1 THE 4th INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION – A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE FOR SUSTAINABLE  SOCIETIES AND  WELLBEING

Thứ năm - 09/05/2019 11:45
by Peter Daniels
3






 
THE 4th INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION – A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE FOR SUSTAINABLE  SOCIETIEAND  WELLBEING

by Peter Daniels*



ABSTRACT

The effects of the purported global Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) are likely to be profound – even in relation to the extensive impacts of previous industrial revolutions beginning in the late 18th Century and escalating, since the 1980s, with the pervasion of the microprocessor and the internet. They will cover a multitude of very significant social benefits and costs affecting most of the worlds people, as well as natural and built environments in which they dwell. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not easy to clearly define and distinguish but is typically characterised by the blurring” of the physical and digital worlds - with embedding of digital processing and transfer to provide functions in everyday economic, social, and household environments. Interconnectedness and virtualisation are also key in the 4IR.

There are a diverse range of potential links between Buddhism and the nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, the focus in this paper is upon matters related to sustainability and human wellbeing. It comprises a preliminary Buddhist-influenced analysis of the 4IR and likely consequences in terms of environmental impacts and also more fundamental aspects of the root causes of samsaric suffering.

This is  an  exploratory  Buddhist  analysis  of  such  developments. It  includes  the  positive  and  negative  options  and  helps  to  inform

* Dr., Environmental Futures Centre, School of Environment & Science Griffith University,  Australia
 


recommendations on how Buddhism can pre-empt and sway pending change towards more sustainable societies and higher individual and community wellbeing. Mindfulness and awareness of the real sources of wellbeing (and hence suffering) are key aspects of the Buddhist-inspired analysis of relevant effects and identification of responses to guide the 4IR.
  1. INTRODUCTION

It is ironic that hundreds of years of profound technological success “ throughout much of the world now seems to offer limited further gains in social and psychological wellbeing. This may well represent a reaffirmation of the inherent wisdom in Buddhism that enhanced material accumulation and comfort, beyond some basic level, won’t really reduce our suffering (improve our happiness”). Such a limitation would seem counter to the optimism and excitement surrounding the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR) which is generally heralded as promising an amazing new world with longer, healthier lives, unlimited access to information and entertainment, massive productivity gains, and the potential removal or arduous, menial and routine labour task - all founded upon accelerated trends emerging with the digital revolution.

It is true that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) can help continue the substantial reductions in global poverty witnessed over the past 40 years.1 However, for most people in higher income nations on the vanguard of the 4IR, the benefits (perhaps beyond physical health) are less certain given wellbeing trends measured since the mid-20th Century.2 The onset of the 4IR seems premised on a type of ignorance recognised in Buddhism (avidyā) regarding the link between wellbeing, and the motives and expected outcomes that propel an intensification of techno-economic progress experienced to date.

As described by Schwab (2017), Bloem et al (2014), Jones (2017) and others, the 4IR is characterised by many dimensions,

 
    1. The percentage of the world population classes asextremely poorhas been estimated to have fallen from around 42% in 1981 to less than 10% in 2016 (The Economist 2017).
    2. The empirical evidence on the link between subjective wellbeing (SWB) or life satisfac- tion and economic growth is unclear (for example, see Deaton 2008).
 


However, a significant part of its defining essence is the proliferating augmentation, fusion, or perhaps even supplantation, of primary human physiological (including mental/intellectual) functions with processes and artefacts of digital technology, microprocessors and related network systems. The new developments in innovation and adoption are certainly extensions of the Third Industrial Revolution that were based on the powerful synergies that emerged from the digital revolutionand computers and ICT (information and communication technology). Yet, these developments are considered to be distinctive enough to be classed as a new industrial revolution. Amongst the diverse descriptions of such a complex social phenomena, is a distinguishing theme of great relevance to the topic addressed here – replacement of direct human environmental experience (including labour, social interaction, entertainment, empirical and experiential knowledge acquisition activities, and understanding of the world) with digital media and interfaces, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtualisation, the Internet and its countless connected sensors and other devices, and data reservoirs.

While the scale and scope of the 4IR is awe-inspiring, there is no doubt that it will have very profound and often disruptive changes with undesirable consequences. Despite the broad economic gains and peoples recognition of their comforts and material fortune from technology success, there is a great deal of evidence, if rather disparate and ad hoc, of the dangers of acquiescence to unconditional technological optimism (overviewed in Section 3 of this paper).

Giventhepotentialextentandmagnitudeofsuchchangefroma4IR on our life-worlds, it is easily understood why it is widely accepted (by many leaders in business, government, the media and the community in general) that we need to carefully deliberate upon this matter (Huffington 2017). The priority should be positive human wellbeing outcomes – something which is not assured by a technological era driven by profit motives and unconditional technophilia built upon speed (instantaneous demand satisfaction, and expectations thereof), electronic connectivity, comfort, convenience, competitive edges, productivity, output and performance increases, and near limitless time-filling and entertainment choices. Many community
 


leaders now realise the need to question the assumption that these, arguably vestigial, motives and goals will lead to better wellbeing, needs to be questioned.

This paper examines many of the trending effects already observed (and those predicted) for the 4IR, and how Buddhism can help assess these effects and inform societies to choose and act to create better community wellbeing outcomes. Hence, it represents a Buddhism-inspired analysis of the 4IR and the likely implications for humans, using the ancient traditions understanding and view of the primary universal sources and lawsthat affect positive wellbeing (and its obverse, samsaric suffering, in Buddhism3). This involves a focus upon how the 4IR relates to dukkha and the Four Noble Truths. Environmental effects also play a key role in the discussion.

The general links between Buddhism and the 4IR have been analysed elsewhere (for example, see Jones (2017) and other pa- pers in the Buddhism and the Fourth Industrial Revolution Work- shop sponsored by the Korean Association for Buddhist Studies in Seoul in 2017, Bristow (2017), Smith (2015)). However, this paper is unique in its emphasis upon sustainability analysis and the long-term, sustained wellbeing of human beings. This rests on the assumption that people are deeply embedded in a web of inter-con- nectedness with each other, and the natural world of which they are part. A major paper theme is how the 4IR might impact, and best be shaped in view of joint environmental and social (includ- ing economic) sustainability. An important topic is the Buddhist analysis of potential influence of the 4IR on ecological footprints and material and energy flows, and how Buddhism would be likely to support transformation of the 4IR into a greenversion (known as a green techno-economic paradigm(or green TEP) in some areas of science). Of course, this quest necessarily involves consid- eration of wellbeing aspects and how the 4IR affects the key sources of wellbeing, in accordance with the Buddhist worldview.

The following section provides a brief overview of relevant as- pects of the 4IR. Section 3 summarises a detailed list of the poten-

 
    1. In Buddhism, samsara refers the cycle of birth, mundane existence and death, permeat- ed and perpetuated by desire and ignorance, and its karmic consequences (King 2009).
 


tial (and overlapping and inter-connected) effects of the 4IR on the economy, broader society and culture, and the natural environ- ment. It highlights some of most relevant impacts associated with the world view of Buddhism and Section 4 discusses how the this ancient wisdom might help analyse and assess these impacts con- tribute to guiding communities to best mould the power of the 4IR for long-term good.

The fourth industrial revolution is in its infancy, and it is far too early to predict what form it will take. But the more we can understand its nature and causes, the more likely we are to reap the benefits and minimize the risks.(Thomson 2015)

The essential assumption for this paper is that Buddhism can help understand and evaluate the motives and impacts of the 4IR to achieve Thomsons proposition.
  1. WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION?

The (first) Industrial Revolution is well-known from modern history classes in schools. Its onset marked a momentous change in the nature of economic and broader social systems – change that has evolved and spread with common themes and effects across the world, especially over the past 50-60 years. Beginning in England in the late 1700s with a concomitant capability to use inanimate, of- ten fossil fuel, power, and the invention of machines using this pow- er to greatly mechanise and speed craft production tasks, the wave of accumulating technologies spread quite rapidly across Western Europe and the USA (Deane 1979). The 1st Industrial Revolution also involved a host of complementary and related innovations in metallurgy, transport, and communications, commerce and bank- ing, The result was a very substantial increase in productivity and overall output, especially in textiles, chemical and metal products. This new industrial economy provided substantial increases in the material standard of living for some but a forbidding and often dire working life for the rural migrants and other working class labour- ers (caught in the radical restructuring of labour demand and polit- ical economic conditions).
What is less known is the series of subsequent industrialor
 


technological-economic revolution epochs that have been identified since the classic 18th Century developments. Focusing on the four revolutions that are commonly identified tends to ignore the rather continuous and cumulative nature of these times. However, they are considered to have sufficient unique features to be deemed as sepa- rate industrialepochs. The term industrial(typically associated with manufacturing activity) to describe such profound social and economic transformations is somewhat myopic given the scope and depth of impacts and, in later sections, we will propose that the con- cepts such as techno-economic paradigmsare more appropriate for the social scientific analysis of related societal dynamics.

Some of the primary features of each of the four industrial rev- olutions have been classified into a number of dimensions and are presented and compared in Table 1. In keeping with the approach typical of much of the literature in this field, economic system and socio-cultural impacts are not covered in detail in the industrial rev- olutions description table.

The first two industrial revolutions tend to be largely about mechanical and energetic assistance in the production of physical goods, while information and knowledge accumulation and access are central to the third revolution. One of the defining features of the 4IR is the move towards integrating information, sensor, vir- tual reality and decision-making (and physical artefact) systems more directly into human consciousness and even bodies. The 4IR represents a continued move away from an era based on new ener- gy sources towards a technological phenomenon – digitalization
where virtual perceptions strongly guide human actions in the physical world (Sentryo 2017).

The 4IR concept was effectively instilled by the work World Economic Forum leader Klaus Schwab in his 2017 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution. A principal message of the book was that this latest industrial revolution was likely to involve more pro- found changes than at any time before, and hence the need for great care and deliberation on the nature of 4IR technologies and their impacts. The scope of earlier revolutions was more localised, if ex- panding over time. The clearly global nature of the transformations and influence of the 4IR increases its significance.
 


The primary features of the 4IR have been outlined in the Introduction and are analysed in more detail in the final column of Table 1. This is described a little more in the final part of this section with a preview of some key links between the 4IR and Buddhism.

Overall, one of the most distinctive traits of the 4IR has been described as the rapid innovation and adoption of cyber-physical systems(Schwab 2017; Bloem et al 2014) that fuse networked and connected digital devices with physical and biological systems” ( Jones 2017). This biodigital fusion is perhaps the most radical fea- ture of the 4IR and covers a cluster of related technologies based on an intense interplay or even the embedding of digital technolo- gy with fleshy biology(including close physical connections be- tween sense and cognitive organs) ( Jones 2017).

Table 1:  Major dimensions of the 4th Industrial revolution and its predecessors

 
  1st Industrial Revolution

1770s to mid 1800s
2nd Indus- trial Revolu- tion

Late 1800s to mid 1900s
3rd Industrial Revolution

Mid-1900s to 2000
4th Industrial Revolution

21st Century
Main energy sources

(and key materi- als)
Switch from human and other ani- mate energy to inanimate energy (esp. coal). Coal, water and steam. Steam power, coal-based electricity, petroleum Fossil fuels, hydroelec- tricity, nu- clear. Some renewable sources. Mixed. Coal, petroleum, natural gas but diminish- ing relative importance. Increasing use of renewables
– solar, wind, etc.
 

 
Key tech- nology change and
improve- ment clusters
Mechanised, if not mass production. Internal combustion engine and cars.

Mass production, Fordist and Taylorism (scientific management of produc- tion).
Shift Some ana-
logue elec- tronic.

Vacuum tubes, tran- sistors in later period.
The rise of electronics. Computers
- micropro- cessors and memory/ storage, then network systems. Software systems.

“Digital revolu- tion” aiding production (vs directly) producers; shift from mechanical to analogue electronic then digital.

Electricity and other en- ergy storage systems.

Mobile phone and other com- puting. Robotics.

Biotechnol- ogy.
Artificial in- telligence; al- gorithm-driv- en search, consumption and other an- alytics; apps and systems for numerous tasks; robot- ics; the Inter- net of Things; autonomous vehicles;
3D printing; synthetic biology and genetics, ge- nome editing; distributed ledger tech- nology (DLT), blockchain, quantum com- puting, nan- otechnology; biometrics; renewable energy ; peer to peer and shared econo- mies
 

 
Main sectors affected Textiles, metals All man- ufacturing. Steel, pe- troleum, electricity, utilities. Most sectors
– esp. infor- mation-relat- ed and mass production (whitegoods, autos etc)
All
Geo- graphic extent Britain, Western Eu- rope, North America N.Ameri- ca, Western and Central Europe, Rus- sia, Japan, Australia. Spreading Mid East, S.America Same as 2nd IR but also East and South Asia. Near global Global
Miscel- laneous pro- duction aspects Mechanical production based on steam (esp. textiles), Standardi- sation of ma- chine parts. Paper mak- ing, rubber. Digital au- tomation of production by elec- tronics and Microelec- tronics recre- ates the good or service.
rediscovery information Decon-
of cement, technology. structing and
sheet glass, producing
gaslight. new forms of
existing and
new physical
and biolog-
ical matter
at atomic,
molecular to
supramolecu-
lar levels.
 

 
Eco- nomic system charac- teristics Creation of factories. Capitalists and work- ers social structure. Industrial capitalism replacing late feudal system/Na- tion States/ merchant capitalism or mercan- tilism.

Small and
local firms.
Emergence of large firms, limit- ed liability corporations, joint stock ownership.

Large-scale agricultural production and automa- tion.

Heavy engi- neering.
New ways of processing, storing and sharing infor- mation.

Globalisa- tion.
Extensive ecosystem of internet
devices linked to improve the quality, efficiency
and security (and perhaps resilience) of production and process operations; IIoT (Bloem et al 2014). Linkages between ma- chines, per- sonal devices, real-time control and analytics, security de- vices; sensors and actua- tors. Prolific new business services based on virtu-
al-physical world link and intelligent machine re- placement of routine tasks. Demise of low skill mass production and employ- ment capable of automa- tion.
 


Table  1  (contd.)  Major  dimensions  of  the  4th    Industrial revolution and its predecessors
  1st Industrial Revolution

1770s to mid 1800s
2nd Industri- al Revolu- tion

Late 1800s to mid 1900s
3rd Industrial Revolution

Mid-1900s to 2000
4th Industri- al Revolu- tion

21st Century
Transport system Canals, slow imple- mentation of railways Steam tur- bine engines
- railway,
the ships; in later era, ICE auto-
mobiles and aircraft
Automobiles, trucks, aircraft, high speed trains. Auto- mobiles, trucks, aircraft, drones.
Commu- nication and in- formation systems Limited. Telegraph, then radio and tele- phone Television. Mobile phones. Inter- net.

Teleworking.
Internet. Mobile de- vices. Cy- ber-physical systems.
Human settle- ments Industrial urbanisation Continued migration to cities. Sky- scrapers. Suburbanisa- tion then some inner city redevelopment and rural de- centralisation. Mixed. Increased density?

Globalisa- tion.
Integra- tion of technol- ogy and human physiol- ogy None None Limited High
Sources: Adapted and extended from Schwab (2017), John Grill Centre
(2018), Khan and Isreb (2018), Huffington (2017); Klugman (2018); The Oracle (2018) and others.
 




This represents a merging of the capabilities of humans and machines where technology is not just used, but deeply embedded in our lives, and increasingly physically connected or implanted into our bodies. It is the mark of change for the transition into the 4IR - technology was physically separate (a kind of extended augmentation) but starts to become internalised (physiologically and, of course, in shaping our lifestyles) (Khan & Isreb 2018). This fusion covers everything from perception (virtualisation) to biological physiology (cyborgism). It is commonly noted as the blurring” between physical, mental and digital boundaries, between nature and machines, and the physical and artificial, and heralds the integration of the human, biological (non-human) and other physical, and digital realms (Chansoda and Saising 2018; Schwab 2017; Jones 2017).

The current technological epoch is more than biodigital fusion. Virtualisation has many degrees in service consumption, information acquisition, and experience. For example, while gaming and SMS may lack pre-industrialisation human elements, many 4IR communications retain strong physical human connection modes
e.g. visuals and voice in Skype and related telecommunications application software, and improved air and high speed train travel can enhance the potential for real human contact.

Perhaps a more universal attribute of the 4IR is an intensification of one of the major trends on the Third Industrial Revolution – marking the onset of a form of extreme connectedness (for example, the “Internet of Things”) linking the virtual and physical worlds. A consequence of this profound connectedness and the AI and processing systems that can manage such big datais the capacity for multiplicative, compounding power and speed in information access, learning and decision-making, versus the simple additive models from the past.

As noted earlier in this section, the power and extreme connectivity of the 4IR is widely recognised to have very significant and highly disruptive” impacts – both positive and negative – upon society. Technophiles are often highly optimistic and excited about
 


the 4IRs prospects to advance  humanity”  ( John  Grill  2018) and the potential economic and recreational gains are superlative indeed (for example, note the beneficial developments of the past half century as espoused by Steven Pinker (2019)). However, unconditional adoption of the 4IR trends will take humanity into new territory and present many unintended effects or externalities and critical socio-psychological and ethical issues that will deeply affect individual and community wellbeing. The changes will continue to transform the way we work, recreate, socially interact, sense the world, eat, move and even sleep, and arguably, think. Past industrial revolutions (IRs) have also had massive impacts on human lifeworlds – for example, electricity and automobiles, but in some ways these impacts were more physical regarding human activity (e.g. travel and household chores) while the 4IR  has  a strong perceptual and cognitive dimension and may have deeper influence in terms of mental impacts and issues.

The 4IR is far from simply a technological phenomenon that will fill all our present unmet needs and make us happy. Indeed, it is open to question exactly what the 4IR will bring and why we want these outcomes – including the presumed eternal beneficial effects such as economic gains. The 4IR won’t be stopped but the transfor- mations in train (and the inevitable powerful unintended effects) call for careful consideration and assessment. What is it that needs to be addressed or improved by the 4IR -health, longer lives, pover- ty, diversity of experience, life and lifestyle choice, more entertain- ment, free time, an easier life, inner and peace and contentment? How have these goals been achieved in earlier IRs?

Buddhism has considerable wisdom to offer in terms of evalu- ating these goals and questioning and evaluating the real value and direction of changes likely to come with the 4IR. It has a contri- bution to make in terms of fundamental questions about what we want and what will give us lasting wellbeing, and can relates these to underlying assumptions and motives (and desires and choices) that will propel and direct the 4IR.
  1. IMPACTS OF THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

The effects of the 4IR have been widely discussed. There is often
 


considerable excitement about the promise of technology marvels in brave new worlds, perhaps with some trepidation about the as- sociated dangers for employment. However, it must be emphasised that deeper, more insightful analysis suggests that the potential fu- ture effects of the 4IR are much more extensive and unpredictable than portrayed in popularist accounts. The far-reaching impacts certainly have the potential for both goodand bad and, while the value and evaluation of many of these effects can be highly sub- jective, careful consideration and wisdom will surely help provide better outcomes for local to global communities.

Some impacts, such as longer life expectancy and improved health, seem to be clear-cut wellbeing wins, but it is much more difficult to assess the eventual wellbeing effects of change such as continued increases in entertainment choice and realism, information and communication access, integration of cyber systems into the human psyche and body, and artificial intelligence (AI) guiding individual and collective decisions. Indeed, extended analysis would reveal that even substantial life expectancy improvements will present some formidable challenges to future societies.

Nothing is as simple as it seems, and one of the main lessons learned from science and society studies over the past half century has surely been that there are always very substantial unintended consequences of every major human intervention. Furthermore, these unintended consequences can have very significant effects on wellbeing. They are known by many terms (including externali- ties, spillover effects, flow-on effects”) and have become a major feature of study across the natural and social sciences, and policy studies (Thiele 2011). The pervasive influence of unintended ef- fects is still often forgotten in the heady exhilaration of ushering in new technological systems and this is evident in the retention of the technologic notion of industrial revolutions. Recognition of the far more profound importance of the full range of economic and other socio-cultural (and environmental) impacts is explicit- ly embraced in related approaches such as the evolution of “tech- no-economic paradigms(Freeman et al 1986). We will return to this concept in the next section.
Table 2 presents a detailed list of the positive and negative,
 


direct and more indirect social and economic spillover, effects that have been linked to the 4IR. The reader is strongly advised to check these impacts closely, or at least refer to the table as needed, as the basis for the discussion of Buddhist-related contributions to positively shaping the 4IR in Section 4 of the paper. Key elements of these impacts, sometimes with more detailed notes, are summarised in the table. It must be recognised that many are complex, multiple dimensions, with considerable overlap between many of the impacts, and some ambiguity regarding their relative and net benefit or cost. The impacts been ordered in their rows to reflect a general logic of similarity.

The4IRwillcontinuetobringmanyofthepositivecontributions to society that have been provided by the previous industrial revolutions. In the benefits section of Table 2, the inter-related impacts (1 to 3) of economic and income growth, productivity growth and transaction cost reduction (e.g. transport, information access, and communication), and to a lesser extent the consumer choice and supply-side efficiencies and (5,6,7 and 8) are all related to the great potential that the 4IR has in further alleviate poverty and reduce suffering for poorer humans. The data-based problem- solving power of the 4IR and its ability to supply information, and visual, audio and other data, and other services at zero or very low marginal cost, further reinforces the spectacular growth in output available for consumption by those already economically advantaged.4 Indeed, as I write this paper, the 4IR-related efficiency increase from an ability to source references, and check ideas and concepts (let alone create a systematic, readily disseminatable document) is phenomenal and an enormous boon to personal research productivity.

We will return to explore some of the Buddhist-inspired views on these economic gains and other effects in the next section. How- ever, it is worthwhile to pre-empt that Buddhism questions the veracity of the link between wellbeing and material accumulation and consumption abundance beyond that required for economic

 
  1. Kahn and Isreb (2018) note how technology developments associated with the 4IR have been estimated to boost to global economy by $US (2017) 15.7 trillion by 2030.
 


security. More important is the underlying intent of actions, com- passion in the distribution of benefits, and nature of spill-over harm generated by the actions leading to this abundance. This is a com- mon theme throughout the rest of the paper.

Table 2: Social and Economic Impacts of the 4th Industrial Revolution – Positive and Negative

 
IMPACT POSITIVE IMPACTS OF THE 4IR Closely Related to IM- PACT NOTES
1 increased incomes, quality of life (ma- terial or expenditure based) 2,3 Excess wealth has also led to notable increases in in philanthropy
2 increased productivi- ty - in a wide range of areas; do same with less (labour, total fac- tor, time) ; very strong price reductions and associated real in- creases in real income (purchasing power). 1,3 Closely linked to in- creased incomes.

Productivity is not good at capturing price reduc- tions from better tech- nology (it uses the value of output) that is, it ignores service produc- tivity. A better measure for labour productivi-
ty should be hours to produce an equivalent service or benefit.
3 enormous reductions in transaction costs and waste - reduced transport/travel, time and communication costs and constraints (and demand); trade facilitation 1,2 Convenience, time-sav- ing

Transport efficiency – optimal routes, conges- tion info, cycling route info
4 greatly enhanced knowledge accumula- tion capabilities/effi- ciency and education potential 2,3  
 

 
5 improves consum- er decision-making (so that expenditure item functions at
least match consumer demands) ; efficient choice and consumer information; more informed, custom- ised consumption - DEMAND-side
2,4 Choices that potential- ly increase satisfaction (holidays, recreational activity; location/tim- ing); assuming consum- ers have true preferences (informed choices lead to improved subjective wellbeing)
6 optimised service delivery (e.g. trans- port) - SUPPLY-side efficiency 1-3 Closely related to trans- action cost reductions
7 facilitate prob- lem-solving e.g.
household and vehicle
maintenance informa- tion and tasks, GIS, social/meeting logis- tics
ALL Most of the positive effects listed here relate to problem-solving.
8 zero or very low marginal cost of many goods and services, knowledge and know- how for solving ques- tions, problem-solving 4,7 Especially quaternary sector services.
9 more entertainment; diversity ; stimulation; learning; experience 4  
10 good and services demand and expect wellbeing from are services/info that can be completed or con- sumed without physi- cal connection – just information transfer. 4,11  
 

 
11 environmental ef- ficiencies – natural resource input pro- ductivity and waste treatment technology improvements

Closely related to pro- ductivity and transac- tion cost reductions.

The reduced need for physical connection in (10) contributes to environmental/energy efficiencies.
1-8, 10 Many of the sources for this are flagged in previ- ous items – e.g. savings in need and efficiency of travel, energy manage- ment.

4IR technologies can continue to enhance ma- terial and energy-saving (and increase consump- tion service) e.g. less travel, less time, quicker problem-solving (in- crease service-intensity of goods and services)
12 health diagnostics, treatment, ill-health prevention    
13 creativity potential   The 4IR can enhance the skills, means and possibly the time for greater creativity for people
14 governance improve- ment – feedback, co- ordinate, engage with governments    
 

 
15 social media, blogs, fora, gaming, social network sites (e.g. dat- ing) that increase in- teraction, relationships and social belonging in peer networks and social networking  
  1. useful information; problem-solving
 
  1. belonging to a com- munity (if virtual)
 
  1. meeting and social in- teraction with real (more compatible?) people – so potential direct contact enhancement (e.g. Pixel Buds)
 
  1. cross-cultural under- standing and cohesion but may facilitate ex- tremism, manipulation, etc
16 increased collective awareness and moral consciousness; en- courage honesty and sincerity   However, this can  also facilitate possible manipulation and mass propaganda.
17 reduced conflict and
warfare
  Close to 4. in (15) above. Better communi- cation and understanding among the community vs. nationalist elitist profiteering and pro- paganda for benefit of national elites. Cultural barriers reduced.
  NEGATIVE      IMPACTS OF THE 4IR Closely Related to Im- pact NOTES
1
  • potential increases in inequality and unem- ployment
   
 

 
2
  • lifestyle/mismatch diseases – physical and mental (many of the possible relevant mental dysfunctions are noted below)
  Negative health effects [many of these are since 2IR not just 4IR] – obe- sity including childhood and reduced outdoor activity among chil- dren, diabetes etc from tech-economic “suc- cess”; processed food, sugar, social media, TV
& computers, sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress; temptation opportunity and intimate relation- ships (ease of infidelity)

Sugar & Processed Food – hunter-gatherers ingested 30 -450 tea- spoons sugar per year; now we average 22-32/ day

Sedentary lifestyles => pre-industrialised hu- mans used to walk 9-15 kms a day; now less than 0.5kms
3
  • evolutionary mis- match between human physiology and new environments and ways of life.

Mental and social dysfunctions from dis- location from nature in the urban, built envi- ronment.
  Modern society (and the built and transformed natural environment)
are very different from what we became over 100,000s of years of slow evolutionary processes ; so, there is a mismatch or malad- aptation. Humans not changed much biologi- cally in 25,000 years.
 

 
4
  • stress and worry from rapidity and ex- tent of change related to the 4IR
   
5
  • on-line presence as a narcissism vehicle; unreal hedonistic/ attention status and
stress/depression from
addiction to this and loss of attention
   
6
  • information/sensory overload (over-stim- ulation); busyness– close to evolutionary mismatch below; and also distraction/edu- cation
  Option paralysis – ev- erything is so complex and full of information, decision-making and choice becomes almost incomprehensible
7
  • the 4IR may lead to psychological pres- sures by confronting an ultimate limit from the finite human men- tal capacity to evaluate large quantities of complex info
  This is very close to information overload and may be a cost or a self-regulating constraint on the 4IR.
8
  • environmental costs
– productivity gains leading to increased income and consump- tion and material, en- ergy and waste flows (the “rebound effect”); complex, toxic, new materials.
   
9
  • globalising technolo- gies leading to cultural homogenisation and loss of cultural mean- ing and diversity.
  Loss of richness and bonding and meaning of cultural experience in a highly connected rather homogenous cyborg world full of semi-im- mortals.
 

 
10
  • removal of sense of freedom, stimulation, joy and serendipity given losses from the “quantified self” – cy- borgism/cybernetics/ human augmentation; and perfection and high predictability
  Closely related to (9) and disconnection (19)
11

 
  • expectation of effi- ciency, constant access for work duties, and instant gratification
  Related to most of the following 4-5 effects,  the 4IR represents a big leap in bolstering the apparent control and ma- nipulation of lives and our lifeworlds – espe- cially nature and natural processes. Expected ex- ternal control of funda- mental life aspects such as birth, death, emotions by technology is prob- ably unrealistic and a cause of wellbeing loss.
  NEGATIVE      IMPACTS OF THE 4IR Closely Related to Im- pact NOTES
12
  • expectation of ease and comfort and abil- ity to avert pain and ill-health
  As in previous negative impact (11)
 

 
13
  • increase distraction capability – attention economy

Close to negative im- pact (3).
  Though the 4IR of- fer great potential for knowledge access and
accumulation at personal level it can also induce laziness and distraction
– games, messages, vid-
eos; poor attention span and concentration/ con- trol required for smart brains; brain exercise; impulsive behaviour.

Potential education disruption.
14
  • the 4IR may bring increased good and service benefits that are “adaptive”
  In economic science, adaptation refers to the fact that new, better, in- creased consumption of- ten tends to become the new norm and people adjust and expect con- tinuation. The result is limited sustained gains in wellbeing.
 

 
15
  • the 4IR can increase vulnerability to pow- erful and mass subver- sive/insidious influ- ence, and warfare

This capability also has the potential for very substantial ben- efits.
  Potential for deceit and manipulation by leaders/ elite; inequality main- tenance, potential for horrific and pervasive cyber-attacks. Easier
for fake perception to
become reality. Military technology attacks ; bio- logical weapons, auton- omous weapons, robot wars, mass harm facil- itation by anonymous small groups. Related, increased ability of individual and collective power to affect others (with knowledge).

Fears of generating the trajectory towards the forbidding onset of the momentous “Singulari- ty” (see Kurzweil 2010).
16
  • can facilitate ex- ploitative governance
– surveillance, control,
brainwashing, social control and filtering; privacy loss

Relatedly closely to (15)
  Conventional democ- racy models may suffer and be less workable (especially with (15)
as well); may be offset
by citizen engagement advantages of new 4IR technologies; also amenable in autocratic governance societies

Cyberbullying; sexting; loss of privacy in gen- eral and ability to lead lives desired (but this may also be a positive social check)
 

 
17
  • social media – a mi- crocosm of the digital reality ; has heaps of good and bad (too much to cover)
  Has many potential good and bad effects – complex and pervasive and too difficult to cover in detail here. One the negative side, the virtu- alised, symbolic some- what unreal basis of interaction is proposed as significant source
of loss of real physical connection. Of course there are many offsetting potentially positive con- nection effects as well.
18
  • arguably, the limited ability to raise and sustain real wellbeing via economic progress benefits assumed in the 4IR (at least be- yond some point).
  Increased wealth and entertainment increase but not substantive re- lated gains in wellbeing for the “typical” high income nation citizens. The adaptive nature of new goods and services (see (14)).
19
  • disconnection – wellbeing losses form reduced direct connec- tion with other people and nature
  Virtualisation of social and natural environment connections. Time use, lifestyle and deferment capability accompanying 4IR effects can signifi- cantly reduce physical interaction and immer- sion in social and nature worlds.
Sources: Adapted and extended from Chansoda & Saising (2018), Conceição
& Heitor (2011), Kidslox (2018), Schwab (2017), Sunstrom (2015), Thomo-
polous & Karanasios (2014), The Oracle (2018), Wisnioski 2015.

Other major benefits of the 4IR will include the sustained increase in problem-solving support information (7) – an efficiency gain which has ramifications for almost every part of economic and other  life  activities,  by  reducing  production  input  costs  such  as
 


material, energy and time. The 4IR also promises ever-increasing entertainment options and depth, diversity, audio-visual and other information stimulation, and potential learning experience. We will return to propose a Buddhist view of these developments in the next section.

Positive environmental impacts linked to (10) and (11) in Table 2 are significant and worth highlighting for the upcoming discussion of the contribution from Buddhism. One major set of outcomes of the 4IR is the general increase in resource efficiency that its associated information and communication technologies bestow. Technological gains in direct labour productivity as well as reduced transaction costs and need for physical connections and travel to perform many economic, household, and recreational ac- tivities all lead to less materials, energy and time (and often waste emissions) for each unit service of output. Examples of reduced need for physical connection include ordering taxis, booking flights and accommodation, selecting, buying and delivering products, watching films and series, playing games, family logistics, and social meeting arrangements and timing.

Of course, the overall effect of these trends upon environmental pressures depends upon ongoing changes in the level and nature of consumption (and population change).
A quick list of some other 4IR advantages includes:
    • Improved health diagnostics, treatment, ill-health prevention
 
    • Enhanced learning, means and possibly more time for creative activities (given that the anticipated increase in free time from economic productivity gains with previous IRs has not  happened)
 
    • Governance improvement – improved potential feedback, coordination, engagement of communities with govern- ments
 
    • Social media, blogs, fora, gaming, social network sites (e.g. dating) that may increase interaction, relationship effective- ness and opportunity, and social belonging in peer networks and social networking
 
 
  • Increased collective awareness and moral consciousness; en- couraging honesty and sincerity
 
  • Reduced conflict and warfare from better communication and understanding across peoples and cultures.

In terms of existing or impending negative impacts from the 4IR, the list is just as extensive.

One of the major concerns, expressed during any period of marked technological innovation, is the fear of labour-saving au- tomation and job loss. The 4IR, with its remarkable capacity for robotics, AI and information access and processing to perform any routine mechanical or decision-making task, certainly seems to have great potential to eradicate a significant portion of existing occupations. Coupled with the consequences of winner-takes-all scenarios from monopolisation of 4IR technologies, widespread unemployment is also seen to possibly contribute to deepening and troubling inequality. This is a complex topic and beyond the purview of the paper to discuss in detail. However, two important observations need to be noted regarding the 4IR and inequality.

First, historically, the creative destruction” of automation has not led to lasting unemployment. Substantial disruptive structural unemployment does occur as a result of rapid changes in the nature of demand outpacing skills, but the labour market, eased with appropriate policy, tends to adjust. Unfortunately, it may well lead to deepening dual labour markets polarised into low skill, low paid jobs, and high-skill and demand higher pay jobs – the digital economic divide(Chandsoda and Saising 2018). Relative inequality has grown – notably at global levels (but at very different rates across countries) (Savoia 2017).

Second, while deepening relative inequality and increasing gaps seem unfair and objectionable and may lead to discontent and social conflict, the broad wellbeing consequences will depend upon com- passionate and ethical redistribution and access to essential food, housing and other services, and the perceived fairness of political economic systems. Technology change productivity gains should allow increased overall output and surplus and balanced and fair distribution, and raising the economic floor” for all, may maintain
 


social stability and community wellbeing. These are complex issues and cannot be explored in more detail here but will be re-visited in a Buddhist-inspired context in the next section.

Moving on from inequality impacts, there are a range of lifestyle and mismatchphysical diseases and mental illnesses that can be associated with the 4IR (though many have these have growing since the Second Industrial Revolution). They concern inter-related problems such as obesity, diabetes, excess sugar and processed food and growing meat consumption, sedentary lifestyles for work and entertainment, lack of exercise, repetitive actions and related injuries from the use of digital technology equipment. Some more detail and examples are provided in (2) of the negative impacts section of Table 2.

These health issues are also closely related to the evolutionary mismatchproblems (3) that are seen to occur when humans physical attributes nlongefit”  environmentachangecreatebrapid technological change. The idea is that human bodies (including their brains) evolve slowly (over 10,000s of years or more) while physical and energetic world around us has been very totally transformed over the past 300 years (e.g. in a multitude of ways from lighting and circadian rhythms, to shelter and other built urban forms, transport modes, posture, entertainment sources, food composition, social interaction, to name a few) (Sunstrom 2015; Wisnoiski 2015). Alternatively, many human cognitive functions may well suffer a kind of neurological atrophy from lack of use and full, more efficient servicing by AI and internet systems. The relatively new scientific and social movements of  eco-psychology  and  biophilia  focus  on the problems proposed as a result of removing a large part of most human lives from natural environment settings where they have been embedded for 100,000s of years (Wilson 2017).

In turn, these mismatch problems have a clear counterpart in the capacity of the human mind to deal with enormous amounts of diverse and instantly available information. The 4IR can provide people with as much information as they want. Information and sensory overload with mental over-stimulation and extreme busy- ness (see impact (6) presents a challenge to the human mind (see
(7) and its development based on countless centuries of low, slow
 


levels of information and simple ways of living. This can lead to op- tion paralysiswhere everything is so complex and full of informa- tion that decision-spaces are almost incomprehensible (Sunstrom 2015; Alinsky 1989). It can easily involve excessive accountability, contactability, distraction, and information and loss of the ability to go slow, rest, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation and other social interaction and creative release (Schwab 2017). This would tend to exacerbate stress levels and threaten healthy social lives and mental processes (see (4), (5)).

Some other likely negative effects of the 4IR, that are of lesser relevance to Buddhist perspectives, are listed in Table 2. These in- clude:
  • loss of bonding and a sense of meaning and belonging from cultural homogenisation in a predominantly shared cyber world of experience (9)
  • narcissism dependence via social media (5)
 
  • loss of the sense of freedom, and the stimulation, joy and serendipity lost from the quantified self ” (cyborgism, cy- bernetic, human augmentation) and high predictability and control of life in a 4IR world (10)
 
  • increased vulnerability to powerful and mass subversive/in- sidious influence, and warfare (15)
 
  • possible facilitation of exploitative governance – surveil- lance, control, brainwashing, social control and filtering; privacy loss. (16).

Some of these do have at least partial links to key Buddhist in- terests in the effects of the 4IR (e.g. (9) the loss of shared unique culture upon direct inter-connectedness).

However, there are several other impacts of more direct rele- vance to Buddhist-inspired perspectives that may help beneficially shape the 4IR. The latest two IRs have certainly helped bring about enormous growth in environmental resource productivity – in- cluding natural capital demands for inputs and waste assimilation functions for the human economy. However, productivity here is measured as environmental pressure per unit of output and unfor-
 


tunately there is a strong offsetting effect (the rebound effect” or Jevons paradox) from ongoing increases in consumption due to higher income, that can offset these gains. We will return to these and other issues in the following section.

Another relevant outcome of the 4IR is the greatly increased expectation of efficiency, constant access for work duties, and in- stant gratification (negative impact (11)). The 4IR represents a big leap in creating a feeling of apparent control and manipulation of lives and our lifeworlds – especially regarding nature and natural processes. There has certainly been an increase in the power of hu- manity to be able to transform and impact nature (on global scales) in intended and unintended, positive and negative ways via science and technology and the scale of the human population and econo- my (especially since the Enlightenment & First IR)(Smith 2015). Buddhism has considerable reservations about the net wellbeing effects of taking refuge in this chimera of controlling life events (see Section 4).

On a similar level, the 4IR has brought major levels and increas- es in expectations of comfort and ease in life and relief from pain and ill-health (12), a topic which is also central to Buddhist think- ing about the true path to reduced suffering.

One other major impact area relevant to Buddhism is the im- mense growth in potential for presenting information and periph- eral activities that can distract them from central life functions and peaceful mind conditions (13). As noted in Table 2, although the 4IR offers vast knowledge access and accumulation capabilities, it can also induce laziness and distraction and poor learning – through interrupting messages, games, videos; poor attention span and con- centration and control required for smart brains; lack of brain ex- ercise; and encouraging impulsive and unmindfulaction, habits and behaviour.

Although not really a negative impact in its own right, a major failing of the 4IR seems to be occurring with a core promise and motive. Given there are many clear adverse effects of this revolu- tion for society, it is troubling that perhaps the primary expected set of benefits does not appear to be forthcoming. The technology
 


changes of the past 100 years have had many positive impacts for a substantial part of the worlds population – providing economic se- curity, improved health, pain management, deferring sickness and death, and information access, diversity of experience and rapid and efficient problem-solving. However, the productivity, wealth, health and entertainment/experience gains can be seen to have not substantially reduced fundamental existential suffering for those already beyond some moderate level of income (see impact (18)).

The evidence on the relationship between subjective wellbeing and life satisfaction (happiness”) and income levels is complex and mixed (for example, see Drabsch and Wales (2012), Deaton (2008) and Sacks, Stevenson and Wolfers (2010). Other studies have found that levels of happiness generally go up as income ris- es, but not past a certain point (often cited as around $US 75,000 (2015) annual income). However, there are many complex biasing and confounding factors in assessing this relationship – especially for stated levels of wellbeing.

One objective” indication that suggests that the benefits of the IRs are failing to deliver in terms of alleviating overall inner person- al suffering, can be identified in Figure 1. While there are sure to also be measurement biases involved here, this evidence shows that depression rates (per capita) have little to do with the comparative purchasing power of people across nations. If anything, depression levels are lower in the lower income nations.

Wealth and entertainment (amidst the technology revolutions) do not seem to bring sustained wellbeing at the deepest levels. It is likely that lifestyles have not responded so people work less and connect more, but rather people have turned to accumulating more stuff to amuse, entertain, stimulate, comfort or gain status. Such as- sumed time use and activity sources of joy rest on a spurious theory of happiness” but these assumptions still dominate in our present system and are inculcated in the young – get educated and a great job, work hard and maximise your income and expenditure and you will be happy. Productivity and profit maximising underpin- nings will raise the (consumer) standard of living, but this does not translate to better subjective wellbeing past some point (Smith 2015). As expected, Buddhism has much to say about this resilient,
 


and arguably vestigial, consumer market assumption.

The final negative impact is probably the central point for the potential contribution of Buddhism to shape the 4IR. It is actually closely related to many of the previous effects which tend to feed into this condition. This is disconnection’ impact (19) which is meant to encapsulate the effects of the various ways in which the 4IR tends to reduce direct connection between individuals and both (a) other people and (2) nature. Much of the influence can be linked to the virtualisation” of social and natural environment connection, contact and interaction, and the possibility that the substitution of reality by representations or virtualisations (and at- tendant fakeness”), may not be in the long-term interest of human wellbeing. It hints at some kind ofrealness = wellness” link. This is foremost a physical issue and has many related physical health consequences (as discussed previously) but at the deepest level the effects are manifest as a source of mental suffering in the Buddhist perspective (the focus of the next section).

Figure 1 - Cross-Country Plot of Depression Disorders by In- come Per Capita 2016



Source: WHO (2017)
 
 
  1. CONTRIBUTIONS FOR POSITIVE OUTCOMES FROM 4TH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION FROM THE BUDDHIST WORLD VIEW
It is ironic that it can be claimed that a major outcome of the 4IR
  • (network) connectivity that greatly expands the potential linkag-
es between humans and at least windows” on the external world –
can present as a very troubling impact in the form of disconnection.
These issues, spread across a range of effects, have been pre-empted
in the previous section and have been identified in other papers on
this topic (e.g. see Jones 2017). Together, they can be analysed to
share much in common with Buddhist perspectives on the nature
of suffering (and its obverse, wellbeing).

We will return to the disconnection-Buddhism topic soon. However, it is useful to list a selection of the most relevant 4IR general effect areas that will be addressed, at least briefly, in the Buddhism- inspired contributions noted in this section. As expected, the topics overlap considerably and the separation is primarily for heuristic purposes. They include:
    • disconnection – of a direct and immersive form; from other people and nature (and its related physical and health problems)
 
    • the questionable link between material standard of living, abundance, comfort and convenience, and sustained physical, and especially mental, wellbeing
 
    • natural environment impacts and related non-violence, minimum intervention, peace and harmony
    • distraction, diversity and entertainment
 
    • very high levels of information, knowledge and indirect communication access
    • information overload versus mindfulness
    • inequality and economic redundance
    • expectations of control and desirable situational permanence.

The central role of the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path in Buddhism lay out much of the basis for its potential wisdom
 


for informing strategic wellbeing change in the 4IR. The primary goal is relief from suffering” (dukkha). The Buddhist path to achieve this, personally and collectively, lies in the recognition and appropriate mental and behavioural responses that recognise some universal principles or laws” that explain the effect(on suffering/ wellbeing) from their dependent source origins.

Pervasive, profound inter-connectedness between all phenomena is probably the mainstay of Buddhist thinking and the notion from which most of its principles and practical wisdom are derived. This Indras net” of cause-effect relationships connecting all things, clearly accommodates, or actually demands, the careful consideration of intent and consequences of intent and resultant action. Despite a tendency by humans for optimistic reductionism, we can never do just one thing; there are no singular causes or effects.

In Buddhism, the law of dependent origination explains how all outcomes, results or effects (vipaka) of speech, action or body arise from multiple causes or actions with intent (kamma). In turn, these causes arise from other vipaka, and phenomena cease when the pre-conditions change. This is basis of the law of kamma-vipaka. It adds the qualitative aspects by identifying how ignorant action with unskilful” or bad intent will lead to adverse results across the three realms of existence (from individual, to society, to nature and back on the self). Skilfulnessis gauged by the extent to which craving, greed, delusions or aversion are embodied in the underlying motive and intent of the original action (Attwood 2003). The law of kamma-vipaka suggests that disruptive action, with selfish intent, will inevitably result in adverse wellbeing consequences back upon the instigators. Hence, there is a need for accepting a kind of universal responsibilityto guide ones presence in this world. This is a result of the highly inter-connected effects of actions on all others (sentient beings, and arguably all of nature), as well as the re-assessment towards a rational of intelligent self-interestwhere actions to improve ones wellbeing consider consequences on others welfare, given dependence of the former upon the latter (Dalai Lama 2001).

This is also closely tied to the need to minimise intervention or at least disturbance, harm or violence to the natural world, manifest
 


as environmental pressures or ecological footprints (and also social impacts). Empathetic actions founded on inter-connectedness will unavoidably be based on compassion, loving-kindness and care for others will help bring us what we really want from the 4IR – wellbeing.

The Four Noble Truths and notions of impermanence also explain why there will always be limits to craving and clinging to material sources of selfish demands and desire, and the positive outcomes of science, technology and economic systems predicated upon such goals.

It is not possible to provide a more detailed overview of rele- vant underlying general Buddhist ideas here but there will be more elaboration in the subsequent discussion of some specific potential contributions inspired from this ancient wisdom.

Moving back to 4IR social and nature disconnection impacts proposed as a major potential cost of the 4IR, many of the negative effects in Table 2 can be linked to this general proposed outcome (for example impacts (3), (5), (6),(9),(13), (17)). As noted, it can’t be denied that the last two IRs have dramatically increased the capability for broadcasting information about oneself and, conditionally, two-way communication for social and economic purposes. It seems odd to propose that disconnection can be a major consequence of such technologies. However, the main justification for this proposition is that the social and nature- related interaction facilitated by the 4IR tends to indirect, and can often replace more direct forms. The tools people use to interact in the 4IR often use social or virtual constructions (e.g. see the social media negative effect) that can be image or status-based and focused upon perception building rather than reality. The complexities of these technology effects can’t be explored in detail here but one important outcome can be increased connectivity (visual, word, audio), but reduced connection in a deeper sense where there is physical interaction, immersion, body language and full sense awareness, empathy and warmth – some of these factors also applying to natural environment connections. Arguably, direct physical person-person and person-nature interaction and the associated slow immersion promotes deeper bonding and deep
 


brain” experiences.

The range of interaction media vary in terms of these capabilities but simplified, insipid symbolic communication modes would promote more shallow, peripheral, incompleteand short-term friendships and relationships (such as from online social media or gaming worlds) (Henderson et al 2010; Kidslox 2018) and possibly loss or poor development of social skills for face-to-face and other more complete interaction activity. This could easily be seen to lead to loss of wellbeing and social isolation, and mental health and other lifestyle and evolutionary mismatch” problems that increase suffering.

The 4IR can also provide so many other distractions and options that change time use or encourage deferral of more real contact and social interaction. Meaningful relationships have been consistent- ly shown to be critical for wellbeing and this is likely to depend on peoples shared real world experience (Henderson et al 2010). Digital villagesare probably poor replacements for the lost tribal closeness, stability and animal connection of the 100,000s of years of human existence.

Hence, the 4IR can help people connect and communicate on many levels and in many roles in their daily life, but there is danger in the ghostly” or shadow nature of this contact modus operandi diffusing through livelihood, family and social world dimensions of personal reality. It can increase separation in many important physical and psychological ways and this is troubling given the evidence and case for social connection (and increasingly nature connection) for mental health, emotional wellbeing, and physical healing (Bristow 2017; Wilson 2017).

Buddhist wisdom would explain this deep connection loss as increasing our suffering (dukkha) in at least two ways.5 Firstly, such

5. Dukkha, in Buddhism, is a difficult concept to translate into English. The popular mean- ing of the suffering” that permeates life has often been deemed as somewhat inaccurate with more appropriate descriptions like unsatisfactoriness, dissatisfaction, or pain in the form of bodily d<