Technology is an integral part of today’s society. It shapes what we do and how we think. In fact, technology cannot be omitted in the society we’re living in. But that hasn’t always been the case – obviously, the Earth already exists for much longer than technology does.

Artificial Intelligence is one of those technologies. In this blog, we travel to the past in order to find out what revolutions have taken place. We then proceed with the fourth and find out how AI plays a role in the developments that are very real today.

Will you join us?

The first three industrial revolutions

The industrial revolution… a very important topic during history classes at high school. During the first, a large extent of craft work was turned around: as a result of mechanized production it disappeared from society. The steam engine was a very important driver of this revolution.

This process accelerated during the second revolution, during which – among others – the introduction of electricity resulted in much more intense use of production machinery. It was followed by the third revolution, which revolved around digitalization. Thanks to the nascence of computer technologies since the 1940s, as well as the emergence of the internet, organizations got access to large heaps of new information which were available at substantially smaller scale before.

Industrial revolutions have changed the world. Photographer: Frans van Heerden

The fourth: integrated approach towards real time technology

It does however not end there. Technological developments that started in the 1940s have not ceased today, but they are however much less visible. This is thanks to the commoditization of computers and other smart devices, which have caused them to be very common. Perhaps, people find one a bit strange if they do not have such a device. This has the effect that developments are taking place much more in the background. However, they are still there, omnipresent as they are…

Then, you may wonder, what are those developments? That’s a very valid question. For this, we’ll have to look to a trend observed from the industry called the fourth industrial revolution. It’s always been a very interesting interplay between technology and business, but it has changed quietly over the years. The effects are however becoming much more visible today, if you take a holistic view.

In order to find out about this change, we’ll have to go back to the third revolution. The emergence of the internet changed things pretty wildly. Thanks to websites discussing recent industry trends, organizations were then able for the first time to make strategic decisions grounded in relatively current information. What’s more, also decisions up to the operational levels of those organizations got smarter. Thanks to the internet, for example, one could find out whether certain materials could be bought cheaper somewhere else without compromising for quality. These examples have resulted in many efficiency gains in terms of business operations and the third revolution is therefore the basis for today’s information society. But this data is however very static. It’s presented and that’s it. They are not real time and perhaps already outdated when you receive the information. But hey, that was no disaster at the time.

Since a few years, however, technology developments related to this issue are moving forward faster and faster. Thanks to the continuously decreasing price of hardware and computer infrastructure, various new services were introduced to the market. For example, whereas large companies required their own on-premise IT infrastructures many years back, they can now simply rent the infrastructure they need from a cloud vendor, which offer them as a service. This greatly impacts starting companies as well. Starting a tech firm has never been easier. Now towards the fourth revolution. If the internet was the driver of the third industrial revolution, like we’ve seen, today we’re seeing various new ones driving the fourth…

  • The cloud, which we showed just before. Companies can offer an IT infrastructure as a service. This reduces the complexity of maintaining one’s IT needs significantly.
  • The Internet of Things. Since hardware is commoditized (and becoming increasingly so) it is getting more interesting time after time for companies to start measuring everything they need. Wish to create a smart light post? A smart fridge? Or perhaps, a sensor which allows to measure degeneration in your production machine? The Internet of Things, which includes sensors and the LoRa networking technology, allows companies to assess large quantities of objects in real time.
  • Big data: the volume of data is increasing exponentially, as well as its variety. That simply emerges from the fact that much more can be measured today, both with physical sensors and digital measurements, such as internet browsing behavior. What’s more, increased volumes of data can be stored and made searchable with tailor-made big data technologies.
  • Analytics: if sensors and digital measurement instruments can generate large quantities of data, it has to be made accessible for analysis in some way. One needs to be able to learn from the data. The general term for this group of technologies is analytics. We obviously know the analytics applications from the past, such as the dashboarding techniques, but there is more to show today. For example, with Artificial Intelligence and specifically machine learning – which automatically derives statistical patterns from your data – your organization can acquire the tools to analyze your large quantities of data and to train machines with them for new predictions.

Industry 4.0 and Business

In terms of technology, we’re thus watching a shift from static data (e.g., a website) towards real time insights and analysis. This means that new applications are emerging as well. Indeed, when we’re reviewing those developments, we see this happening – yet we also see one big buzzword connected to them: smart. Smart fridge, smart city, smart industry – or perhaps, Industry 4.0, as it is now called, based on German developments.

In the scientific communities and the industry, four groups of applications are however qualified for being ‘interesting’ with respect to Industry 4.0. This means that it is expected that new technologies can create large value specifically in those areas:

  • Smart manufacturing, which allows to improve the internal production processes of an organization by utilizing those technologies. What’s more, it becomes possible to bring one’s production to a batch level of 1 – which means that personal products are very real today!
  • Smart working, which means that operational tasks of your colleagues are made smart very substantially. This can e.g. be done by providing them more insight in the status of their tasks (by providing IoT based measurements) or by removing repetitive aspects of those tasks (with AI, for example).
  • Smart products, which means that end products and services delivered by organizations can be improved by strongly improved insights in what customers want and what they do not want.
  • Smart supply chain, which allows the entire supply chain from supplier to end customer to work together. This can be achieved by sharing insights, for example whether trucks are in time and what their location is. This way, products can be delivered much faster, which improves organizational efficiency.

When thinking about those application areas, it’s very important to keep the technologies we discussed before in mind. Obviously, it’s not technology itself which yields success in the fourth industrial revolution. Rather, it’s an approach grounded in common sense and a solid business case that often yields the best results. However, what I mean here is that unlike the third revolution, technologies must now be applied in an integrated way. Whereas it was possible to just use the internet in a very simple way in the third revolution, today’s technology is interconnected very strongly. For example, if you deploy IoT based sensors to measure air quality, you’ll need to be able to store the large quantities of data with big data technologies. Perhaps, you would then like to analyze the data in more detail and train machines on your data… and you’ll need e.g. AI to do that.

Artficial Intelligence in Industry 4.0

And this precisely shows the role of Artificial Intelligence in today’s fourth industrial revolution. Thanks to the developments revolving around new technologies, like Internet of Things-based sensors which can be used to generate data, demand emerges to do something with those data sets. It’s precisely one of the reasons why machine learning, a subset of AI which utilizes data and attempts to derive statistical patterns from this data – has become so popular.

A prime example of the Smart working application, to show you a clear example, is the project we’re currently undertaking together with TerraCarta B.V. related to underground analysis. The big question: can we support human beings in analyzing Ground Penetrating Radar imagery for the detection of cables and pipelines? No, we’ll need to augment them. Because thanks to the years of expertise covered by TerraCarta in their data, we can train and validate AI models. Read more on this application in the blog we’ve covered on this topic.

If we can be of service for your industry with the data you already own, feel free to get in touch. We serve delicious coffee in Deventer. See you soon!