In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a report titled The future of jobs, in which it was estimated that by 2022, 75 million jobs would have been lost on the planet as a consequence of the transformation processes associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Towards the end of last March, however, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) calculated the same figure the amount of jobs in immediate risk of disappearing only in the world tourism sector, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The negative number of the Forum contrasts with the 113 million new jobs that would be created from the division of labor between human beings and machines, that require learning skills and abilities related to data analysis, software and application development, expertise in managing social networks and electronic commerce, among others.

"Our analysis –Remarks the report of the Forum– finds ample evidence of accelerating demand for a variety of entirely new specialist roles related to understanding and harnessing the latest emerging technologies: Artificial intelligence and automatic learning (Machine Learning), Specialist in Big Data, experts in process automationanalysts security of the information, user experience, designers of human-machine interaction, robotics engineers y Blockchain specialists".

Although it could be said that many of the jobs of the future have not even been invented, 2022 still gave room for maneuver - albeit a very narrow one - to work on developing some of the capabilities necessary to survive in the new world. But the same crisis that is in suspense to the tourism sector in the world also accelerated transformation processes in many other sectors, and in just 4 months there have been changes - positive and negative - that were expected for the next 2, 5 and even 10 years.

In this especially complex panorama for the world economy, it is worth asking if the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4RI) will be the call to lift the world out of the current crisis; if the most advanced countries in the adoption and development of technologies related to it have a competitive advantage over the rest of the world to face 'the new normal', and how prepared is Colombia specifically to face the challenge of relying on the proper use of these technologies to stay at the forefront of Latin American countries.

To resolve these questions, in Impacto TIC we dedicate the month to explore the world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see the technologies associated with this concept and how they can help (and, in fact, have helped) countries to face the current situation; We will analyze how Colombia is facing its adoption. We will also have space to learn fundamental aspects of previous Industrial Revolutions, to review how the 4RI concept differs from others with which people often confuse it and to see how, thanks to the development of technology, the fiction of the past is, in many cases, the reality of the present.

4RI, just a name for a process that takes years

At different times in history, new technologies have already radically transformed the world: the steam engine did it, in the XNUMXth century, during the First Industrial Revolution; then electricity and oil did it, from the end of the XNUMXth century, in the second. Both processes took the years—decades—necessary for technologies to spread at the pace of a world where the Internet did not exist.

More recently, and more profoundly and rapidly, digital technologies have spawned a Third Industrial Revolution that laid the foundations on which the one we live today is based on. Although the Fourth Industrial Revolution was a recently adopted name, the process of technological transformation to which it refers has been taking place since the mid-XNUMXth century.

The term Fourth Industrial Revolution was coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, who first mentioned it during the group's annual meeting in 2016 and who in the same year published a book bearing the same name.

Rather than searching for the right words to explain the concept in a countless sequence of paragraphs, perhaps your best bet is to turn to this video from the World Economic Forum itself to understand what 4RI is all about:   

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But regardless of the name used to refer to this stage, it must be made clear that the term Fourth Industrial Revolution is only one of those used to refer to the transformation phenomena based on the use of digital technologies that occur in the present. The same process is known by names such as Industry 4.0 or World 4.0. In fact, outside the context that relates it to the Previous Industrial Revolutions, many people simply identify it with the more general concept of Digital Transformation.

"To understand 4RI you also have to understand that This is not something the World Economic Forum invented. The Forum simply gave a name to something that at this very moment is a reality and it is very simple: Internet, connectivity and access to technology not only changed the world, but created a gigantic gap between those who have access and those who do not have access to technology.”Says Freddy Vega, founder of the Colombian platform for virtual education Platzi.

And it's clearly not a futuristic concept. In this sense, Fabiano Matos, general manager of Oracle Colombia and Ecuador, affirms: "The new way of consuming services and products is burying the ways of the past: Uber, Airbnb, Rappi, Netflix and so many other new technology-based businesses are setting the pace for a new economy. So the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and it is transforming the way organizations around the world think about their customers and their products.

Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics and automation are some of the applications and solutions that are being used in all sectors to deliver services that make life easier for people, increase productivity and reduce costs.".

Fabián Hernández, CEO of Telefónica Movistar in Colombia, confirms that, although with differences depending on the conditions of each country, the revolution is a matter of the present: “The 4RI is already here, although we are just opening the doors of the universe that it offers us. [Klaus] Schwab associated this new digital era with a massive use of robotics, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and a number of emerging technologies that are already in the development phase but whose massification has not yet taken place. big scale. […] To the extent that countries have greater connectivity and more services with digitized production mediated by these new technologies, they are more immersed in this new revolution".

Juan Fernando Pérez, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the Universidad del Rosario, agrees with the above concept: “We are already in the 4RI, and I believe that although it is arriving by waves to different places and countries, the speed with which we know how to ride in that revolution is going to mark us how much we are really going to be able to take advantage of it".

Samir Estefan, LAS Education Manager at Lenovo Colombia, establishes a clear difference between technological development and its distribution to determine whether or not we are already in the 4RI. In his opinion, many of the Artificial Intelligence or machine learning algorithms have existed for several decades and were just waiting for the medium that could process them.

“That is why at the end of the day these trends are associated with the processing power of the different devices, and with greater processing power we have much faster and more elaborate responses. One of the variables, apart from the speed of processing, is the speed in sending the information. The massive proliferation of 5G will close the necessary circle for the massification of these new trends to begin to occur more rapidly..

"Based on the above –Adds the executive– We can answer that, although there is already much talk about these issues, we are not yet in it and that definitely, as we have seen with the other industrial revolutions, its speed will depend on the development of the country and the city, since it is one thing to have the infrastructure that the support and another the appropriation that is linked to the importance that a society can find it".

4RI technologies

Different sources list, with some variations, the technologies of the 4RI. The basic ones mentioned by the World Economic Forum, accompanied by an "among others" at the beginning of the list, and which are common to most institutions, are the following:

Artificial Intelligence
Internet of Things
Autonomous vehicles
3D printing
Materials science
Energy storage
Quantum computing

En Impacto TIC We think that autonomous systems should be part of this list –beyond just vehicles–. And although 5G is not a new phenomenon, it now has fundamental relevance to help expand and improve connectivity conditions in Colombia and the world.
The list can also be expanded with 'the three Realities': the virtual, the augmented and the mixed.

Colombia, a panorama with ups and downs

And how are we taking advantage of 4RI technologies in Colombia? Compared to the rest of Latin America, the situation is positive for the country - or, at least, not as negative as for others. Colombia has advantages in terms of government policies and in boosting private business, but it is reluctant to resolve a basic requirement to face the challenges of 4RI: broad coverage in connectivity.

Fabiano Matos, from Oracle, affirms that Colombia is still on the path to fully enter the 4RI. “On the one hand, there are efforts as the center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, first in the Latin American region, established in Medellín. On the other hand, the fact that the country does not yet have technologies such as 5G reflects that it is still a way to go, but we are on the way".

The executive adds another important issue that must be taken into account, and that is the fact that regulation often does not keep pace with technological advances. “For this reason, it is worth highlighting the effort that is being made by the National Government in matters of public policy. For example, the National Development Plan 2018–2022 established the general guidelines for the adoption of emerging technologies by the productive sector within the framework of the 4RI and determined the construction of a long-term policy for the country to face this challenge. A document was also delivered by the Commission of Wise Men (47 experts and researchers, including a Nobel Prize winner) that constitutes the road map for the construction of a Colombia that responds to productive and social challenges in a scalable, replicable and sustainable manner within of the economy of the 4RI”.

Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho, a company that enables 4RI through AI-powered cloud software solutions, notes: "Colombia is in an initial stage of this revolution, in which large organizations have seen the enormous value of new technologies to improve their entire operation. These corporations are the ones that are beginning to take advantage of the savings and increased productivity that new technologies such as Big Data, Analytics and Machine Learning bring"

For his part, Alberto Saavedra López, manager of Transformation of the firm Controlos Empresariales, lands a little on the expectations that the 4RI should generate in the country: "Changes are taking place, But if we take into account that Colombia is not an industrialized country, it is understandable that we will not see IoT-based automation of production or the inclusion of artificial intelligence in production as one of the fronts with the greatest impact. But the digitization of services, new business models, new financial and payment platforms, safe and smart cities, which are recurring topics on the agenda of the country and the region, do.".

More specifically, Milton Quiroga, general manager of CyTE, analyzes: “Colombia so far is reaping the benefits of the Third Industrial Revolution. The events of the covid have clearly shown us how many organizations in Colombia are behind in the adoption of digital technologies that allow them to abandon the use of paper as an information storage technology at once. In more than a few cases we have seen several companies in Colombia working half-way because a business process requires signed or authenticated papers in Notaria, an archaism of the 80s that with the pandemic also became a biological risk".

Benoit Thooris, director of the Schneider Electric Industrial Automation Unit for the Andean Cluster, has a more optimistic vision, although he is also clear about the path that remains to be traveled: "Colombia is a country that has become a benchmark in the region. At Schneider Electric we celebrate that during the last World Economic Forum, in Davos, Medellín was ratified as the headquarters of the new Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, becoming the epicenter from where the challenges and opportunities of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the IoT that will allow to combine technologies and blur the borders between the physical, biological and digital world. We also perceive this with the foreign investment indices”. […]

“Without a doubt, Colombia is a country that has great potential as it has industries that have already taken the step to implement this type of advanced digitalization technologies. However, there is still a long way to go as there are still sectors and companies that must move in this direction”, adds Thoris.

See also in Impacto TIC: What is the use of having a Research Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Colombia y "The Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution will only be important if we all take advantage of it".

From a more academic point of view, the Dean of Engineering from Rosario highlights the actions that are being carried out by the Government: “I think that, in general, the fact that the government puts up that flag and says 'there we have to move' is good, it is positive. And that has not happened everywhere and it is something that also comes from before. For example, the fact that the Dane had released data policy a few years ago when no one was thinking about it; This does not solve the problem, naturally, because institutions still need many capacities to transform into the digital age, to use more technological platforms that allow them to offer citizens better services based on this type of technology. But at least he took the picture and said 'we are like this, these are good, these are bad, these are very bad and we should take these steps'. And at least we are walking in that direction, which I think is the right one". 

Fabián Hernández, from Telefónica Movistar, agrees with this vision: “Colombia has been taking important steps in this line, particularly in what has to do with the construction of public policies that enable and promote the development of emerging technologies. In this regard, the country already has Conpes documents from Big Data, Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence, Digital Security, and Technologies for Learning, which will help in this process of digitization of the different sectors of the country".

This does not mean, however, that the task is done. In this regard, Ricardo Caballero, general manager of Westcon Comstor for Colombia and Ecuador, points out: "Colombia lags behind Digital Connection compared to countries that are in the OECD, which is essential to have a 4RI. In Latin America we are not so bad, but it is essential that companies understand that technology is essential to be more competitive and continue to exist".

Lenovo's Samir Estefan emphasizes that the 4RI is just beginning in the world. From this point of view, he assures that COVID-19 exposed the lack of technological preparation in Latin America, especially in sectors such as education. “In context, Colombia is going at the same rate as Latin American countries, but clearly behind first world countries where the offer of solutions such as Artificial Intelligence or machine learning is much more advanced. However, it is important to clarify that worldwide 4RI is so far beginning".

A kind of balance on the situation of Colombia against the 4RI could be the analysis made by Freddy Vega, of Platzi"Colombia is in a complicated circumstance at the 4RI level. On the one hand, we are leaders in the development of new technologies and new startups. Companies like Platzi in online education, like Rappi in delivery, like Hogaru in home cleaning services, among many others, are showing that top-level technology can be created in the country. Or for example, which is an AI company for customer service that will probably replace call centers in the world, 100% created in Colombia".

But, on the other hand, we are also a country that has not been able to bring connectivity - or even drinking water - to some regions. And that before innovations it reacts with legislation to block them, like what happened with the Superintendency [of Industry and Commerce] and Uber. That leaves us in a very mixed position".

And then ... is the 4RI going to get us out of the crisis?

From the crisis generated by COVID-19, the World Economic Forum has raised the idea that the world requires agreat reboot"; in fact, this will be the central theme of the forum's annual meeting in Davos, in January 2021. This restart is based on three fundamental pillars:

  • Market orientation towards fairer results, in relation to tax, regulatory and fiscal issues; this includes that trade agreements guarantee more equity.
  • Investments aimed at common goals, such as equality and sustainability. It includes the redefinition of pension funds and the creation of a 'green infrastructure' that encourages companies to meet environmental goals.
  • Leveraging 4RI innovations for the public good, especially as it relates to health and environmental challenges.
Fourth Industrial Revolution

Although the last point makes explicit reference to health and environmental challenges, it is clear that 4RI technologies are part of the process of rebuilding the world. And this is particularly true if industrial 4RI is understood as a specific 'chapter' of Digital Transformation.

In this context, the World Economic Forum published a report in 2018, called 'Readiness for the future of production', in which it notes that The 5 countries best prepared to face the 4RI are Japan, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland and China.. There, Colombia is ranked 56.

And taking into account that the conditions of each country regarding the adoption of technologies specific to this revolution depends a lot on the conditions of each one, the Competitiveness Index The World Economic Forum itself can also give an idea of ​​which countries are best placed in terms of productivity and economic growth. In this list, which is made every year since 1979, Colombia ranked 57th out of 141 countries, in the 2019 evaluation.

The 10 countries that top the list

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However, it should be borne in mind that the Competitiveness Index not only includes a global ranking, but also divides the analysis into specific areas of development. Although the document includes the evaluation of each of them for each country, the global vision of these areas is divided by region.

In the areas that are presumed to be fundamental for the development of the 4RI - Infrastructure, ICT Adoption and Innovation Capacity - the table is dominated by the countries of East Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North America. Although some of them are also on the list of those most affected by the crisis, in some way they are also those who would have - in theory - more tools to deal with it.

11 ICT leaders talk about the 4RI

But, beyond hard and hard statistics, the question that has not been asked is whether these technologies will really allow the countries that use them the best and most will benefit to overcome the effects of the pandemic more quickly and efficiently. In this regard, the representatives of different companies and institutions consulted by Impacto TIC they answered the following:

Could it be said that 4RI technologies will give more tools to countries that have them to recover from the current crisis and that can be presented in general? Are the most advanced countries based on the 4RI concept showing better signs of reactivation than those that are more backward?

Fabiano Matos, CEO of Oracle Colombia and Ecuador

The technology and solutions offered by this new Industrial Revolution will undoubtedly be of great help to the various countries not only in recovering from the crisis, but also in its management and control. As stated by World Economic Forum, 4RI gives us the tools we need to deal with this global threat. It is essential to understand that there is a great opportunity in the data that day by day is generated by the thousands of citizens in the world. Therefore, they are the primary resource for tracking and predicting infectious risk.

At a global level, for example, we have already seen examples of how the proper and strategic use of databases and artificial intelligence has allowed some countries to anticipate the curve or outbreaks of the virus, and others to efficiently identify possible cases in a certain territory. Facing COVID – 19 may be in the capacity to collect, manage and process the data. Probably, the countries that have the technologies and platforms will be able to make more strategic decisions that guarantee the safety and well-being of their population.

On the other hand, it also works on other fronts that have given an example of transformation: education, the financial sector, commerce, and medicine. All of them have modified the way of providing their services to such an extent that virtuality became the norm. The University of La Sabana, for example, has not stopped teaching a single class with almost 100% attendance; banking developed chatbots and other services to understand and serve its users; the trade has been advancing on robust platforms to face the day without VAT or to go in search of new clients and the contingency has caused medical services to be taken virtually so as not to take risks in clinics and hospitals.

Fabián Hernández Ramírez, President CEO of Telefónica Movistar in Colombia.

The pandemic facing the world today has generated unimaginable consequences for society, one of these is the economic crisis. The World Bank (2020) indicates that it will not only be the first recession in a century and a half, but it will also be the most synchronized - where 9 out of 10 countries will decrease this year - with a decrease in GDP three times higher than the records of 2009. Thus, this context threatens to reverse the advances in equity and poverty reduction of the last decades.

According to estimates, Latin America will be one of the emerging areas hardest hit by this situation due, among other factors, to the high dependence on the export of commodities and the low productivity that has characterized the region. A report by the OECD and others (2019) identified 4 development traps in Latin America, among which is the productivity trap, which shows the damage represented by low levels of sophistication and low participation in chains of global value.

Furthermore, the relationship between connectivity and GDP growth is positive, since in countries where the telecommunications industry grows faster, GDP also grows more. A study by Bahia, Castells and Pedrós (2019) indicates that increasing penetration by 10% in both fixed and mobile broadband increases GDP by 0,6% for each technology, which adds a total impact of 1,2% of growth in the economy.

Samir Estefan, LAS Education Manager at Lenovo.

The world is increasingly digital and the monetization of many products - even the most basic ones - occurs more and more through these media, making it clear that any tool that enhances these media (such as the chatbots they use Artificial Intelligence to respond to a client and allow us to respond 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to any need) will be more profitable. This is just one example of the tools that generate more income and by generating more income, the easier it is to get out of any crisis a country is in.

Raju Vegesna, Chief evangelist at Zoho Corporation.

We are going through a complex reality in which emerging countries are facing new work formats as opposed to what happens in more developed ones. In the most advanced countries we noticed that the pandemic was a simpler process, since concepts such as teleworking or electronic commerce were more entrenched, while they had the infrastructure, more personal computers, high-speed Internet or high-end smartphones.

Emerging countries still face less Internet access and lower speeds. According to a study carried out by Hootsuite in 2019, Colombia had an internet penetration of 68%, which is below the South American average of 73%, and still far from North America, where it reached 95%. Not to mention that the connection speed in Colombia is barely 16 Mbps on average, compared to the United States where it reaches 109 Mbps. 

These factors can directly influence business formats, Latin America's need for personal contact and the recursive nature of innovation versus developed countries. However, the region and Colombia have important success stories on technology, major Federations, and a strong software industry, which can be the basis for technological inclusion.

Juan Fernando Pérez, Dean of Engineering at the Universidad del Rosario.

There is no evidence from a published study, but there are characteristics that show that reality. When comparing what proportion of the economy is done in jobs that are virtualizable, technologically advanced countries have a higher proportion than less advanced countries. So if the country depends a lot on jobs that are very manual, less paid, that require less training, that makes these jobs not virtualizable. Within each country's economy there are also those gaps.

If you see which are the jobs that are not virtualizable, many times they are more manual, that have low salaries. The sad thing also as a society is that it is precisely the people who are most exposed to the virus, who end up suffering the greatest consequences. In the United States, studies of how the affectation differs, for example, in Latino or Afro-descendant populations compared to white populations ... there are very interesting and very crude data about that because they show a very large difference between different populations within the same country that are doing different tasks how they have been affected by the pandemic. 

In this sense, the countries that have these capacities have another strength, which is that they typically have very good infrastructure, so not only are the jobs virtualizable, but they can also be virtualized. Just when we were starting the pandemic, they asked me how the country is in terms of infrastructure and my answer was: it depends. If you are in Bogotá, in general we will be fine, in terms of fiber as general coverage of wired Internet, as 4G we are quite well; and if we go to any big city, we are reasonably well. The problem is when we start going down to the municipalities and worse still to the rural areas, and then that's where in the municipality only if you are in the center you have a 4G cell signal, you don't have the rest, and if you are going to the rural area has 2G and nothing else. 

So that also implies gaps; So the students who are in rural areas, regardless of whether or not they have a computer, do not have the Internet, so having the computer would help, but it is not that door that is for a student who is in the city.

Benoit Thooris, director of the Industrial Automation Unit of Schneider Electric for the Andean cluster.

Definitely yes. The megatrends of urbanization, digitization and industrialization will drive growth in energy consumption in which industries and different sectors of the economy will have to take medium and short-term actions, to be more efficient and sustainable, reducing production costs. and operating, protecting business margins and seeking to be more competitive in their markets.

Without a doubt, we see the need for organizations that require technologies that allow them to have remote accessibility to their production processes, to configure control centers located kilometers from plants or factories with difficult access, as is the case in the mining sector, for example. The health situation accelerated these requirements.

It is fully demonstrated that the industries that had already advanced in the implementation of these digital transformation technologies are at a great advantage over their competitors, insofar as they were able to continue their operation without setbacks, respecting biosafety regulations. The way forward is to continue moving towards an even more digital economy.

Alberto Saavedra López, Transformation Manager of the firm Controles Empresariales.

In the face of the general crisis of this year 2020, it is clear that the economy must regain its growth rate and the generation of well-being in the shortest possible time, and there ICT and disruptive technologies in general will be the drivers of this recovery when implemented with the goal of increasing productivity.

However, this is not necessarily reflected in a recovery in demand and an example of this is our country, which, given the high composition of services, seems to present a better recovery outlook than the countries of the region.

Conclusion: the adoption of technology the fourth industrial revolution is not necessarily linked to recovery after the crisis; its impact is surely longer term.

Freddy Vega, Founder of Platzi.

When thinking about whether 4RI is going to be something that will help countries, we must remember that this is not something that is positive or negative; it is inevitable.

Disruptive technologies, by definition, do not need to fight, and all economic innovations in human history have occurred due to technological disruption. From the steam engine, the production line, to the information highway and now the world of 24/7 connectivity, then it depends on the countries, on the speed with which they adapt.

But the advantage is that this is on the same level. It is now completely possible to compete against Silicon Valley without being in Silicon Valley. The only advantage they have there is access to capital, and each time that advantage is less. The great advantage of revolutions like this is a level playing field. 

Ricardo Caballero, general manager of Westcon Comstor for Colombia and Ecuador.

Technology is a way to democratize consumption and different innovative solutions will soon arrive in our countries.

In our region there is still a traditional burden, there is still a generation that goes to the bank and makes a paper deposit, and there are still people who physically pay for services; we are still in transition. In the United States, the market forced the consumer to make that change even to that generation that opposed it, forced them to understand that they must do it online and everything is done with a credit card and everything is digital; That is a difference, but the technology available today in Latin America is exactly the same.

Latin America reached the same level of technology because there is no longer a barrier, what is lacking is for the consumer to migrate to that technology. Without a doubt, the 4R will mature in our region; There will be countries in the lead, but it will undoubtedly generate development opportunities for all.

Ismael Arévalo, leader of Business Development at Controles Empresariales

In the current situation, it is still too early to measure with indicators how fast countries are reactivating as greater appropriation of technologies than those that do not have it. However, it is a fact that technology is a tool that improves the productivity, connectivity and competitiveness of industries.

This being the case, it is expected that the economies of the countries with the greatest development and deployment of 4RI technologies and with modern state policies and adjusted to the new reality will present accelerated development and a faster recovery from the current crisis, than those that don't have it.

Milton Quiroga, general manager of CyTE.

Hard to know for sure, I identify roughly Three different ways of managing the pandemic: On the one hand, I see countries like Sweden that largely left the responsibility of managing each citizen and did not make any mandatory isolation. Other countries like Norway, based on the trust that the state inspires in the citizens, decreed more or less strict quarantines faithfully followed. Finally, I see countries in the East that have tried a highly repressive technology-based supervision and control scheme that drastically cuts the already poor civil liberties of the East.

It is unclear which of the three approaches is the best approach to address the pandemic. In Colombia, it seems that we chose the worst combination of the three models: cutting civil liberties with mandatory quarantines that literally stopped the economy, with VAT-free shopping fairs with contagion included.

Although with some nuances, it is more or less clear that technological developments maintain a constant value as a fundamental basis for the development of countries. Whether this will involve closing or widening the digital divide between the more and the less advanced will depend a lot on how each one takes advantage of them, although it is also directly related to the economic conditions and activities from which their livelihood is derived. .

Either way, the Fourth Industrial Revolution cannot be less than the challenge of getting the world out of the current crisis. Before 2020, he already had to take the world to a new stage of development similar in meaning, but multiplied thousands of times, to the previous Industrial Revolutions ... Surely more will come later, but for now, everything seems to indicate that the fourth will be the charm .