Can you imagine a world where objects can think for themselves? Cars that drive while you nap, medical devices that know you’re sick before you do, robots that can cook a meal based on available ingredients. While it still sounds more like science fiction than reality, this is exactly the future we’re stepping into at the dawn of the 4th Industrial Revolution – and it’ll completely transform our lives.
Cool… but what is an industrial revolution?
‘Industrial revolution’ is a term used to describe any period of time where technology advances quickly, leading to huge social shifts and economic growth. The first Industrial Revolution saw the shift from handcrafts to machine manufacturing. The second was a time of technological innovation, including steam power, electricity and transport. The third was the Digital Revolution of the 1990s, bringing the rise of computers and the invention of the internet.
So, what’s the 4th Industrial Revolution?
The 4th Industrial Revolution (also called Industrial 4.0 or 4IR) is defined by inventions that combine digital technology with the physical world and biological systems. This creates smart objects – devices that are connected to the internet and measure, analyse and respond to their environment.
An example? The smartphone in your pocket. These objects can change the way we live, communicate, allocate resources, use energy and look after our health. Eventually, we could even see the development of entirely smart cities, where everyone and everything is connected.
There is some disagreement about whether Industrial 4.0 has truly begun yet, or if it’s about to. Either way, enabled by the growth of high-speed internet and advances in automation, it’s clear it’ll have a profound impact on many industries, particularly data science, software engineering and cybersecurity.
What role will data science play in Industrial 4.0?
The Internet of Things has given us an incredible ability to record what people do, how they do it, where and when. This has led to a massive increase in the amount of data created which, when analysed, can yield incredible insights into almost every aspect of human life and industry. These insights will be increasingly important for businesses – and even for governments – to organise society.
Data scientists will need to develop systems to manage the amount of data being produced now and into the future, and feed it into neural networks for analysis. These networks find hidden patterns, correlations and trends, allowing us to do two very important things:
- Sensor data – think location, weather, health, error messages and machine data. This information allows us to predict what will happen and when. For example, we can better predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens, leading to less downtime, more efficient operations and lower costs for businesses.
- Automated decision-making – feeding data into artificial intelligence. This shift has already started, with the development of the self-driving Google car among countless others. Eventually, as data processing makes automated decisions more reliable and accurate than human judgement, it may even become illegal to drive your own car. By facilitating machine learning and decision-making, data science will create a world where machines can complete much of the work currently performed by humans.
What effect will 4IE have on cyber security?
As our world becomes more and more reliant on data and technology, businesses and communities also become more vulnerable. Improved cybersecurity systems are critical to allow the 4IE to flourish.
There are several areas of growing concern as we enter a more connected era. Cyber attacks can pose many threats, from shutting down production systems and incurring massive financial losses, to breaching personal privacy on a grand scale or compromising the physical security of a country.
Cybercrime has become a service economy, which means the talents of the world’s best hackers are available to any criminal who wishes to stage an attack. With automated malware, they can now stage hundreds or thousands of attacks per day. And it’s a constant battle to stay on top of these risks with polymorphic malware that can mutate its characteristics to avoid detection.
On top of this, the Internet of Things model of connectivity means there are millions of devices that may be accessing sensitive business information. Each one of these potentially insecure devices can provide a way for criminals to infiltrate systems.
With its increasingly important role to play, cyber security will evolve to become a more proactive process, constantly assessing risk, identifying threats and mitigating them. Developers will need to create automated tools to detect viruses and sensors that can identify intrusions. Cyber security experts will harness machine learning and AI technologies to improve their systems.
Of course, humans introduce the risk of error into any system, even if they’re using it as intended. It’ll be increasingly important to consult cyber security professionals with an understanding of human psychology to establish best practice security training to minimise the risks of breaches, phishing and email compromises.
How will Industrial 4.0 change software engineering?
The 4IE is set to completely transform the role of a software engineer, from increased demand to a whole new set of responsibilities and skills.
As more and more aspects of our life become linked to technology, there’ll be fast-growing demand for people with technical skills. The manufacturing industry will be a particular driver of demand, as the rise of robotics will require software programmers working alongside mechanical engineers to design, build and maintain complex robotics machines. There’ll also be an increased focus on the cloud technology that links machines and systems together.
The range of projects available to software engineers will also expand dramatically, meaning they’ll be able to pick up work in almost any industry. Using quantum computing and AI, they might develop pharmaceuticals, program driverless vehicles, create smart materials for buildings or even design new medical devices.
As AI develops, it’ll be able to manage many of the more menial coding requirements. The real job of the software engineer will then be to design and train the AI, by bringing together new technologies. With the time-consuming coding tasks taken care of, software engineers will be free to focus on inventing solutions to higher-level problems. In this sense, they’ll control the way the 4IE progresses, and will have immense opportunities to contribute to society and become leaders for a better world.
Importantly, there’ll be an increased need for soft skills. Engineers will need to consider an increasingly international environment, designing solutions for people from different cultures with different needs. They’ll also need to work in teams spanning platforms and industries, drawing on strong leadership and communication skills.
It’s clear that we’re entering an era filled with exciting advancements and inventions that’ll shape our lives. People with the passion and grounding to capitalise on advancements in software engineering, data science and cyber security will lead this revolution. Is that you?
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