Over the past 25 years, the Internet has radically altered the way people communicate and share ideas and the way businesses interact with customers and clients.
For an even longer period, starting in the 1950s with the so-called Third Industrial Revolution, businesses have become more digitized. In the next few decades, a new industrial revolution will combine elements of these two trends, along with related technologies and practices, into a truly "smart" manufacturing process.
This convergence is known as the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things. Whatever the name, the result will profoundly affect global trade patterns, supply chains and societies. The impact will vary, presenting many opportunities for developed countries to be more disruptive in developing economies and possibly limiting the use of low-end manufacturing for quick modernization and development.
Nonetheless, this Fourth Industrial Revolution will change manufacturing, industry and society.
Connecting to the digital world has revolutionized how communication occurs and how information spreads through society. People have vast amounts of information at their fingertips, and with the advent of the smartphone they can access it anytime and anywhere. Outside of the business world, the Internet has altered the relationship between state actors and non-state actors in cyberwarfare. Issues such as privacy have routinely challenged governments and corporations. Nonetheless, the biggest impact has been on consumer markets. Anyone who uses the Internet is constantly bombarded by customized ads, and users can place orders from online stores more quickly than ever.
There are now about two Internet-connected devices for each person on the planet, and that number could more than double within the next five years. Although most people tend to think of personal computers, tablets and smartphones as their main Internet-connected devices, these three categories together account for less than one-third of all connected devices. This share will drop in the future. To put the shift into perspective, just a decade ago personal computers accounted for more than two-thirds of all interconnected devices; now they account for less than 10 percent.
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