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  • Humanity is on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Every business will be affected by this new era of technology
  • Artificial intelligence will augment how we work and build new industries
  • Managers and executives need a paradigm shift in thinking to cope

Imagine a future where new cars are designed not by people, but by computers analysing hundreds of sensors on an old car as it drives around and then the new version is 3D printed ready to be delivered to the showroom.

Well, that future is already here according to Mark Skilton, Professor of Practice Information Systems and Management, and Felix Hovsepian, an AI adviser, who has been researching the technology since 1984.

The fourth industrial revolution represents the convergence of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing and the internet of things into still unimagined new products, services and even industries and the designing of cars is a prime example of this new reality.

“A motor racing manufacturer sent their racing car around the track covered in sensors,” says Professor Hovsepian, who has worked as a Chief technology Officer after a PhD in AI. “They called it the digital nervous system and they drove it around, collected all the data, fed it into a package called Dreamcatcher by AutoCAD, which is a generative design package.

“The computer then designed a new chassis for that racing car. But that new chassis could not be manufactured using standard manufacturing techniques – they would have to 3D print it. 

“Even more interesting was when a similar type of procedure was used for designing a drone, and it looked like the skeleton of the flying fox bat. So as these generative design techniques produce results, they're beginning to look a lot more like what you see in nature than they do from what man has designed.” 

The impact of these technologies is set to revolutionise our lives. The UK Government estimates AI alone could add £630 billion to the country’s economy by 2035 and has put together a series of proposals to make the UK the world’s centre for developing AI businesses.

And this is what managers and executives need to understand, says Professor Skilton, it is no longer business as usual, change is happening to every sector.

Professor Skilton, who has also authored Building The Digital Enterprise and Building Digital Ecosystem Architectures, says: “We're entering a new era of what I call post-Moore's Law. Computer processing power has reached its limits, silicon chips are the size of atoms now, they can’t get any smaller.

“So now it is how we can combine all these technologies with this massive computing power.

“I'm wearing a Fitbit, but soon we will have cars connected to cell phones - computing is going to be everywhere around us. We can already talk to it, with virtual assistants, and that is going to explode across every domain and office.

What is the fourth industrial revolution?

“We have seen computers become quicker and more powerful, but the fourth industrial revolution is where software, computers, materials and objects can think for themselves.”

AI will allow us to do the seemingly impossible, scan a whole library in minutes, search for cancer cells in seconds, process masses of data in the blink of an eye, things beyond the capacity of humans – superhuman.

The fear is that millions of jobs will disappear as a result, but Professor Hovsepian argues it should instead transform professions and make us so much more productive

“The real difference in my mind is AI enables us to do things we've not been able to do before rather than simply automating and making things efficient,” he says.

“Adidas is able to 3D scan your feet and look at the mechanics of your feet as you run - they can now design a shoe uniquely for you. Soon it could be for all of us, you just pick the style. That's high end couture at the moment, but AI could make that a mass market.”


The book argues that the real point of this technological revolution is not that AI or the internet of things exist, but it is when these are combined that the real magic will happen.

“The effect is then exponential,” says Professor Skilton, who has consulted for PA Consulting Group and Capgemini and is Global Head of Digital Strategy at utilities firm Enzen.

“To give you an example, for professors 10 to 20 per cent of their job can be replaced as it involves routine tasks, but also a further 20-40 per cent involving knowledge communication and some research involving investigating and theorising could also be automated.

"You only have to look at the innovating going on in scientific analysis using neural networks that exploit text recognition, image processing and semantic understanding to see this is rapidly advancing.

"So it’s not just a digital transformation, it's an intelligence transformation. You could research and analyse and publish more per day, per minute, because AI would augment the way you go out and find information. It would tell you what's going on and collate the data, suggest new things to do with it.”

The pair argue companies and governments need to plan for this revolution now, because it will change the way we work, learn and live in the next decade or two. For example a recent study found that 60 per cent of what children are being taught at school will be automated by the time they get to the job market.

“Meeting companies and governments, I've found they feel it's all about the data,” says Professor Skilton. “But what they need to move to, and there's a frustration about it not moving fast enough, is to adopting this technology, especially AI and training it to fuse with other technology. They need to ask ‘how do we build technological combinations?’ That will have a far bigger impact on their business.”

Professor Hovsepian reveals the concept of cognitive horizon, which is the sum total of all the knowledge a system or human can potentially possess at any point in time.

“An AI system has the capability to expand its knowledge and insights - its cognitive horizon - far beyond what a human can do themselves, reaching new levels of understanding,” says Professor Hovsepian.

“For example, a smart watch worn to monitor a patient’s health might possess the information to recognise when factors such as their heart rate or blood sugar are higher or lower than their normal baseline. Using this information, the system would have the ability to then deduce when the patient is getting sick, and formulate a relevant treatment.

“Adding a new set of facts to the system, such as baseline readings for other health measures, will significantly expand its cognitive horizon as it will be able to make more deductions, based on a greater number of combinations of different facts. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

So businesses looking at AI should not be asking ‘how can it help us work better, cheaper and faster?’ They should be asking ‘how can we fundamentally change what we are doing?’

“The reason we wrote the book was to be a primer of the kind of narrative or language needed for this paradigm shift in thinking that managers will need,” says Professor Skilton.

Understand the impact of the fourth industrial revolution

“As an executive in charge of my business strategy, how do I need to think about how artificial intelligence will impact my strategic planning.

“It's not about looking at the risks involved in adopting AI – this is going to happen and revolutionise your business, every business.

“It's about how do we need to start incorporating intelligence into our planning processes to maximise AI and the associated technologies?

"How directors, consultants and practitioners need to start thinking about how AI will change the way they approach problems and solve them. So we wrote the book really for that audience, to take them there - because it’s not business as usual now. ”

Mark Skilton teaches Developing Consulting Expertise on the suite of MSc Business courses and Business Consulting on the Undergraduate programme.

Follow Mark Skilton on Twitter @mskilton.

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