Cast your mind back a decade or so and consider how the future looked then.
A public horizon of Obama-imbued “yes we can” and a high tide of hope and tolerance expressed in the London Olympics provides one narrative theme; underlying austerity-induced pressure another.
Neither speaks directly to our current world of divisive partisan politics, toxic social media use, competing facts and readily believed fictions.
This should be instructive. The future is made, not discovered, and yet we are constantly confounded by the future as it becomes the present.
What we believe, say, do, organise and vote for matter, but the world they matter to constantly eludes our grasp. We often stumble into futures we would rather avoid.
Our ecological and climatological future represents one such horizon and whether and how we will work.
A shiny future
The main proponents of the idea of a fourth industrial revolution are think tanks and consultancies working with modellers, economists and tech-experts (and of course technology companies themselves).
This work provides the themes, insights and much of the analysis of data that informs current government policy in the form of industrial strategy.
A future for whom?
The emphasis on benefits and the focus on the need for investment subtly distracts from the core issue of who will own the basic infrastructure of our futures.
Large corporations aim to control intellectual property for technologies that will influence every aspect of life.
At the same time, those writing about the fourth industrial revolution recognise that there might be what they call “technological unemployment”. Current claims regarding the likely rate of job displacement are mixed.
Some research claim between 30% and 50% of current forms of employment could disappear. Some suggest around 10% is more likely.