Our world is at Hour One of a new day … a new era of massive changes. In this first hour, we’re experiencing changes on a global scale that impact us politically, environmentally, and technologically.

We are at the beginning of an era full of promise. A technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.

Automation, machine learning, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence … these are no longer futuristic concepts. They are our reality. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here and it is full of promise.

Breakthroughs are already being made.

An AI system developed by a team from Germany, France, and the U.S. diagnoses skin cancer more accurately than dermatologists, a technological breakthrough that could save the lives of millions of people who get skin cancers and metastases each year.

But just as exciting as it can be to look toward the future … to look out at the rest of what this new day will bring us … it can be also be a little frightening. Especially for those whose livelihoods will be impacted … AI in health care, for example, won’t eliminate the need for doctors, but it will change what it means to “be a doctor.”

As we face political, environmental, and technological challenges on a global scale, it is imperative that we have the right leaders to help guide the way.

So that’s the goal. For all of us … but especially those of us in higher education … our biggest job is to prepare the next generation of global leaders. That includes young people, but also people already in the workforce looking to assume leadership positions, and senior executives who are already facing the opportunities and challenges of this new time.

We need leaders in this age of rapid innovation and disruption who will be able to maximize the opportunities and minimize the costs. Leaders who take lessons from earlier industrial revolutions and figure out ways to make sure that we all benefit … Ways to bring everyone along into this exciting future.

The future health and prosperity of our global society will be defined by how we manage these three major global changes now. And, even more so, how we train our future leaders. They will be asked to carry the ball.

Challenges to Globalism

Nationalism and various parochial-isms are on the rise around the world. These are backlashes against globalism … against open markets and free trade …  against a world that values the free flow of human and financial capital…goods and services…ideas, cultures, and languages.

Around the world, economic conditions have given rise to an inherently contradictory phase of this wave of globalization. And that is because many have been left out of the prosperity created by globalization. Nearly 1.1 billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990. But the gap between haves and have-nots has only widened during that time. More than half of the extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, in the region the number of people living in poverty grew by 9 million in 2015 alone. And for those who have been able to move out of poverty, progress is often temporary. There are fears and anxieties and legitimate concerns about the sustainability of globalization.

These divisions come at a time when it is so important for the brightest minds in the world to work together. It will be critical to be able to tackle these issues as we make progress.

We in higher education can help resolve these challenges to globalism. By acknowledging the plight of those who have been left behind … By sharing insight, knowledge, and understanding of other cultures, other languages … By emphasizing the importance of the world beyond our own borders … And by enabling students to discover the value of an interconnected world. Our role is to shape leaders who can leverage the new tools of this era in ways that will empower the most vulnerable workers, communities, and societies ... leaders who will make sure that everyone contributes and shares in the immense wealth that will be generated.

Planetary Challenges

It is difficult to comprehend the scope of our impact on the Earth.

In fact, human activity is now the dominant influence on climate and the environment. People have joined the likes of meteorites and mega-volcanoes on the list of forces that have transformed Earth.

The impact of humans on our planet is now so severe that many scientists have declared a new phase of Earth’s history. We have now entered a new geological epoch … called the Anthropocene

Whether it's our seas, our forests, our air, or our water … all of those life-sustaining resources are at risk.

Going forward, to avoid … or even just slow … ever-larger environmental changes, and the impact of a growing population … we need to acknowledge the incredible power that modern society possesses. And direct it toward finding a new and more sustainable way of  living and of generating wealth.

This is happening already with Fourth Industrial Revolution technology. 

Agriculture has embraced new technologies. An estimated 250 species of weeds have become resistance to herbicides. Farmers know that precision spraying can help prevent pesticide resistance. They are now using automation and robotics ... something called computer vision ... to spray crops more efficiently … attacking the weeds more directly. … This precision technology eliminates 80 percent of the chemicals normally sprayed on crops and can reduce herbicide expenditures by 90 percent.

We in higher education can help by developing the leaders who will put technology to work to solve our  greatest environmental challenges. We can help by empowering students … current and future leaders … to have a positive impact on the world … By encouraging the desire to overcome boundaries and cooperate across disciplines … And by fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in all that we do.

Workforce Dynamics

Our society is at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Technologies are reshaping individual lives … transforming business processes … changing societal dynamics … and influencing government policies.

It’s an incredibly exciting time. But to really understand where we are going, we need to understand how we got here.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to enable mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now … a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third.

Leadership is so important now because the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are not guaranteed. In fact, if you look back at the impact of our earlier industrial revolutions, you’ll see that the benefits came with significant costs. As the world moved on, some people were left behind. The costs of those earlier industrial revolutions were high … slums ... child labor … social deprivation … environmental destruction … job loss.

Those costs remind us of how important it is that current and future leaders are stewards of our global society.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies. Technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological domains. The difference between the 3rd and  4th Industrial Revolutions is the tools … and the data. It’s the difference between a classical computer and a quantum computer.  Between Big Data and AI. It’s not just the next best thing … It’s something completely different. It is complex … and it is coming at us quickly.

Of course, we have had robotics in industrial environments for many years. But now, with automation, machine learning, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence … and the interconnection of all of these technologies … we’re seeing their applications expand in new and transformative ways.

The future health and prosperity of our global society will be defined by how we manage this next era.

Emerging technologies driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are already disrupting industries and bringing about change with wide-ranging consequences.

These changes require sophisticated systems thinking and increased collaboration between stakeholders.

They require global cooperation dedicated to developing policy principles and frameworks that speed up the application of science and technology in the global public interest … They require discussions about ethics, values, and regulations. … They require initiative and foresight.

Most of all … these changes require a new kind of leader.

We in higher education can help with the challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution. We can help by identifying and training leaders who are able to unlock the value of these technologies and minimize their costs … Leaders who can keep up with the pace of change and find true sustainable value in an era of exponential growth … Who understand the importance of reaching across borders … and the value of interdisciplinary approaches to solve problems we have yet to even identify.

We need leaders with the skills to manage organizations through these dramatic shifts. Leaders who embrace change … who realize that what our jobs are today might be dramatically different in the not too distant future.

We talked about health care and agriculture. Let’s look to the construction industry as another example.

It takes seven months to build a conventional home. The first ever 3-D printed home was built in Moscow last year in just 24 hours. 3-D printing could have positive and negative impacts on the construction industry … While 3-D printed buildings use less energy and fewer natural resources, it is unclear how quickly the techniques will be adapted. It is also unclear how they will impact the number of jobs in the industry. But some argue that because the technology is easily available and priced low, opportunities for small organizations will crop up. And the costs and speed may mean that more projects may be green lighted in the long run.

And beyond the construction industry, 3-D printed homes could have powerful applications in disaster relief … as a fast and cost-effective way to help the 27 million people who lose their homes each year to natural disaster.

We have no idea really what the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring. We can imagine the benefits will be great. But it will be up to future global leaders to embrace change while maximizing those benefits and mitigating the damages.

These are leaders with a combination of hard skills … in disciplines like construction, health care, agriculture, and of course technology. And soft skills .. leadership, communication, negotiation.

As part of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise, Thunderbird brings a rich history of training global leaders in skills like cross-cultural management, cross-language communication, and cross-border negotiation … And ASU brings a rich history of innovation in disciplines from biodesign to journalism, space science to humanities.

At Thunderbird, as we work with current and future leaders, we find inspiration in our rich history. Thunderbird is intensely focused on its founding mission to bring peace to the world through commerce, deepening and broadening our commitment to training and empowering current and future executives of international enterprises and networks of all kinds.

We define entrepreneurship as an academic discipline rather than solely a business venture. That empowers future leaders to harness the power of applying research to advance their ideas for the benefit of our economy and society.

This founding mission will serve us well in this next stage.

The leaders who will help us thrive as we move through the Fourth Industrial Revolution will come from diverse backgrounds. They will have a firm understanding of the value of embracing change. They will be entrepreneurial by nature. 

Our future leaders will understand the importance of reaching out … across borders … toward industry and community partners … reaching out to people in completely different disciplines … as they look for the answers to tomorrow’s questions.

The amazing new technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution will only work when people make the best use of them. … When they are fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit and sparked by curiosity and the goal to create value.

At Thunderbird and other schools at Arizona State University, researchers are already using these new technologies to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges … from reliable power and DNA computing to cancer detection and weight management.

At Thunderbird’s Pitch Day last month, two students introduced their plan to create biodegradable and edible drinking straws … to replace plastic straws, which are too small to recycle and can end up harming creatures in the ocean.

Another student introduced her idea for a food bank that would help Ugandan farmers raise crops and feed their families while connecting them to local and global markets. Focusing on women and youth, the food bank will scale this system to help overcome hunger and poverty in rural communities.

Even now, in Hour One of this exciting new day, we have a good sense of the magnitude of changes to come. We know the 4th Industrial Revolution will bring great opportunities. And we're aware there will be costs.

We'll need

  • global leaders who understand the lessons from earlier industrial revolutions ...
  • visionary leaders who maximize opportunity and minimize costs ...
  • interdisciplinary leaders who find ways to harness global changes for good.

And we’ll need compassionate leaders who understand that the future health and prosperity of our global society relies on finding ways for everyone to benefit from the massive changes that lie ahead.

Preparing that next generation of global leaders … that’s up to all of us.