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Pervasive AI in Industry 4.0

A cluster representation of the technologies fuelling the deployment and evolution of Industry 4.0. Image credit: Robo Global, Henrik von Scheel

I recently re-read the interview given by Henrik von Scheel (considered to be the inventor of the concept of Industry 4.0) back in 2018, one and half year ago and stopped reflecting on its validity now.

The name of Industry 4.0 was actually a marketing label for a report prepared by Henrik with several other people on demand from Angela Merkel to guide the industria evolution of Germany, and that was back in 2008. The report ideas, and the name, became part of Germany Digital Agenda in 2009.

Germany is by large, the tools manufacturer that are sold to, and used by, China to manufacture products sold and used in the US. The situation is actually much more complex but this statement gives the idea of the role of Germany (and China/US) in the world economy.

The original report pointed out that industry (manufacturing) was changing as result of more sophisticated tools and of digitalisation. That was not just an evolution, rather a revolution because those changes where disrupting value chains and business models. The gist of Industry 4.0 lies in this “revolution” and disruption.

The first phase, last decade, was fuelled by the convergence of Internet, Mobile, Social Media and Big Data. The first two are clear, the second two may need some explanations.

Social Media would seem at first to be independent of manufacturing and yes they are (although companies make use of Social Media as a powerful advertisement channel). The implication is in the reverse direction: by changing the manufacturing paradigm manufacturing can be influence and respond to social media by adapting the features of product and the production itself to the hints captured from social media. This calls for a much more flexible manufacturing as well as for a change, a softwarization, of the product making it possible to provide almost real time changes to features through new software releases. Also, the opening up of API supports the creation of feature generation ecosystems that can respond to Social Media stimuli. Big Data is part of the manufacturing process and gets even more important once the stream of data coming from Social Media (often pointing to how products and features are used) are analysed.

This decade, the second phase of Industry 4.0, is characterised by the converging power of artificial intelligence, the fading boundaries between physical and digital and the tools to make this fading boundary an economic value, i.e. virtual and augmented reality. The full integration of these three forces will probably need the full decade to become the new normal.

The third wave (in the following decade) will likely be fuelled by the availability and convergence of neuro and nano tech, bio-informatics and quantum computers once they will become usable in an industry context (see graphic).

Of the whole ballpark of technologies the one that leads is the artificial intelligence, both as a production tool as a feature supporting tool and as a context changing fabric. Although in the graphic there is a mentioning of 6G my take is that is a misspelling, 5G was actually meant. However, in the end it might turn out that it is not a mistake. 6G will be heavily dependent on artificial intelligence to create communications fabric out of objects (and products).

Overall we are seeing that this revolution is actually in the making. The EIT Manufacturing is possibly a strong catalytic force in this process, stimulating and coordinating innovation deployment. The Digital Transformation will go hand in end with Industry 4.0 proving tools, data and market for its accelerated deployment.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.