The speed of technological developments; fact or fiction?
In the FD paper of 14 February 2019, Hella Hueck and Robert Went wonder whether the speed of technological change in recent years has really been so much greater than in previous industrial revolutions, as so many publications recently suggest. They largely regard this enormous speed as a myth, as does the need for companies and other organizations to adapt to it. By trivializing developments, are we in danger of reacting far too late with an ethical or social debate about the way in which we want to use technology?
Questioning the desirability of technological progress
One day after this article, the Rathenau Institute (RI) published the article ‘From technical dreaming to social action’. In this article the desirability of technological progress is questioned. The article warns against blind optimism with regard to technological progress. Only when technological innovation is built on a basis of social innovation can it be developed into something good and desirable.
Personally, we find it refreshing and also sensible to continue to take on critical visions and opinions and not just to go along with a general opinion. However, both articles underexpose a number of elementary aspects of current technological developments that make their argumentation less powerful. And that is a pity because the message they have is of great value.
Fourth Industrial Revolution
Many of the arguments in both articles are based on comparisons of current technological progress with historical industrial revolutions such as the introduction of electricity. These periods, too, have seen enormous changes; applicable innovations have followed in rapid succession. It is not for nothing that we speak of revolutions; if they were slow changes, they would rather be evolutions. Why should it be any different today? And why should we suddenly have to deal with technology in a completely different way?
Surely this is a bit more nuanced. The current revolution is also called the fourth industrial revolution. After steam, electricity and digitization, this fourth revolution is characterized by (among other things) ‘the internet of things’ in which intelligent devices are connected en masse, the development of artificial intelligence and the use of big data.
It is therefore all the more striking that the RI refers to Adam Smith, who already in the 18th century stated that the division of labour stimulated innovation. Adam Smith, and both articles, do not address the fact that the fourth industrial revolution is not growing linearly, but exponentially.