Launching the fourth industrial revolution Eva Paunova MEP is the Vice President of the European Movement International, where she chairs the Political Committee on Jobs, Competitiveness and Sustainable Growth. Ever since it was first mentioned in a German government paper in 2011, the term ‘Industry 4.0’ has been widely used by analysts to indicate the ongoing profound transformations in manufacturing. Also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is a collective term for the change in production patterns enabled by the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. We are already witnessing the integration of so-called cyber-physical systems in some manufacturers, whereby all automatic machines along the production line are in constant communication and interaction with one another. Very soon this smart environment will spread beyond the mere production line to processes such as marketing, distribution, consumption, etc. As has happened with previous industrial revolutions this will lead to disruptive changes, not only in the manufacturing process, but also throughout the entire economy, society and culture. In order to reap the benefits and minimise the risks, we must act strategically now in order to prepare our economies and societies, putting the focus on three key areas – education, entrepreneurship and connectivity. Acknowledging the need for decisive action, the European Commission adopted the Digital Single Market strategy in May 2015. The document envisages 16 concrete initiatives for the establishment of a single EU market for digital services. In a few weeks the European Parliament will start debating the Commission’s first two legislative proposals on the subject - cross-border portability of online content services and contracts for online sales, paving the way for Europe to march at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution. Preparing for the change from an early age One of the most profound effects of Industry 4.0 will be on the types of jobs people have and on the skills they will need to succeed. The labour market of the post-Industry 4.0 world would require considerable digital skills and understanding of how the smart environment functions. Managing one’s digital identity, backing up to the Cloud, basic digital media editing, online shopping and banking are only a handful of examples. These skills would be so crucial for one’s chances of getting hired that acknowledging their value in the curriculum should come at as early an age as possible. Students must be encouraged to use digital devices, to express themselves through digital means and thus get used to the convergence of the physical and digital environments. Considering how many countries are moving towards digitising the traditional services they provide, so-called e-government, it is not difficult to imagine that in the near future digital literacy will be necessary to effectively communicate and interact with public authorities. It’s true that the fourth industrial revolution is just kicking off and we are only seeing some of its early signs. However, it is happening at a faster pace and across a wider area compared to the third one, i.e. the digital revolution and the proliferation of computers. The shift is bound to happen over the next 20 years, just within the timespan of a single generation, rather than three or four as with past industrial revolutions. That is why, if we want to maximise its benefits, we should already attempt to understand and manage its nature and causes. We must take advantage of the unique opportunity that we have to discuss and analyse the changes while they are actually happening, allowing us to shape them and mitigate the risks. Industry 4.0 in our hands Crucial to understanding this revolution is the fact that it is not happening for its own sake. Innovation and technology are not developed simply because they are exciting and dazzling: new technologies result in new, safer and more functional products, as well as more efficient manufacturing. The reduction of production, transportation and communication costs will enable global competition based on the quality and customisation of products rather than on prices. This will open new markets and boost economic growth. In other words, this is a major opportunity to shape the technology that will improve people’s lives. In this regard the fourth industrial revolution must be seen as a source for unlimited business opportunities. Entrepreneurship will be easier than ever because any impediments to the implementation of ambitious ideas will be easily overcome by new technology. The ‘internet of things’, 3D printing, and Big data are all powerful tools that just need to be harnessed by a creative mind to bring benefits to us all. That is why people should be encouraged to think big - and beyond the restrictions of current manufacturing and computing limitations. The very word ‘revolution’, or synonyms such as ‘waves’, imply an irrepressible, external force that is beyond our control and must simply be faced and adapted to. Strategic dedicated actions like this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, for example, are needed to emphasise the fact that Industry 4.0 as a phenomenon is actually driven by none other than ourselves. Creating the inclusive revolution According to a study by the United Nations Specialised Agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) more than 4 billion people still don't have internet access. The dataflow from billions of connected smart devices will provide us with new ways to analyse and understand patterns in the physical world. It is obvious that if more than half of the global population remains excluded from the fourth industrial revolution, its impact will be seriously undermined and the benefits will be minimised even for its early adopters. However, data from the same study show that mobile broadband subscriptions are three times as numerous as fixed ones, which suggests that there are conditions for Industry 4.0 to emerge at the same time as the third, digital revolution. Securing easy access to broadband internet for as large a part of the global population as possible will ensure that the fourth industrial revolution spreads more widely than its predecessors. This will allow even those who haven't yet fully benefited from digitalisation to improve their living standards significantly because of what is known as a technology ‘leapfrog’. Overcoming challenges to maximise benefit Preparing for a phenomenon with so many uncertainties around is a twofold process. In addition to analysing how to take advantage of all the opportunities for economic, social and personal development the fourth industrial revolution will provide, it is also our duty to limit the inevitable risks that come along. 3D printing and genetic engineering can boost customised production and make lives easier, but they can also be used for building weapons or to genetically modify organisms in an environmentally threatening way. Income inequalities might worsen both between countries and within societies unless we cultivate new norms and ethical principles that provide more opportunities for inclusive growth. The most crucial question regarding the fourth industrial revolution then is not whether it has already begun or how long it would take, but rather how we can steer it in such a way that it brings the anticipated meaningful positive change to 
The most crucial question regarding the fourth industrial revolution then is ... how we can steer it in such a way that it brings the anticipated meaningful positive change to everyone