It seems not quite that long ago debates surrounding the significance of the Third Industrial Revolution were well underway, and now due to recent exposure at the World Economic Forum, the debate is shifting from the Third Industrial Revolution to the potential impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Primary causation of the shift in the debate remains due to several factors. Some of the factors include both the velocity at which the shift in technology is transpiring, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution transpiring at an unprecedented rate, in addition to the overall impact the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have on society.

The First Industrial Revolution is typically characterized as a technological shift encompassing steam, water, and the mechanical production of equipment. The Second Industrial Revolution introduced technology, including the application of electricity, mass production, in addition to the division of labor. The Third Industrial Revolution remains relatively debatable, however as technologies continue to rapidly advance, it is becoming more readily distinguishable from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with the Third primarily encompassing the internet, electronic, and automated production advancements.

The First Industrial Revolution arose out of England, one of the largest empires in the history of the world at the time. This transition is considered to have occurred from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1850. While this is considered a fantastic advancement for humanity, as the industrial revolution progressed, innovation increasingly contributed to a transition from a rural economy, to an industrial economy. This contributed to a displacement of many workers in the countryside. These types of impacts to society contributed to political debates arising, such as the pros and cons of free-market capitalism, socialism, in addition to the responsibility the market should hold, in terms of the welfare of society at large.

The Second Industrial Revolution, much like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, was a natural advancement of the technological achievements of its predecessor. The Second Industrial Revolution is generally agreed to have occurred between 1870 and 1914. Much like the First Industrial Revolution, the Second Industrial Revolution was characterized by a rapid expansion of urban areas, however as the nature of economic activity excelled, large regional agricultural economies arose, assisted by the development of new innovation techniques evolved from the first.

Industrial Revolution Additionally, for the first time, the development of an intricate network of transportation allowed goods produced in localized areas to be shipped quickly, and reliably across the country. Due to the rapid acceleration of technology and the economy, the period between 1870 to about 1900 came to be known as, The Gilded Age. New technologies contributed to a few individuals accumulating vast sums of wealth, while widespread poverty and extremely dangerous working conditions existed for many others. The American economy grew so immensely and rapidly, a nation that was quickly dismissed by many of the European empires, had now become the most prosperous nation in the world. Much like the First Industrial Revolution, this extreme disparity between the wealthy and poor continued to attribute to the debate surrounding free market enterprise.

With the Third Industrial Revolution relatively recent, and debates surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution still in their infancy stage, the current consensus reasonably dates the beginning of the Third Industrial Revolution to the mid-1990s, as desktops became linked to the internet, and alternative energy sources, such as solar, became more mainstream. Additionally, it is considered much like the previous revolutions a new financial system is appearing through the internet, with corporate titans such as Apple, introducing Apple-pay, in addition to other technology companies establishing similar platforms. During the Third Industrial Revolution, while the global economy continued to rapidly expand, it may be noted some of the more breakthrough technologies such as robotics, and solar power was initially spearheaded by countries outside of the US, such as Germany, Japan, and China.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution well underway, technologies have begun to arise which will radically alter human interaction, as it relates to our environment. Neuralink, a company established by Elon Musk, the CEO of Space X and Tesla, endeavors to achieve a task that sounds almost as if it should exist in the realm of science fiction. Neuralink seeks to eventually merge human beings with software, through the creation of an implantable device in the brain.

Technological advances are continuing to drive virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality to the forefront. As virtual reality continues to advance, considering any moderate advancement in present technology, a virtual reality device rendering environments Industrial Revolution indistinguishable from reality is no longer relegated to the realm of science fiction. Advancements in fields such artificial intelligence, robotics, DNA hacking, autonomous vehicles, energy, genome sequencing, computing, and 3-D printing are set to impact society in ways unknown. 

While it is considered the Fourth Industrial Revolution contains the potential to raise income levels for many, and increase the quality of life for many individuals across the globe, transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution will not be without challenges. We already are beginning to observe extremes in wealth disparities here in the US, which like previous revolutions, has contributed to a somewhat dicey political environment. The Fourth Industrial Revolution stands to transform society in ways unprecedented, with some predicting a complete eradication of the working class. However it should be noted, many of the predictions today, were similar to those predicted by others in previous industrial revolutions. The truth is, it is quite difficult to predict future, with many of the most astute scholars being woefully off target in previous predictions. However, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution being well underway, the question is not whether it will affect you, but how.

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