According to Thomas L. Friedman, one of the world’s most influential journalists and researchers in international affairs and economic issues, said the world experienced three industrial revolutions between the late fifteenth century and early twenty first century - each marked by an industrial revolution.
He termed them as three eras of globalisation. Writing in his best seller ‘The World is Flat’ Friedman writes, ‘The first lasted from 1492 – when Columbus set sail, opening trade between the Old World and the New World – until 1800…it shrank the world from size large to size medium.’ This was an era of countries (rise of colonialism) and muscles. In the era whoever had the muscle, the horsepower, wind power (e.g., sail boats) and later steam power and how creatively one could deploy these resources, ruled the world. These resources were the agents of change. According to Friedman, countries and governments (often inspired by religion or imperialism or a combination of both) led the way in breaking down walls and knitting the world together, driving global integration. This was the period of plunder of resources by the colonial powers mostly from East to West. The wealth of India, China, Malaya, Indonesia, African continents and Americas were looted and the European nations emerged as global powers with their newly built cities which practically ruled the world till the First World War (US broke away from the English colonial rule in 1776). During this period England emerged as an industrial nation and its textile and jute industry flourished with cheap cotton from US and jute from India (Bengal).
Friedman writes ‘the second great era, Globalisation 2.0, lasted roughly from 1800 to 2000, interrupted by the Great Depression and the World Wars I and II. This era shrank the world from a size medium to a size small. The key agent of change, the dynamic force driving global integration, was multinational companies. The multinationals went global for markets and labour, spearheaded first by the expansion of the Dutch and English joint-stock companies and the Industrial Revolution.’ Managerial skills, capital and maximising the use of technology and resources ruled this era. Beginning with the year 2000 a whole new era unfolded: ‘Globalisation 3.0,’ shrinking the world from size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time’ writes Friedman. In phase one of globalisation, countries globalised and in phase two companies globalised. The third phase of globalisation was revolutionised by intellectual ability of individuals to collaborate and compete globally. This is the era that witnessed the revolution in the way people and communities connect through use of technology, creating synergistic intelligence and intellectual property mostly shared between and amongst people.
Riding on the back of this era emerged an era which according to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), may be termed as an era of ‘the fourth industrial revolution.’ According to Professor Schwab ‘the fourth industrial revolution will be less dependent on technology but on the ability of combining the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.’ The key to success in the era of fourth industrial revolution will be the ability to manipulate and use the digital technology and this will only be possible on the ability of nations to produce enough creative minds which can be used for faster, efficient and effective production of goods and services and its cost effective distribution. Intelligence, creativity and ability to see the future will be the agents of change in the era of fourth industrial revolution. This will put demand on production of knowledge based society. On top of all, human beings will determine the destiny of nations and the world. Not the machine or the technology but the men behind machine and technology will be in the forefront. The future is continuously changing and one must learn to adapt to these changes and acknowledge that instead of needless competition cooperation and collaboration can be more rewarding. Individual intelligence must be made part of collective intelligence. The new generation must realise that acquiring knowledge is not the end but learning how to use the knowledge is more important. Universities are no longer considered just a learning centre but are seen as a place where learners are taught how to learn. Learning is a continuous process. Today’s innovative technology can become obsolete tomorrow. What we have learned today or use may no longer be useful in a decade or two. An innovation that destroys another is known as ‘destructive innovation.’ The arrival of artificial intelligence is a reality. To survive in this era protection of jobs or employment is not important, protection of people is. For this the need of learning the ever changing job related skills and know-how is more important.
In the new world order the protection of capital will be more important and institutions with capital will look for ways how to maximise the return of the invested capital. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) by 2030 many corporations around the world will use drugs on their employees to enhance productivity and may enhance their profitability by 24 per cent. Dunham Corp., a company that produces gifts in US has increased their productivity by 4 per cent through administering drugs on their employees.
Now the big question is what is Bangladesh doing to take advantage of all benefits of the fourth industrial revolution? As of now it does not seem we considered the issue seriously. Accordingly the World Bank, 47 per cent of our degree holders are unemployed. In India it is 33 per cent whereas in Sri Lanka it is 7.8 per cent. The primary reason for this dismal picture is due to degree centric education both in Bangladesh and India. Acquiring work related skills is always a low priority amongst the young generation. While the ‘educated’ unemployment rate is so high in Bangladesh officially six hundred thousand foreigners working in Bangladesh remit about six billion dollars annually from Bangladesh whereas ten million expatriate workers of Bangladesh remitted less than fourteen billion dollars in 2017.
Most of the foreign workers working in Bangladesh are in the IT, RMG and service sector and come from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Nigeria, Nepal and even Honduras and Columbia. Three million Filipinos remit ninety billion dollars annually from outside the country as they sell more of their skills unlike their Bangladeshi counterparts who have only cheap labour to sell. A person with the right type of skill will be in demand anywhere in the world but demand for physical labour is constantly in the wane due to use of artificial intelligence and IT related technology. Driverless trains and cars are a reality. Agriculture in most countries, including Bangladesh is being mechanised at a faster speed as it is less costly. In Europe bricklaying machines are being widely used to make new roads and use of robotics in factories of China has made human labour redundant.
Bangladesh has targeted to become a middle income country by 2021 and high income country by 2041. To do this the only way is to convert our huge young population into real human resources, giving them proper training through skill development programmes. They must also be taught that skills need to be continuously developed and the government and the private sector must provide platforms where and how this can happen. 42 per cent of the country’s population is below the age of 24, according the UNDP. Not many countries have such a huge young population, the real potential resource for changing the nation. Expenses made on human development must always be considered as investment and the return will go to the entire nation. If the people of this country can transform many of its sectors like agriculture, it can very well prepare fast for taking advantage of the fourth industrial revolution. The system creates unemployable youths. The system needs to be changed. For this the nation needs farsighted political leadership and people who are ready to adapt to change and not stop the change. Trying to stop change is as good as committing ‘hara-kiri’ and may be self destructive. The country does not deserve this.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator