Since the 18th century, industrial revolutions have fundamentally changed the economy, mankind’s relationship with nature, and everyday life. This process still lasts today, but now we can talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Although technological achievements made throughout the centuries are regarded by most people as the means and signs of development, the complex process called the industrial revolution and the accompanying technical
advancement also have their downsides. In our study composed of several parts, we explore the latest stage of the industrial revolution from Africa’s perspective, and we seek answers to the question as to what risks and opportunities it holds for the Black Continent.
The complexity of the topic prevents us from undertaking its fully comprehensive study, as there would certainly be a segment that we would not cover even in the case of a study composed of several volumes and conducted in collaboration with the experts of many other fields of science. Instead, we attempt to grab the potential effects of the fourth industrial revolution along three dimensions – economy, infrastructure and (natural) environment –, narrowing these dimensions to a certain extent, with regard to the fact that the study still would be too largescale without doing so. Keeping all these in view, the aim of our study series is to provoke some thought, inviting readers to contemplate it and unfold a professional debate. Part One is about economy, Part Two is about infrastructure and the final part is about the natural environment, from Africa’s perspective.
Industrial revolution – from the steam engine to atrificial intelligence
The industrial revolution has fundamentally changed mankind’s relationship with nature, the methods of economic production, and, consequently, everyday life. As a result of the original accumulation of capital and embourgeoisement, the process, first unfolding on the British Isles, has been going on until today – but now on a global level. The approximately 250-year-old history of industrial revolutions can be divided into different stages. The academically most widespread division differentiates between three major eras, on the basis of the technology exerting the greatest impact on the economy: the initial period of the industrial revolution – in
other words, the First Industrial Revolution – lasted from the 1760s to the 1840s, with the steam engine being the most dominant invention, replacing the use of animal effort in agriculture, and allowed the launch of mechanised
production in the industry. The most significant technological achievement of the Second Industrial Revolution – which lasted roughly from the 1870s until World War I – is electric power and its widespread use, and, in relation to it, the beginning of mass production. The Third Industrial Revolution began about in the late 20th century – roughly in the 1960s – and is hallmarked by electronics, information technology and the automatization of production.