I haven’t really thought through what follows, so no change there, then. But anyway, Labour’s hapless/hopeless leader Jeremy Corbyn today made an oblique reference to the “fourth industrial revolution”, not really knowing what he was talking about, and it got me to thinking. There is a coming revolution that is going to change the world forever. Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to eliminate Britain’s manufacturing industry was mightily successful, if your idea of success is eliminating manufacturing, but even her efforts were nothing compared to what is coming. And no one seems to be ready.
Just look at Rolls Royce, probably our last remaining major world class manufacturer. In Rotherham, Rolls Royce operates an advanced blade casting site, whatever that is. It will be fully operational next year, producing something like 100,000 “highly sophisticated turbine blades” every year when it is in peak production. How many people do you think work there? 1,000? 5,000? 10,000? No. 150 people. And the blades are produced far quicker and in far great numbers. This is the future and it’s nearly here.
I mention Rolls Royce because the Filton site is very near where I live and it represents the economic heartbeat of the area. There was a time when we moved to the area that, seemingly, everyone in the area worked for Rolls Royce. Things are not that different these days with the company still the major employer in the area, along with the myriad of bean counters at the nearby MOD procurement behemoth. But it is not exactly stretching the imagination to suggest that in the not-too-distant future the workforce at Rolls Royce and at every other manufacturing company on the planet the majority of workers will be robots, supervised by ever decreasing numbers of humans.
But no one has even thought about this, let alone planned for it. In the USA, for example, the impending presidential car crash that will be Donald Trump has promised to bring back manufacturing jobs to the rustbelt of America. He will be president specifically because the rustbelt voted for him, quite possibly out of sheer desperation because who was offering anything else? Democrat candidate Clinton didn’t bother to even visit the rustbelt until it was too late and she represented, to many, the very essence of the establishment. Trump can’t return manufacturing in the short term or long term, because he stands for nostalgia, the past, a time that has gone, if it ever existed in the first place, and been replaced by automation. And we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
In terms of technology, you just wait. The problem is that politicians are, by and large, old people, rather like me, and many of them, unlike me I hasten to add, don’t know their iPads from their incontinence pads. I suspect many of them have been told that in a very short period of time the world is going to change even more dramatically. It’s going to be great and yet it isn’t. In a decade, an iPhone will look as odd as the first mobile phones, you know, the house-brick sized efforts with the huge aerials. We will have more leisure time than we will know what to do with and where will the money come from to enable us to enjoy it?
My advice to anyone is to get familiar with advanced technology as soon as possible in the way that I am not, but our kids are, thank goodness for them. Technology and services, that is the future for this country and at the bottom of the food chain, will be the vast swathes of people on the minimum wage and zero hour contracts which are becoming the norm.
The change, which is heading our way at a rapid rate of knots, can be embraced and moulded into something that works for all of us, but if we just sit on our hands, dealing in Trumpite slogans, and not the reality on the ground, our new found leisure time will be unemployment, not part time work and early retirement.
Where are the leaders with dynamism and vision? In Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn we have neither. As Roger Waters wrote, many years ago, “Is there anybody out there?” We’d best hope there is. Otherwise this next industrial revolution won’t revitalise the country, but it might destroy it.