Gwangju Talks: The 4th Industrial Revolution

Written by Douglas Baumwoll


Topic: Hey, folks. This month’s Gwangju Talks is about the “4th Industrial Revolution,” which is one of the themes of the Asia Culture Forum this month.

Background: Allow me just a bit of background here, folks. Honestly, I had never heard the term before writing this article. In fact, I was only aware of one Industrial Revolution ever having occurred. So, very briefly: the 1st Industrial Revolution began about 200 years ago in Britain. It involved the mechanization of manufacturing and transportation by using steam engines (and rivers) as a source of power (think steamboats, railroads, and mills). The 2nd Industrial Revolution, which began about 100 years ago, involved the beginning of true mass production through the “assembly line” employed in factories (think cars) and was powered by electricity. The 3rd Industrial Revolution came in the 1970s with digitalization – personal computers, programmable machines, and the Internet. Finally, the 4th Industrial Revolution, happening now, connects the digital, physical, and even biological worlds. Examples include robots, the Cloud, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, and 3D printers.

Phil Griffith, 46. From Winnipeg, Canada; lives in Gwangju. Teacher trainer.
Jung Mee-kyeong, 50. From Gwangju, lives in Gwangju. Civil servant at Jeollanamdo Board of Education.
Park Seong-eun, 29. From Yeosu, lives in Yeosu. Public elementary school teacher.
Park Mi-mi, 27. From Shinan, Docho Island, lives in Mokpo. Public elementary school teacher.

1. Have you ever heard of the term “The Fourth Industrial Revolution?”
Phil – You mean information technology? Yes.
Mee-kyeong – Yes.
Seong-eun – Yes.
Mi-mi – Yes.

2. What do you think one result for societies in general will be of the 4th Industrial Revolution?
Phil – The accessibility of information to the masses. For example, smartphones are available worldwide.
Mee-kyeong – Communication with foreign countries and people. With Wi-Fi and the Internet we are all connected closely. People can learn much information and skills online.
Seong-eun – People can get products easily or can make their own with a 3D printer.
Mi-mi – In my opinion, the ubiquitous use of cellphones and the Internet links people together everywhere.

3. Do you think the 4th Industrial Revolution will affect your professional field in some way?
Phil – Yes. There are more resources available to learners and teachers. Things like dictionaries and images are online and sharable.
Mee-kyeong – I think I should change my job (laughs). In language education, learners can self-teach themselves languages. Today’s middle school kids can self-teach, and don’t want to learn from teachers. Tools like Google Translate in the future may get better. The world will change a lot in 5 or 10 years, so we must be flexible, especially parents, and prepare for the next generation with open minds.
Seong-eun – Memorizing knowledge as a teacher and student will be unnecessary. There will be a huge demand for connecting knowledge and organizing information. It will be important to prioritize information to decide what to teach.
Mi-mi – In elementary school education, the next national curriculum is changing, and we will teach basic computer programming skills (e.g., coding) in elementary school. We will use 3D pens and printers in our schools.

4. Do you think the 4th Industrial Revolution will lead to a huge amount of unemployment and poverty, or will it lead to a society where everyone has a higher quality of life (e.g., income, leisure, cheaper products, clean environment)?
Phil – There will always be jobs for people, but they will be related to the industries that do well within the 4th Industrial Revolution. Regarding environment, I don’t think humans are capable of living in a way that allows for clean energy and environment.
Mee-kyeong – I think robots will take hard-labor jobs. People can enjoy lives more in their free time. People need to think about how to help other people in the future. Business may control government in the future more than today. The economic system will have to change, because robots don’t get paid, and maybe we can build houses in one day with a 3D printer.
Seong-eun – Factory workers will disappear because machines will be more effective than humans for manual labor. Displaced workers will have to perform jobs that only humans can do, such as caring for the elderly and counseling. Government may have to financially support people more. Competition between countries will increase. High-tech is Korea’s resource.
Mi-mi – I think people will be able to get better-paying jobs, if they have a creative and well-trained mind.

5. What does the term “artificial intelligence,” or “AI,” mean to you?
Phil – AI means a self-aware computer or technology.
Mee-kyeong – Like the electronic helper on a smartphone, like Genie on Samsung. Things that organize work and information.
Seong-eun – Google has the AI “AlphaGo,” which defeated Lee Se-dol, the Korean go champion, 4 to 1.
Mi-mi – Something that is not human, but can produce human thinking.

Final Thoughts
As a final note, here, I ask you to investigate the meaning of the term “artificial intelligence” or “AI” and what it means to you. Based on these interviews and multiple articles I have read, people’s connotative definitions vary widely. Is Siri really AI? What is the definition of intelligence? Does intelligence necessitate the ability to learn, or to experience consciousness? There is another term in the scientific field, called “artificial general intelligence (AGI),” which is also known as “strong AI.” This is the stuff of science fiction, such as the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Some scientists and philosophers assert that strong artificial intelligence does not currently exist. AlphaGo, from DeepMind (owned by Google), for example, is called a “software” on its website, and not AI. Notwithstanding, AlphaGo “played a handful of highly inventive winning moves.” Going back to 1996, IBM’s famous supercomputer Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov in one chess match. Deep Blue could not, however, learn to play checkers on its own based on its human programming and stored information. Here is the January 2016 perspective of Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in an article on the Forum’s website: “Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest.”

The point is that we all must openly discuss what traits constitute intelligence, and therefore what precisely is artificial intelligence. The AGI of the original Terminator movie, one that learns and evolves and changes its behaviors in the real world, would surely be a very dangerous tool to use in global society. Read up on the Turing Test, the Coffee Test, and the Employment Test for more insight into this possibility. Society is certainly taking steps toward this type of strong AI, and people like Elon Musk, the South African entrepreneur who founded the technology companies Space X and Tesla Motors (among others) are very concerned about it, especially if it is incorporated into national defense strategies.

Ken Jennings, the 73-time winner of the popular trivia TV show Jeopardy, was soundly defeated by the IBM computer named “Watson” in 2011. He talks of two futures resultant from the 4th Industrial Revolution, and it will be up to everyone – government, business, and citizens alike – to decide what kind of future the world will have: one of plenty, leisure, clean energy, and clean environment, or one of a very high-skilled workforce that earns a lot coupled with a very low-skilled workforce earning nothing, and a completely displaced middle class in between, left to languish in unemployment and poverty.

The Author
Doug Baumwoll, a professional writer and editor for 25 years, trains in-service teachers in writing skills and methodology. His personal writing interests include visionary and speculative fiction, climate change, energy, and social justice. He is the founder of

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