‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by Klaus Schwab

 

By definition, revolution means covering new and unknown territory and the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is no different. What can we expect and how can we best utilise the new technology at our disposal?

9781524757403

The ‘fourth industrial revolution’: everyone is talking about it, but no one seems to really know what it is. Hindsight is 20:20, of course, and maybe things will only really become clear once we’re hurled full force into the fifth industrial revolution, which I can only hope will in some way involve alien technology. If you’d asked the textile workers of the 19th century to define the industrial revolution they’d probably have struggled, too.

While previous industrial revolutions brought about mechanisation, mass production, computer control and automation, the fourth industrial revolution is thought to be fundamentally different. Rather than focusing on a specific development or technology, the fourth industrial revolution encompasses a range of new and existing technologies that bring together the physical, digital and biological worlds and will be felt across all industries and economies.

It is thought that this dramatic leap forward in industrialisation will be felt across industries and will change the way that we live, work and relate to one another. In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab introduces us to the key technologies driving this revolution and discusses the effect that these will have on governments, businesses and citizens as a whole.

The book serves as more than just an introduction to a conflated term, though, as Schwab seeks to address the many societal concerns over developments within industry, as well as outlining what can be done to ensure that we make the most of this exciting, but largely unknown, new phenomenon.

Intelligent machines play a big role in any conversation about the fourth industrial revolution. For many, this is one of the most concerning aspects of this new wave of industry, aggravating societal fears surrounding the role of the human workers in the workplace of the future. Schwab discusses this area in great detail, striving to dispel rumours that factory workers will inevitably be displaced by robotics, and instead looks into how industries are developing practical applications to work alongside traditional workers. The rise of intelligent machines does not mean that we face a man-versus-machine dilemma, he says. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, the fourth industrial revolution will serve to enhance human labour and cognition, meaning that leaders need to prepare workforce and develop education models to work with, and alongside, robotics.

The main concern that seems to arise from Schwab’s analysis is that of societal control of the new wave of industry. The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to transform the way we live and work, but success rests in the combined hands of organisations, citizens and governments. If organisations fail to adapt and governments fail to adequately employ and regulate new technologies, we see ourselves headed down a very different path. With this is mind, Schwab calls on leaders and citizens to “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Schwab’s message is one of collaborative growth and how to best utilise the new technology at our disposal, while simultaneously addressing the challenges that go alongside – a sentiment echoed in the billing of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2016, which was held under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a fascinating, comprehensive and enlightening dialogue highlighting the many different benefits and challenges that humankind can expect as we move further forward into a new and unfamiliar wave of industrial development. Those with an interest in where we are headed as a society, but who find themselves overwhelmed by the synonymous talk of ‘Industry 4.0’, ‘smart factories’ and ‘factories of the future’ can hope to find their questions answered and concerns addressed by this illustrative and informative new publication.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America’ by Michael Z Newman

A fascinating historical analysis of the emergence and development of video games in America.

9780262035712_0

Retro video games have developed a real cult following over the years. In a time when on-screen graphics are frighteningly real, the simple, blocky pictures and monotonic themes speak of an era when consoles, and times, were simpler. Or were they?

Each time a Space Invaders remake is announced, there are more than a few people who insist on focusing on the negative side of our digital friends. In Atari Age, author Michael Z Newman looks at the impact of early video games on the American culture they grew from, as well as their effects, both positive and negative, on society. The history unveiled by Newman is remarkably complex – an evolution in content, design and public opinion.

The story begins in penny arcades, where leather-capped youths lined up for the likes of the fortune teller and peep show, before progressing swiftly along to the days of pinball’s reign. The emergence of video games and their eventual move into the American home, Newman says, was a process of evolution which began within the arcade.

While penny arcades and pinball soon fell by the wayside, video arcades gained popularity, evolving from a media seen as unreliable, due to their liability to break down and difficulty to fix, to one which inspired, excited and enthused American youths. Indeed, arcade games became such an important aspect of popular culture that, during the height of the game’s popularity, a single establishment in Piccadilly Circus is said to have had 10 Space Invaders machines all in a row and no doubt constantly in use.

To explain their popularity, Neman points to the adaptive nature of the video game. Unlike pinball, a video game gets harder as a player gets better, and thereby encourages greater investment. Indeed, the medium itself continued to adapt to the point where it soon outgrew arcades, a feat that pinball and penny slots never achieved, and made its home right in the heart of the American family. With the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and Pong and 1972, the family television became the new arcade.

As video games evolved, so too did public opinion. Whereas games seem to have developed almost naturally, changes in societal understanding have been far more complicated. The Magnavox Odyssey was originally seen as a device for turning the TV in a participatory experience, but this idea was quickly joined by fears that spending too much time playing games could be harmful. This is a swing we have continued to experience today, as games have evolved to be more ‘active’, but still bear the yoke of technological fear.

Using original marketing and advertising materials, Newman weaves an image of a two-way development of video games and public opinion. The book highlights the ever-changing face of media in the eyes of the American public, as it moved from an enjoyable medium, to something to fear, and back again. Newman’s technological timeline says as much about the society that video games emerged in as it does about power of the medium itself.

There is something nostalgic – or is it regretful – about this book, as though you are viewing the past through sepia-tinted glasses. The pages conjure up images of American families huddled round the comforting glow of the TV, or, perhaps the dusty grey screens editorialised in George Orwell’s 1984.

This is a book for those fascinated by sociological viewpoints of American society, but will likely sit well with fans of retro video games, if only for the novelty of 1970s gaming advertorial.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

‘The Essential Digital Detox Plan’ by Orianna Fielding

Being constantly connected to digital devices can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help, as Orianna Fielding discusses in this elegant new publication from Carlton Books.

9781780979052

I once met a man who would send framed photos of himself to all his friends and family every year as Christmas presents. Weird isn’t it? Why would anybody want that as a gift? Not so strange, though, is the idea of sharing photos of yourself on social media for, presumably, the benefit of your many friends and followers. Remove the computer, though, and the whole thing gets really quite peculiar. Could you imagine yourself having just got back from holiday, picking up reams of glossy 4 by 7 prints from the pharmacy, slipping them into individually addressed envelopes and sending them out for all your friends to see? I’m willing to bet not, because that would make you seem more than a little overbearing, and possibly lead to a few restraining orders. So why is it ok, encouraged even, to do this online?

In The Essential Digital Detox Plan: How to achieve balance in a digital world, Orianna Fielding explores this concept, and many more, as she delves into the strange world of new social media, and offers advice for those who want to have more control over their digital consumption habits.

We have reached a stage, Fielding says, where connectivity permeates every aspect of our lives. Texting and reading on smartphones rather than conversing with those around us is now considered the norm, and we are constantly connected to our work and personal emails at the expense of missing out what is happening around us. It is important to realise, she says, that having access to the world in the palm of your hand also means the world has access to you. Eurphoria at the ability to be connected at all times can quickly be replaced with a debilitating dependence on being connected at all times.

The Essential Digital Detox Plan provides advice for how people can take control of their digital consumption habits, rather than allowing their digital devices to have control of them. The suggestions included in the text range from introducing phone-free meal times and tech-free zones in the house to taking unplugged time out at work to engage in a five-minute meditation ‘snack’. For the most committed out there, the back of the book serves as a step by step guide to full digital detox, from one hour to the full seven days.

The overarching theme of the book is not just about disconnecting from digital devices, but about adopting a slower, more conscious approach to life. Fielding stresses the important of taking the time to observe your surroundings and really ‘be’ in the present moment to indulge in experiences that, often, access to a smartphone or tablet can negate.

The steps, suggestions and advice included in the text stem from Fielding’s own journey to achieving a balance in her digital consumption habits. This gives a very personal feel to the text, but also means that at times Fielding’s style can see a bit self righteous, perhaps even presumptuous. But I think you are more likely to pick up on this or find it a little grating if you haven’t brought this book for advice.

It’s never fun to pick up on mistakes in reviews, but, for all the good I have to say about this book, I would not be a very good editor if I didn’t make mention of the glaring error in the preface. Fielding refers to the book by the wrong name (Unplugged), not once but twice. I assume, as this book was once serialised in a magazine, that it has been given one or two new lifelines along the way to full publication. No doubt at some point it was called Unplugged, but it isn’t now, and this really is something that should have been picked up prior to publication.

On the whole, though, I think The Essential Digital Detox Plan is a pretty good companion for those wishing to spend a little less time surrounded by technology, or take a more relaxed approach to their digital consumption. Even if you don’t want to go all out and commit to a full seven-day digital detox, the book contains a lot in the way of yoga and meditation exercises and other tips and tricks to help you take time out during your day.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

Book review: ‘The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future’ by Fiona Reynolds

An enlightening journey through history’s many attempts to secure and protect what is beautiful in the world.

The-Fight-For-Beauty_9781780748757

Beauty is a complicated subject. We all know what it is, but as time goes by we become less comfortable with speaking about it, or so says author Fiona Reynolds in this stunning new publication from Oneworld.

Describing beauty of the natural world has become something sacred and very personal, where once it ran free within government documentation and legal literature, it is now replaced by more clinical attempts of ‘protecting biodiversity’ and ‘conserving habitats’. So much is the case that today, even while striving to protect natural beauty with climate change legislation and environmental protection orders, we do more than ever to ignore it.

Heeding the words of John Ruskin in the 19th century, Reynolds highlights the ever increasing drive for economic growth and desire for material possession in modern times. “Wherever I look of travel in England or abroad,” wrote Ruskin. “I see that men, wherever they can reach, destroy all beauty. They seem to have no other desire or hope but to have large house and to be able to move fast.” How much has changed since this time?

It reminds me of a recent news story about a real estate tycoon in the US who built the most expensive house to ever go on the market. The house is available for $250 million and comes complete with its own private cinema, massage parlour and luxury cars. What was the aim of this dwelling? To tap into the niche, super wealthy market of people willing to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a yacht, but who barely surpass $10 million when it comes to housing. A fantastic business venture if ever there was one – build a man a dream house and his friends will surely want one too – but it doesn’t do much to inspire hope in a future where consumerism isn’t everything.

Reynolds believes this state of economic affairs – where people strive for bigger and better possessions, and only things of monetary value have any real worth – makes it more difficult than ever to protect what matters, including the environment and our future.

In The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future Reynolds collects words and aspirations of figures past and present who all endeavoured to achieve one thing: protection of the Earth and conservation of its natural beauty. The book examines ideas about nature, farming and urbanisation, explores mountain sides, secluded woodlands and protected heather-rich moorland, and delves into romantic thoughts and war poetry. Beginning with the impassioned minds of friends behind the Kyrle Society of the 19th century, whose calls for environmental protection gave way to the modern National Trust, Reynolds shows how definitions of beauty have been rearranged and reconsidered throughout history, before becoming somewhat lost within the fast-paced consumerist lifestyles of modern day.

The Fight for Beauty is at once intriguing, fascinating and incredibly moving. What could serve as an interesting account of the importance of the countryside throughout history is, on a much deeper level, a fervent call-to-arms to protect what, once gone, is gone forever. For Reynolds at least, inspiration from the past and from nature itself could provide an alternative path forward from human development, one where beauty is not forgotten.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine.

Measurement A Very Short Introduction – David J. Hand

9780198779568

Measurement may not sound like the most exciting topic to sink your teeth into as it takes a certain type of person to become excited by a ruler. Yet this book has much more to offer than just a history of centimetres (cm) and inches. Rather, it serves as a brief, but comprehensive glimpse into a social construct that boasts a history that is inextricably bound with the many great leaps forward of civilisation. In Measurement A very Short Introduction, author David Hand traces the origins of measurement back to the beginning of civilised human society, with the birth of agricultural production.

Original units – which relied largely on basic physical objects to quantify length and weight – were of course hugely variable, depending as they did on physical objects. Of course, if there is nothing fundamental leading to the choice of object, other systems of measurement can be adopted. It’s hardly surprising then that a huge number of different systems have been adopted – today we have grams and kilos, pounds and ounces and the dreaded American ‘cup’.

When you take into account the history of units of measurements, measurement itself seems like a fairly vague thing – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. What is a cm? You could say that it is 10mm, or 1/100th of a metre, but how can it be defined on its own? The history is complicated and points toward the need for a unified method of measurement. This became especially important with the rise of scientific experimentation in the 20th century. It’s been a long time coming, but with the birth of the metric system we are getting close, although there are a few stubborn nations who insist on holding on to their outdated ways.

Of course, measurement is not a purely scientific thing, but can also be used to understand social aspects of society. Far from a scientific concept, it spans the entire range of human society, from the purely physical to the wholly abstract. Economic progress can be measured, but it requires a much different system measuring milk or grain – it is something that cannot be conceived with a basic unit of inflation. This, Hand says, is the difference between representative measurement and pragmatic measurement, a wholly different and complex school of thought which is becoming more important to our understanding of society.

Measurement A Very Short Introduction offers the reader a wonderfully accessible route into a hugely complex subject that spans the fields of science, sociology, history and anthropology. From the simple grains and fathoms of old, to GDP, GNI and the modern-day World Happiness Index – the history of measurement has a lot to say about the development of society. Hand has taken a topic that spans almost the whole of human existence and condensed it into a book which the avid reader could easily conquer in an afternoon.

This review was first published on WordPress for E&T magazine

Dear Data – Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

Dear Data UK jacket.jpeg

When they first met at an arts festival, Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec realised that they had been living oddly parallel lives:. Both were residing in a foreign country – Giorgia had moved from her native Italy to New York and Stefanie, originally from Colorado, was living in London.  They were the same age were both only children and, most importantly, they were both obsessed by data.

Stefanie and Giorgia have spent their lives collecting and organising information from the world around them. As a child, Stefanie delighted in filling in scorecards with her father at baseball games, while Giorgia collected and organised anything she could get her hands on, from buttons to small stones. As they got older, they both realised that they were collecting data and went on into careers as visual designers, creating data illustrations.

From a chance visit at an arts festival, Stefanie and Giorgia decided to try and get to know each other by sharing data. Having only met once, Stefanie and Giorgia began exchanging postcard-sized letters that described what had happened to them each week, but instead of writing what had happened, they drew it. The resulting project spanned a year, 52 weeks and covered 52 themes, from smiling at strangers to smells and sensations. Each week, Stefanie and Giorgia would collect, collate and share data with one another, often containing information about the most private aspects of their lives such as touch,  envy and desire.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dear Data is an amalgamation of the project that unfolded from the chance meeting of two strangers who went on to become intimate friends, revealing oddly personal pictures of each woman’s life. Often, aspects of life that would not necessarily be revealed through the simple act of writing can be seen through data. By looking at each other’s infographics each week, Stefanie and Giorgia got to know each other, noticing themes and patterns in each other’s drawings. The resulting works tell a story about the person behind the data. We learn that Giorgia is a control freak, and Stefanie enjoys more than the occasional drink and apologises far too often.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dear Data will make you pause and think about what data can reveal about a person. It makes you realise that you don’t need an app to tell you anything new about yourself. Every one of us is a walking data collection, from the money in our bank account to the calories we consume in any given day. Each time we glance at the clock on our office wall, apologise, or take a walk, we are inadvertently adding to a huge data collection that is our lives. This book is a wonderful illustration of just how data-heavy the average person is. As a project, an exhibition and a book, Dear Data is fascinating, beautiful and a treat for the eyes and mind.

This review was first published on WordPress for E&T magazine

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots – Beatrix Potter

It’s today! It’s today!

917XNylWC9L

I was unbelievably excited to wake up this morning to an email informing me that The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots would be waiting for me when I returned from work. Obviously I would have preferred to wait by the front door for the postman, but somehow I managed to get through the day at work. I then tore home, dived into the book and had it finished before supper time.

I’ve always been a huge Beatrix Potter fan. My childhood box set was always a prized possession of mine and was subject to more than one show-and-tell session back in primary school. The Tailor of Gloucester was always my favourite and I still love to pull the book out and watch the BBC adaption around Christmas time. If there is anything more magical than animals behaving like humans it is animals behaving like humans in the snow. Simpkins in his snow boots is one of my favourite images of all time.

When I heard there was a new book by Beatrix Potter being published I was over the moon. To think that the manuscript remained hidden for over 100 years, only to emerge to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s death – it is almost as though she had planned it. I couldn’t wait to see what this story, written ten years after all her other much-loved tales, had in store for me.

The newest addition to the collection tells the tale of a very serious, well-behaved black cat by the name Catherine St. Quintin who likes nothing more than to sneak out at night and poach animals with her air gun. Like all of Beatrix Potter’s tales it is filled with funny escapades with the characters falling into one or two unfortunate scrapes, before ultimately learning a rather valuable lesson. Diehard fans of Beatrix Potter will be delighted to encounter a ‘stout buck rabbit in a blue coat’, who bares more than a striking resemblance to a mischievous young bunny once seen stealing radishes from Mr Macgregor’s garden – it looks like Mrs McGregor never did get her winter coat – as well as one or two other familiar faces and more than a few news ones.

Of course, half of the delight in a children’s book is in the illustrations and while I will admit I was slightly surprised when I saw that Quentin Blake was illustrating the book,  I think the result is absolutely stunning. Who better to illustrate a book by one of Britain’s most-loved children’s authors than one of Britain’s most loved children’s book illustrators? His drawings are nothing like Beatrix Potter’s, but I wouldn’t have liked to read a book where Beatrix Potter’s style was mimicked. Blake doesn’t attempt to fill Beatrix Potter’s shoes, he merely pays homage to her work, and does a remarkable job of it. The illustrations are perfect, wonderfully encapsulating the action and humour in Beatrix Potter’s latest tale.

What’s more Blake’s illustrator’s note, where he hopes that Beatrix potter would have approved of his work and speaks of his pride at being given the opportunity to illustrate such a book, is so sweet and endearing. I truly think he has done wonders with the text and brought the book to life in a way that none other than Beatrix Potter herself could have. My one slight disappointment is that the few drawings that Beatrix Potter did create to accompany the story could not be included in the publication.

Overall, however, I think this book is a real delight to read, filled with Beatrix Potter’s classical charm, but with slightly more adult escapades than the previous publications. There is also a subtle, perhaps satirical ribbon running through it which suggests that what is natural does not always come naturally.

There is no doubt that it was written by the Beatrix potter we all know and love, but the style is  different to her earlier works. Not worse, just different. Of course, we can’t know whether there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to change her writing style, or if the book was left in a somewhat unfinished state. Whatever the case may be, it is a truly charming read and I will happily place it alongside my other Beatrix Potter books, and no doubt look on it time and time again.

I know the publication is a couple of months too late, but happy birthday Beatrix, may you continue to delight us, and future generations for many, many years to come.