The decade of the 2020s began with a worldwide pandemic that has already produced significant global economic consequences. The crisis rapidly accelerated ongoing digital transformation initiatives inherent to the 4th Industrial Revolution, as people and organizations stived to enable things like work from home, remote learning, virtual meetings and grocery shopping.
Those seeds were part of the dawn of the 4th Industrial Revolution. “It may not be as abrupt as the word ‘revolution’ implies for most,” said Lumen CTO Andrew Dugan way back in 2020. “But I think when you look back in five years, people will see it historically as revolution.”
As we know, he was right. And as we turn the page on 2029, it’s worth looking back at how the five largest U.S. industries were forever changed by the digitization seeds that took root that decade.
Historically one of the most paper-intensive industries, real estate went digital in a big way thanks to blockchain. Stacks of legal documents gave way to digital contracts. Closing times were cut by two-thirds and fraud all but eliminated. Mortgage lenders also benefited from having a full visibility into the status of their loans and access to rich digital histories granted to them by prospective borrowers. The automation of so much of the buying and selling process fueled the rise of digital real estate brokerages, which all but took humans out of the equation and cut costs by half. Real estate agents still have plenty of work, though, as the size of the market has expanded due to falling costs.
State & Local Government
Data analytics and telematics have combined to make community safety and service management far more efficient. Innovations in contact tracing management birthed during the pandemic turned out to have applications in managing crowds and locations, improving both productivity and public safety. Smart cities technology gives municipal managers a coordinated view of traffic patterns, utility service levels and proactive equipment maintenance needs. Emergency management agencies anticipate disasters and take proactive measures to prevent loss of life. Government agencies that were once slow and reactive have become nimble and predictive.
It’s hard to believe securities trades used to take up to two business days to settle. Ever since fintech startups took the race to produce digital currencies mainstream — and blockchain in particular — the financial world has gone into hyperdrive. Not only are trades settled securely in seconds with full regulatory compliance, but distributed ledgers have sparked innovation in new kinds of multiparty and cross-border transactions. AI has rocked the consumer markets by giving ordinary people access to the kind of financial advice that was previously available only to the richest investors. The trend toward digital payments that began during COVID-19 rapidly gained steam post-pandemic. About the only place you can find a credit card anymore is in a museum.
COVID-19 rocketed the healthcare industry into the 21st century a decade ago and it has never looked back. Telemedicine today accounts for the majority of doctor-patient interactions using ubiquitous 5G and fiber networks that support extremely high-resolution video. Wearable and ingestible sensors have added years to the average life span by giving clinicians early warning of cancer and heart abnormalities. Most common surgeries are now done by robots and even complex procedures can be performed remotely thanks to telesurgery. The combination of these innovations has brought quality care to a larger population, reduced unnecessary procedures and brought overall health care costs down. At last.
Sustainable energy grew to be the largest segment of the durable manufacturing market in the 20s, but the impact of climate change was much broader. Automakers are on track to produce only electric vehicles by 2035, two-thirds of which will be autonomous. Sustainability drives the market for motorized vehicles, HVAC systems, construction supplies and even many consumer-packaged goods. The combination of 3-D printing and digital twin technology is on the brink of disrupting large segments of the manufacturing industry by making mass personalization possible and enabling production to be distributed to a million small foundries. In 2020 3-D printers were building small houses; now they construct apartment buildings.
The Road Ahead Paved by ’20s Changes
Machine learning. Analytics. Automation. 3-D printing. The use of these and other technologies became ubiquitous in the 2020s, as the world recovered and then emerged more resilient from the COVID-19 pandemic. Industries put these applications to work in the pursuit of a better quality of life, grappling with not just the pandemic but climate change, public safety, and sustainability.
From here, we expect great things from the systems and solutions that have been honed to extract insights and inspiration from data, for the good of all humankind. In the next, final installment of our guide to the 4th Industrial Revolution, you’ll discover the inexorable forces that will shape the future leading up to the next Industrial Revolution.