One of the defining trends for the 2020s and beyond will be the evolution of developed economies towards what is commonly referred to as ‘Industry 4.0’. This will bring together big data, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous systems. It is the next frontier in the development of the global digital economy and indeed digital society.

This is likely to accelerate over the course of the decade. Industry 4.0 presents enormous opportunities, not least in advanced manufacturing, digital health and personalised healthcare, smart cities, sustainable technologies, and intelligent transport. Rapid advancements in digital technologies will most likely see Industry 4.0 evolve into Industry 5.0 and so on. Industrial revolutions will become more appropriately known as industrial transformations.

Challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0 in the UK

In the UK, Industry 4.0 has the scope to overcome the combined challenges of Covid, low capitalisation of innovations due to lack of uptake through scale-up industrialisation, low productivity and the refocusing of trade away from Europe.

This has particular resonance in our region, where Digital Health and Med Tech have been identified alongside Advanced Manufacturing, Gamification and Professional Services as key drivers of innovation in the West Midlands. As the UK’s second-largest city with numerous specialist large-scale hospitals, digital tech and professional services, Birmingham is an obvious location to advance this agenda.

As well as the genuinely transformative potential of digital technologies, Industry 4.0 also gives rise to new challenges for society, which many governments will face in the coming decades:

  • significant skills gap
  • data ownership and availability
  • disinformation
  • digital poverty
  • the challenge of effective regulation and new power structures.

The task of analysing and understanding these, and of providing thought leadership in this critical area, therefore sits alongside the immense opportunities afforded by digital technologies, data and AI. The Aston Digital Futures Institute (ADFI) is well placed to drive this agenda forward.