From First to Fourth Industrial Revolution

From First to Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article discusses industrial revolution – from first (back in 18th century) to fourth Industrial Revolution – current day revolution. Starting with 1st Industrial revolution, we’ll discuss its positive and negative impacts on society – compared to modern day Fourth Industrial Revolution (AI Revolution) and its possible future impacts on our society.

First Industrial revolution began about 1750, started in Europe, esp. Britain. It’s a change from hand and home production to machine and factory production. Before 1st Industrial revolution, 80% of the people were engaged in farming to keep itself and other 20% of people from starving.

1st Industrial revolution gave birth to textile industry, new means of transportation, 12 years of free education system, coal and coal mines, electricity, urban life (factory towns).

In this article, we’ll give an overview of 1st industrial revolution and how it effected the life of working class. For more details on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Industrial Revolution, check this.

Textile Industry (1st Industrial Revolution)

India was largest producer of cotton textiles. Due to its largest population, labour was very low-cost in India, so they didn’t need to industrialise. It could be very productive even without using machines.

On the other hand, Indian cotton production helped spur British industrialisation. It was cotton textiles that drove the early Industrial revolution – First Industrial Revolution.

Britain had the highest wages in the world in the beginning of 18th Century. In 1725,

    • Wages in London were equivalent of 11 grams of silver per day
    • In Amsterdam, 9 grams of silver per day
    • Venice, Beijing, Florence, < 4 grams of silver per day
    • In Delhi, < 2 grams of silver per day

In 1733, John Kay invented the flying shuttle, which increased the speed of weaving. It was a key contribution to the First Industrial Revolution.

It was economically efficient for manufacturers to look to machines as a way of lowering their production costs. Indian cotton could be imported to EU. So Indian cotton created the market, and then British manufacturers invested in machines, so they could compete with India. With Machines, EU could outproduce India.

First Industrial Revolution for the working class

The Industrial Revolution raised the standard of living for many people, particularly for the middle and upper classes by bringing a greater variety of factory-produced goods. However, life for the poor and working classes continued to be filled with challenges.

Looking for a better life and to make more money to support their families, people flocked to urban areas (factor towns). But unfortunately disillusion, they soon realised the new life wasn’t at all what they thought it would be. Between the heat, the dirt, the noise, the poor ventilation, and the lack of light, the life of working class became even worse – physically and mentally exhausted.

Fast forward to 19th century, as factories were being built, businesses were in need of workers. With a long line of people willing to work, employers could set wages as low as they wanted because people were willing to do work as long as they got paid. People worked 14-16 hours a day for 6 days a week. Women received one-third or sometimes one-half the pay that men received. Children received even less. The working conditions were dangerous and terrible. People started destroying weaving machinery as a form of protest. As a result, Luddites activism started and remained active between 1811-1816.

That was the brief history of 1st industrial revolution. Now let’s compare it with Fourth Industrial Revolution (Artificial Intelligence, IoT…) and its possible future impacts.

Artificial Intelligence

First Industrial Revolution just mechanised. We often associate 1st Industrial automation with factory work. Today, Fourth Industrial Revolution (AI, IoT, …) can make the situation even more worse, it is likely to replace office workers. It is not only replacing but can do better than humans. AI and robots these days can learn new things by themselves – Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning. Humans can no longer compete with machines in chess and Go. Although Artificial General Intelligence or Deep unsupervised Learning hasn’t made substantial progress yet nor do we foresee it in near future, but in the field of Deep Supervised Learning, it’s made significant progress and has surpassed human level accuracy in some areas.

AI (Deep Learning) already surpassing human level accuracy

Why is AI booming now ?

Modern AI development started in the mid of 20th century, but why the AI boom now? The major driving force behind development in AI in recent years is due to availability of computing power (GPUs, cloud services), big data, and development of algorithms.

For more details, read on Why is AI booming now?

According to Andrew Ng, “AI is the new electricity”. The way electricity transformed every major industry 100 years ago, AI esp. deep learning will transform every major industry in the similar way.

AI now, in near future (deep supervised learning), and in distant future

Fourth Industrial Revolution & Unemployment

Advances in robotics and AI over the next few decades are likely to lead to significant job losses. Already, artificial intelligence (AI) machines can do many tasks where learning and judgment is required, including self-driving carsinsurance assessmentstock tradingaccountingHR and many tasks in healthcare. H&R Block, one of America’s largest tax preparation providers, is now using Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence platform. So are we approaching a jobless future, or will new jobs replace the ones that are lost?

Driverless cars could replace taxi drivers, robots in warehouses are replacing man workforce, self-service machines could wipe out the supermarket cashier. Fore more, see Fourth Industrial Revolution and Unemployment

How to prepare for the future

Change is going to happen and more and more development day in and day out – no one can stop it. What we can do is take preventive measures and get ready for future.

“Without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF.

Few proposals:

  • Govt has to take solid steps to produce more quality STEM professionals
    • Invest in education at every level – primary, secondary, higher education.
    • Produce AI skilled workforce
    • Use MOOCs to quickly develop workforce with latest skills required by industry, and keep adapting to changes AI is bringing in society.
  • Create training programs for workers, like drivers, who will be displaced by autonomous cars.
  • Govt to introduce new laws to protect the rights of working class.
  • The robot that takes your job should pay taxes, says Bill Gates.
  • Focus on developing rural areas, because history tells us when automation and development happened in cities, more and more job opportunities created, people started flocking from rural life (hometowns) to cities, giving rise to even more problems. So we need to focus on developing rural areas, and create more opportunities there, so that people won’t move to urban areas.


It was just the glimpse on where AI can take us in coming years. Who knows what the future holds for us, but the way AI is making progress, we’ve to prepare ourselves to encounter its negative impacts on society.

The human brain is the most elegant computer, and it is which creates other computers. So it is the responsibility of this most elegant computer to manage other computers/robots – not let them prove destructive for their creators, or leave any negative impact on society. In anyway, we’ve to make sure that AI/robots work to serve humans and augment them in their work – in making better societies.

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