Society 4.0: do we already live in the future?

Society 4.0: a world recently belonging to science fiction is progressively becoming reality.

Do we already live in the future?

Film, Ex-Machina réalisé par Alex GARLAND, photo issue du site

Alex GARLAND movie Ex-Machina (

Executive summary: technology is everywhere. Whether in our smartphone, computer, television, car, fridge, watch…we can see intelligence invading our workspace and our home. Everything will be soon « smart », as shown at the last « Consumer Electronic Show ». And this is good, as explained by Jeremy RIFKIN in his recent books about the new society and new industrial revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT) combined with sustainable energy will enable us to save the planet and improve health! However, famous entrepreneurs like Bill GATES and Elon MUSK, altogether with scientists like Stephen HAWKINGErik BRYNJOLFSSON and Andrew McAFEE, from the MIT, mention the existing risks if we loose control. What would happen if artificial intelligence is not used properly? Indeed, we already face in Europe a major issue with the big data and deep learning technologies mainly owned by American GAFAs and Chinese BATX…

Résumé : La technologie est de plus en plus omniprésente. Que ce soit dans notre téléphone, notre ordinateur, notre télévision connectée, notre voiture, réfrigérateur, montre… la technologie numérique envahie notre espace de travail et notre maison. Bientôt, tous les objets seront « intelligents », et le dernier CES de Las Vegas ou de Shanghai en est un aperçu. Selon Jeremy RIFKIN, c’est une bonne chose, car comme il l’explique dans ses derniers livres sur la nouvelle société ou la nouvelle révolution industrielle, l’internet des objets combiné avec les énergie renouvelables vont permettre de sauver la planète. Néanmoins, des voix s’élèvent déjà pour mettre en garde contre l’usage inapproprié de cette intelligence, à commencer par des entrepreneurs de renom comme Bill GATES ou Elon MUSK, et des scientifiques comme Stephen HAWKING, Erik BRYNJOLFSSON et Andrew McAFEE du MIT. Il faut aussi rappeler le risque économique et éthique, quand les technologies de traitement des données et de l’intelligence artificielle sont aujourd’hui principalement dans les mains d’acteurs américains et chinois… Si vous voulez lire cet article en français, vous pouvez cliquer sur le lien suivant : Société 4.0 : réalité ou science fiction ?.

The society 4.0 was at the « Consumer Electronics Show »

The delay between an innovation and its application in the consumer electronics market keeps reducing indeed. 2017 Las Vegas CES show is just over, confirming that technological innovations are entering besides electronic devices all business sectors: the automotive industry, healthcare, education, logistics, building and works, cities, energy… All these industries were demonstrating innovative smart products and services at the 2017 Las Vegas CES show… When a new technology is launched, it combines with technologies currently in use, simplifying them and making them easier to use, building the society 4.0.

CES 2017 in 2 minutes:

CES 2017 in 20 minutes (if you have time!):

In the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for instance, the society 4.0 appears with autonomous electric cars and delivery trucks that don’t belong to the future anymore. Personal assistants or « speaking computers » will soon invade our homes, and many sectors are now using AI to enhance the use of big data.

Regarding robotics, drones are now watching over some facilities for security, robots are picking goods in warehouses to facilitate shipment, retail shops robots are advising customers, friendly robots (such as Nao, Pepper and soon Romeo from Softbank Robotics) are interacting with humans in the society 4.0, conversational « Chatbots » are taking care of answering the customer or chatting on behalf of call centers, business data analyst software help understanding big data, etc.

In the field of energy, our houses will soon be able to be « self-sufficient smart homes » thanks to solar panels, solar wall painting or window glass, small windmills, individual hydropower plants, wall-mounted or outdoor buried high capacity batteries. Energy is a key item of the society 4.0.

Relating to the « Internet of Things » (IoT) and smartphones, the 5G will in the next years divide by 40 the data response time and multiply by 100 the bandwidth. This capacity will help managing 3D holograms and HD videos, as well as hundreds of connected devices. Clearly, IoT combines Internet and Wireless technology to create the new industrial revolution and the society 4.0.

In healthcare, surgeries managed remotely are made possible thanks to virtual reality. Some IBM Watson AI diagnostics are believed to be more reliable than those of specialists. Besides, the decreasing cost of DNA sequencing enables reading and probably modifying chromosomes before birth or doing genetic mutations.

Eventually, the society 4.0 will be in finance and politics, the Blockchain technology will allow us to pay or vote instantaneously with a high level of trust and security without any intermediary. The Blockchain will certainly disrupt the banking system and democracy in the next decade…

« The Second Age of the Machine »

Technology has been evolving so rapidly over the last fifteen years that it is difficult not to be afraid of the consequences. Erik BRYNJOLFSSON and Andrew McAFEE, economists and professors in « digital business » at the MIT, are mentioning these risks in their following book « The Second Age of the Machine« . During the first two industrial revolutions, mechanization helped us carrying out exhausting or non-value-added tasks and to increase productivity. Nowadays, with the development of robotics humans are being replaced with machines in many more tasks, including intellectual ones such as market research or civil servant paper work… The question raises: what will future jobs be? If artificial intelligence and robotics will certainly make life easier, they paradoxically risk to jeopardize our current model of working place and job market, as we see in this short video:

This means that, with the society 4.0, we have now to consider the responsibilities that go along with these innovations. The power of technology is considerable because it can change the world. It is thus now needed to foresee the consequences and ask ourselves: « what would happen if one day the machines succeeded in managing and leading technology? » Indeed, we are still today in the era of « weak AI »: the robot simulates intelligence with algorithms. But the idea of a robot with a self-awareness seems to challenge Elon MUSK (Tesla’s boss): « I think we should be very cautious about artificial intelligence, if I were to bet on what is our greatest threat to existence, that would be that. I think there should be a regulated surveillance, at the national and even international level, just to make sure we are not doing anything stupid » Elon MUSK said at a conference held by the MIT.

Could the machines compete with humans as depicted in Alex GARLAND’s « Ex-Machina » film?

A committee of ethics now includes Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft corporate companies. It was initially launched by Stephen HAWKING, Bill GATES and Elon MUSK, who has made its own « OpenAI », which is a research center responsible for making sure the development of new technologies goes « in a direction more likely to benefit mankind ». A world summit dedicated to robots is already planned for 2020, in order to evaluate the cognitive performances of robots and discuss these topics, which involve the whole society 4.0.

« The Third Industrial Revolution »

Jeremy RIFKIN is one of the authors who foresee that these technological innovations will radically change society, and make the end of fossil energy distributed centrally happen. In his book The Third Industrial Revolution, he gives his vision of the society of tomorrow, in 10 or 20 years. In the society 4.0, the current energy model is shifting to a low-carbon economy.

Indeed, the human species, which represents 0.5% of the biomass of the earth, already consumes more than 30% of the primary energy production of the planet. Given the growth of the world’s population (probably multiplied by 10 between 1850 and 2050 to reach 10 billion people!), Fossil fuels will exhaust their reserves and be replaced gradually by renewable energies produced, stored and distributed locally, with sources such as wind, sun or waves, which are discontinuous, but often complementary. Nuclear power is not considered by RIFKIN as a viable alternative, as its production and its distribution are too centralized, costly and dangerous, requiring high voltage power lines. Giant companies, distributing energy centrally, will gradually give way to small producers consuming or distributing their energy locally per the needs detected on the smart network. This energy model will allow the rise of the « lateral » power, represented by the individuals who « submit » the companies.

Watch the full interview of Jeremy RIFKIN on the EU GROWTH channel of the European Commission on October 12, 2012 (8’55) below:

« The Zero Marginal Cost Society »

The fossil energies have enabled the first two industrial revolutions, requiring a high quantity of cash and a large labor force: the steel industry, the railway, the ship and automotive industries. These changes have created the economy of capitalism and also led to massive urbanization for the past two centuries. Nowadays, due to the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s economic crisis, which involved cuts in human resources and a growing  unemployment, this type of economic model has reached its limits, which prompts us to find alternatives.

Besides, for the last 50 years, companies have been running a never-ending race to increase production rates and adopted new technologies so as to gain market share (Moore’s law in computer science, optimized processed and low-cost manufacturing sites, etc.). The consequence was a global price reduction for goods. Combined with the deployment of Internet, connected devices, 3D printing, free e-learning, open source, crowd funding initiatives, this decrease in costs will lead to the society 4.0 called by RIFKIN in his new book « The Zero Marginal Cost Society« .

How? It will allow individuals to become consumers-producers of products and services, generating a generalized entrepreneurial movement, and ultimately turning their back to capitalism. Is it the end of capitalism?

Moreover, globalization born with capitalism caused heavy environmental contamination linked to maritime and air transportation modes. People are now considering buying and producing local as a priority. This « relocation » is now made possible with automation, robotics and production by individuals. The author thus foresees the rise of a powerful social economy, bringing together individuals in cooperative and collaborative communities. This will make people less dependent on large multinationals.

Nevertheless, this vision goes against the current trend highlighted by GAFA (North American Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and BATX  (Chinese Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi) … These major corporations get a huge amount of cash and monopolize entire sectors of the digital economy. The wealth is in the hands of some happy few, which goes against the RIFKIN’s recommendations. Besides it is still difficult to imagine producing most our needs with 3D printing or green energy. But what will happen within 10 or 20 years, things going so fast?

On this matter, you may find it useful to watch online Jeremy RIFKIN’s interview given for BIG THINK on April 22, 2014 (10’27) using the following link:


As a conclusion, I would underline that we should not adapt ourselves to technology but adapt technology to us. Placing the human being at the heart of technological evolutions is key to controlling the impact of technological innovation on our society and daily life.

Last but not least, if we, Europeans, do not want to see the American GAFA and Chinese BATX technology train pass by and only suffer from it, we now have to fully handle this topic, and consider it as being the only chance to make « Europe Great Again ». It is compulsory to launch a « European New Deal » to push the digital economy and boost innovations. Nurturing start-ups, as it has recently been done with the « French Tech » initiative will be key in this upcoming revolution. During the second industrial revolution, electricity and high speed electric trains have been promoted by the French government and we now benefit from it, more than 40 years after! We are just at the beginning of the Fourth industrial revolution (Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things) so there is still a huge amount of opportunities to catch! French government just invested € 4.5 billions in Areva, the French second industrial revolution company that is now in bankruptcy. Had this money been invested in green energy technologies, that would have helped our adjustment to what consists our future! It is about time our political leaders wake up and use the European Union as a tool to save our economy by promoting the 4th industrial revolution and the society 4.0!

This the way to the future !