Gwangju Design Biennale and the 4th Industrial Revolution

Written and photographed by Matt Furlane

Throughout history, there have already been three industrial revolutions: The 1st industrial revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries and involved the transition from a traditionally agrarian lifestyle to an urban living environment. It was marked by inventions like the steam engine and the development of the iron industries. This revolution would coincide with the “Art Deco” movement and later give rise to the genre of “steam punk.” The 2nd industrial revolution occurred in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s and was highlighted by the inventions of the telephone, light bulb, and gas engines. The 3rd revolution was the digital revolution (which is still ongoing). It began in the late 70s and early 80s, and was marked by the invention of the transistor and the widespread use of personal computers, the Internet and communications satellites.

Now, in the year 2017, many experts are saying that we are entering into a bold, new smart era marked by rapid advances in not only concepts like biotech (Crispr), nanotech, and artificial intelligence (DeepMind), but quantum computing (D-Wave Systems), block chain technology (Bitcoin), and 3D printing. Many believe these technologies are going to define the 4th industrial revolution that has the potential to fundamentally change the world as we know it at a pace we can barely imagine.

Highlighting this 4th revolution with many exhibits and educational displays is this year’s 2017 Gwangju Design Biennale, which runs up to Monday, October 23. Visitors will be able to view numerous exhibits on two floors that will introduce them to everything from brief histories of industrial development in Korea to new environmentally friendly technology and 3D printed mini cars.

One of the displays I found particularly interesting and that would benefit Korea tremendously was the mobile trash bin. It was bright orange and had three wheels at the bottom. It was designed to locate large crowds and make itself available for people to get rid of their smaller trash like pop cans or plastic bags. When full, it automatically dumps its trash, and then returns to whatever location necessary to make it easier for people to dispose of their waste, which helps keep urban spaces clean. Another display that was interesting was the air umbrella, which allowed its users to monitor air quality by mounting a flashlight-sized air quality sampler at the top of the umbrella.

Although the future is on display throughout the Design Biennale, the past is not forgotten. One of the main exhibits, “Futures of the Past,” helps to highlight the historical development of technology by guiding visitors along a path showing important books, pictures of things like the Sony Walkman or the release of dates of seminal movies like Back to the Future. It states, “The future is not the nametag of a hopeful time to come but another name for our agenda to tackle the current accumulation of problems and resolve them with all the powers of technology, culture, and human sciences.”

Whatever your interests may be, the Design Biennale has worked to display the possibilities of the future, whether they be environmental, industrial, or digital. I would encourage multiple visits to help do justice to the amount of information that is presented about our shared futures.

The Author
Matt is an English teacher from the United States. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and an associate’s degree in electronics engineering. He took up photography and journalism after he graduated and still relies heavily on a spell checker for words like “necessary” and “Mississippi.”

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