Is the Industrial Internet a Threat, an Opportunity Or Both?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on the coming era of the Industrial Internet. This is a fascinating topic with profound implications for manufacturing, the network and employment. It’s the latter that I’ve been thinking about this morning, specifically, how does an even more automated and connected manufacturing process impact on the size of our global workforce.

I read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review recently that suggested manufacturing jobs will continue to diminish as machines become increasingly intelligent and able to communicate on a mass scale. Figures seem to confirm this. Between 1995 and 2002, 22 million manufacturing jobs were lost on a global scale. 16 million of these jobs were in China. What’s amazing is that industrial output during this period soared by 30%.

Some economists believe that unless we start to rapidly innovate and actually race with the machines that we’ll soon see the world economy shrink back to the flat growth rates of those prior to the Industrial Revolution. In other words, an annual growth rate of 0.2%. Only this week at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California, economist, Robert Gordon, stated that we have several significant problems to overcome if we’re to see any growth. These are: an aging population, critical higher education issues, an enormous debt and economic inequality.

The key question is can we drive enough technology innovation to overcome these issues and reverse our declining growth rate?

Enter Erik Brynjolfsson.

Brynjolfsson is the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and a firm believer in what he refers to as the new machine age. Brynjolfsson suggests that we’re in a transition period. A period where we haven’t yet fully realized the true value of the Industrial Internet. Brynjolfsson is quick to highlight that the same thing happened with the Second Industrial Revolution. It took some time for the old ways to be abandoned before productivity could soar.

Is this where we are now? Is everybody embracing new technologies and new ways of doing things or are people clinging to established and traditional methods?

Brynjolfsson states that the machine age isn’t just about intelligent machines driving mass productivity though, it’s about developing ideas and sharing knowledge. No amount of computing power can ever replace the human brain and by drawing upon new technology and networking capabilities we may be able to advance upon the scientific breakthroughs of 19th and 20th century. What’s key is collaboration and this involves collaboration on a human and a machine level.

It’s this notion of a coming age of heightened connectivity and idea sharing that fascinates me. Yes, there is a genuine concern that the Industrial Internet will impact upon employment, but at the same time there’s the tantalizing prospect of increased innovation. What’s key is that we educate people. Ensure that tomorrow’s generations have the tools to excel in a new era of ideas. We only need to consider the opportunities presented by Big Data and the current scarcity of data scientists to see this point in action.

Do you believe that the machine age is upon? Will the Industrial Internet usher in a new era of productivity? Can we innovate fast enough? Let me know what you think.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/groups/ADVA-Optical-Networking-1194227/about LinkedIn

    New comment from Michael Wayne on the Broadband World Forum LinkedIn Group: http://adva.li/sjcrs

    The Industrial Internet is a threat to some, an opportunity for most and raging source of productivity & efficiency gains. Workers that operate semi-autonomous machines such as at automotive manufacturing plants will likely lose their jobs to automation, while the company as a whole, over time, will become leaner & more efficient. 

    Automating roadways with lighting & traffic signals that detect oncoming traffic, sense the direction & speed of vehicles, autonomously adapt lighting levels & traffic signals will undoubtedly decrease congestion / green house gas emissions / travel times & increase economic throughput. 

    I welcome the industrial internet!

    • http://about.me/garethspence Gareth Spence

      Thanks, Michael. You highlight some incredible opportunities here, especially in regards to efficiency gains. What’s staggering to see is the rate and depth at which automation is moving. Brynjolfsson believes that we’ll see further economic and employment difficulties before we’re able to truly embrace the full potential of the machine age. What do you believe we need to do to ensure future generations can capitalize on this shift?

      • http://www.linkedin.com/groups/ADVA-Optical-Networking-1194227/about LinkedIn

        New reply from Michael Wayne on the Broadband World Forum LinkedIn Group: http://adva.li/sjcrs

        Hi Gareth,

        To truly capitalize on automation: Automation products need to be disruptive from the bottom-up. Products introduced to market need to be extremely low-cost & high functionality. Products also need a web-services interface, easy installation, and must be open architecture to enable ‘plug & play’.

        The next proprietary market to be disrupted in a big way is transportation, and I’m really looking forward to it! Not only will cars be able to sense & communicate in a standardized way with all IP-enabled devices, but on top of the open market will be the next 3rd party app market.

        Recall to the late 90s/early 2000s when the internet was just becoming a standard feature of cell phones..after phones became IP-enabled & came with embedded sensors a very curious thing happened: the cell phone became the smartphone, and the smartphone became a multi-billion dollar 3rd party application platform.

        Think about the possibilities for roadways & cars!

  • http://computerstories.net/ Rowan Gonzalez

    I think both

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