of ancillary functions of the government down to the regional and local levels, drastically reducing the size of governmental footprint in the citizen’s daily life. The willingness to relinquish such control shall vary across national governments depending largely on the tradition of political thought. This mode of transition shall profoundly chart the social, political, and economic narrative of countries across the globe.
The Data revolution will inevitably alter the face of democracy from its current manifestation. Technology and information will decentralise and localise power to the lowest denominator in the society, thereby empowering the common man in ways never witnessed before.
Lastly, in addition to getting up to speed with understanding the potential impact, ensuring adequate infrastructure to surf the wave of technological change, governments will need to ensure social cohesion in face of the turbulence that 4IR is expected to bring about. Divisive issues of immigration, automation of jobs, wealth distribution, taxation, and unemployment that are a by-product of this shift have the potential to dislocate societies. The role of social media and digital communications has tremendous potential intensify complex social challenges.
Governments that want to be in the vanguard technological advancements brought about by 4IR and utilise its benefits must be cognisant of the challenges, opportunities, and strategies to tackle some inevitable complexities that come along. Since there is no level playing field, some governments have to play ‘catch up’ while some can afford to play the waiting game. At the end, however, the potential of 4IR to alter human lives and connections is gargantuan. If navigated carefully, there is scope for immense progress and development in the quality of lives we lead.
Luckily, for governments and institutions, the secret to survive and thrive in the age of 4IR has remained the same since the First Industrial Revolution – adaptability.
Aruj Shukla is a Data Associate at Ank Aha.