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Digital Innovation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Epochal Social Changes?

Loris Caruso

According to the main representations of Industry 4.0. by private and public institutions, its effects are expected to be mainly positive, for what regards productivity, economic opportunities and the future of work. The positive potentials now attributed to the new cycle of innovation evoke and expand those attributed to the previous waves of innovation linked to ITC technologies, and, even before, to the transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism. However, these transformations have so far not achieved any of the promises they raised. Improvements for workers in terms of work conditions, work performance and work relationships cannot be determined by any technical innovation in itself, being technological innovation always socially shaped.

Type: Journal Article
Year: 2017

ITC technologies have come to comprehensively represent images and expectations of the future. Hopes of ongoing progress, economic growth, skill upgrading and possibly also democratisation are attached to new ICTs as well as fears of totalitarian control, alienation, job loss and insecurity.

Currently, with the terms Industry 4.0. and ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution” (FIR), public institutions (such as the national governments of Germany, Us, Italy, France, and Hollande), private institutions (the World Economic Forum, Hedge Funds, commercial banks), and literature refer to the inchoate transformation of production of goods and services resulting from the application of a new wave of technological innovations: interconnected collaborative robots; machine learning; Artificial Intelligence; 3D printers connected to digital development software; simulation of interconnected machines; integration of the information flow along the value chain; multidirectional communication between manufacturing processes and products (Internet of Things).

According to the main representations of Industry 4.0. by private and public institutions, its effects are expected to be mainly positive, for what regards productivity, economic opportunities and the future of work. The positive potentials now attributed to the new cycle of innovation evoke and expand those attributed to the previous waves of innovation linked to ITC technologies, and, even before, to the transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism. However, these transformations have so far not achieved any of the promises they raised. Improvements for workers in terms of work conditions, work performance and work relationships cannot be determined by any technical innovation in itself, being technological innovation always socially shaped.

Caruso, L. (2017) 'Digital Innovation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Epochal Social Changes?’. Artificial Intelligence & Society: Knowledge, Culture, and Communication. DOI: 10.1007/s00146-017-0736-1

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