Will the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ be gender-blind?

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The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is a vision of a future promoted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in which cyber-physical systems technologies control and transform how people interact with information and the physical world around them.

The WEF vision promises large-scale socioeconomic benefits — in healthcare, manufacturing, energy, transport — achieved by creating new markets and new business models and values from advances in manufacturing and digital technologies. Automation and artificial intelligence are expected to take center stage. However, WEF admits this will create new socioeconomic inequalities as many lower-level skill jobs will be lost, affecting both women and men and resulting in a growing sense of individual disempowerment and insecurity.

The future envisaged by WEF contrasts sharply with the OECD vision of inclusive innovation proposed in 2013 in response to the fact that the poorest and the most vulnerable groups in society have not benefited from the economic progress made possible by technology. Many people around the world today have yet to experience the major technological advancement of the Second Industrial Revolution, namely access to electric power.

WEF asked 800 technology executives and experts from the information and communications technology sectors to identify the technology tipping points expected to occur by 2025. Their list, in order of likelihood:

  • People wearing clothes connected to the Internet
  • Robotic pharmacists in the US
  • The first 3D-printed car
  • Consumer products printed in 3D
  • 90 percent of the population with regular access to the Internet
  • Driverless cars
  • First transplant of a 3D-printed liver

What all these choices share is that the quality of their performance will be influenced by sex-gender differences – at the biochemical, physiological and behavioral levels. The available scientific evidence to show when, why and how is extensive and recommends that such differences should be taken into consideration when research results are used to drive innovation and product development.

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