It’s become an oft repeated cliché that we live in times of exponential change, driven by disruptive technologies, shifting global politics, changing human behaviour, and newly emerging social norms. And yet, as we enter the era of the fourth industrial revolution, we may be witnessing the greatest amount of change ever seen in a single human lifetime. 

Some of us may have heard of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ or ‘Industry 4.0’. But what is it exactly, and why does it truly matter? 

The history of industrial revolutions can be classified into four broad waves:

  • Industry 1.0: Driven by steam power and mechanisation in the late 18th / early 19th century, this was the ‘railroad’ era and a time when the rise of factories led to a production boom.
  • Industry 2.0: The late 19th / early 20th century was the era when pioneers like Henry Ford inspired mass-produced automobiles, and electricity started changing our lives. 
  • Industry 3.0: Since the 1960s, the development of radio technology acquired industrial scale and later grew into the world wide web and mobile technologies. This in turn, led to an electronics boom, the shrinking of time and distance, and creating a ‘Global Village’. The 3.0 era soon expanded beyond information, communication and technology (ICT) to encompass almost every aspect of our life - from how we consume media to how we shop or search for goods and services, and even how we connect with friends. And all this happened in approximately 25 years.
  • Industry 4.0: As ICT becomes near pervasive, with 70 percent Internet penetration and 60 percent mobile coverage, we are now entering what experts call the Industry 4.0 era, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and tech users.  

While each of the industrial revolutions were significant in their own right, Industry 4.0 is seen as more profoundly impacting human life, blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological. 

If the first three waves were about augmented physical strength (horses vs. steam engines/automobiles, machines vs human held tools) or organic enablers (electricity vs oil lamps), Industry 4.0 is supplementing our brains themselves via human-machine systems and AI. Thus the term ‘cognitive computing.’

The zenith of this wave, as outlined by futurists, is the eventual ‘singularity,’ where human and cyber systems are expected to be so intricately and inextricably linked that it will be almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. While full singularity is still some time away (futurists such as Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil have predicted it by 2045), several intermediate breakthroughs will continue to change the way we learn, earn, engage, and live life itself.

So, what will be the guiding principles of this fourth industrial revolution?  Here are four areas:

  1. Increasing Decentralisation and democratisation: As opposed to a time when the power was in the hands of a few industrial giants, developments like 3D printers are democratising manufacturing. The most profound development has been digital currencies, which don’t need to be issued by a central bank, but instead, are created, distributed, and governed by complex algorithms on the Internet.
  2. Increasing Demonetisation: Things are becoming more convenient as we move from ownership to a sharing model. Examples of these include ride-sharing (Uber, Grab, Ola), bike sharing, home sharing (Airbnb), used product sharing (Shopee), etc. 
  3. Increasing Digitisation: If the Internet was driven by connected computers and mobile devices, the next wave will be powered by 50 billion connected devices, enabled by 5G networks. Homes will become ‘smart,’ automobiles will become driverless autonomous vehicles (AVs) and everything physical - our homes, cities, offices, transport, etc. will become hyper connected. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality will further change the way we all live.
  4. Increasing Disintermediation: Driven by the above forces, we may see exponential disintermediation, where the role of the ‘middleman’- from service providers to central banks to distributors - will radically change and gradually disappear. 

The above four trends could have profound consequences, and impact every aspect of our lives. Policy makers will have to prepare for  workforce up-skilling and overhauling education systems. Everything from privacy to relationships to the very definition of ‘morality’ may have to adapt to this era. 

And what do these dramatic changes mean for the Jamat worldwide? How can we try and stay ahead of the curve? Here are some simple, actionable suggestions:

  • Read, research, explore: Today, formal education isn’t enough. Younger members of the Jamat are encouraged to proactively read industry blogs, journals, and articles which discuss current trends and various aspects of Industry 4.0 as it evolves. Ongoing education is key. For decades, Mawlana Hazar Imam has been encouraging the Jamat to engage in the practice  of lifelong learning.
  • Today, more than ever, understanding global trends is important, since changes reach all corners of the globe rapidly. Attending seminars, conferences, and webinars for individual up-skilling is becoming essential.
  • Finally, we need to help each other out, in the spirit of Islam and its message of brotherhood and sisterhood. Mawlana Hazar Imam has often spoken about working together, forming partnerships and alliances. Whatever we try and do, many will be impacted. So we need to open our hearts, minds, networks, and knowledge-base for more vulnerable sections of society, and help others where we can.


Malik Khan Kotadia is a Global Digital Banker, FinTech and Blockchain evangelist, best-selling author and a serial entrepreneur, based in India. He is the Co-founder and Chairman of Finnovation Labs.