Ann Lamont
Ann Lamont

It is time for the Fifth Industrial Revolution

by Ann Lamont. The Fifth Industrial Revolution will be driven by personalisation, innovation, purpose and inclusivity.

by Ann Lamont. In November 2020 the company DeepMind, which is owned by Google, announced the discovery and development of protein folding, through AlphaFold their Artificial Intelligence Program. The team at AlphaFold stated, “Limited information on protein structures has been a major barrier to increasing our understanding of neglected tropical diseases like sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) and leishmaniasis, which impact the lives of millions of people and cause tens of thousands of deaths every year.”

This announcement made for a refreshing change from the majority of my digital or Fourth Industrial Revolution consulting work, where the focus is looking at the Fourth industrial revolution as an opportunity to create a competitive advantage or to retain competitive advantage as opposed to supporting human or environmental wellbeing. I give the example of consulting to some of South Africa’s leading financial services companies in which the discourse revolves around the looming threat of fintech players and how to remain relevant, retain customers and be able to grow. Of course, there is some advantage to this in that customers will likely get a cheaper and more convenient service and jobs will be retained.

There is however little discourse about how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be leveraged to change the face of banking into something that is more equal, accessible, and underpinned by a different economic paradigm. Indeed, despite the progress of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions, as we move into 2021, humanity continues to face one of the greatest health challenges it has encountered; combined with an ongoing climate and economic crisis, rising inequality, polarisation and mental health challenges.

Since the 1800s the world has gone through substantial technological and economic developments which have allowed for the rapid development and advancement of (some) society:

  • With the First Industrial Revolution came the ability to efficiently produce and distribute textiles by using factory systems to streamline labour.
  • This was closely followed by the Second Industrial Revolution which utilised new technologies, such as steam power and electricity, to develop a more efficient industry and more effectively utilise natural resources.
  • In the mid-20th century, we developed computers and a fundamentally different way of interacting with the world, in the Third Industrial Revolution. The rise of electronics integrated increasingly complex technologies into the lives of the everyday person.
  • Lastly, we have the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has given us the internet and ecommerce, allowing us to access information and goods at a rate unseen ever before.

However impressive and impactful these revolutions were, they favoured economic development and the hoarding of wealth over the wellbeing of people. Furthermore, all the previous industrial revolutions have led to an impending climate crisis which is predicted to cause unimaginable human suffering. Time and time again we have used technological developments to drive up profit margins without accounting for the impact on humanity or the environment. This is where the Fifth industrial revolution will (hopefully) be different.

The Fifth Industrial Revolution

The World Economic Forum speaks about the ability to “bend technology and economic progress back towards the service of humanity, marked by creativity and a common purpose”. This blend of technology and purpose in service of humanity and our planet is referred to as the Fifth Industrial Revolution. The Fifth Industrial Revolution will be characterised by advanced collaborative interactions between humans, machines, systems, and processes for maximum performance optimisation. Where the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driven by digitisation and robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things and the like; the Fifth Industrial Revolution will be driven by personalisation and innovation, purpose, and inclusivity.

Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce sees it this way: “I see a crisis of trust in technology,” he told the World Economic Forum. “In the Fifth Industrial Revolution, we’re going to have to have… a chief ethical and humane use officer. Are we using these technologies for the good of the world?”

With the global retail market valued at $25.038 trillion in 2019, retailers have a significant influence on using technology in retail to advance the wellbeing of people and the planet. The debate in retail needs to evolve from the use of technology to promote competitiveness in sourcing, value chain and stock management efficiencies, omnichannel retail and augmented customer experience; to the use of technology to promote ethical, local, regenerative value chains, improved and more equal access to healthy food and critical goods, reduction in waste, and leading and inclusive labour practices.


Main image credit: Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash.


Ann Lamont has spent her career supporting individuals, organisations, and society to find solutions to the complex challenges of our times. She has significant business experience and has been an investment banker at Rand Merchant Bank; strategy consultant for Monitor Company; and until recently an Executive Director at EY. She has with partnered recently with DiiVe, a global transformational learning organisation focused on equipping young people with 5IR capabilities and DiiVe Collective, a strategy consultancy focusing on Shared Value. She is a Synergos Senior Fellow and Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellow.


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