The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Coping With Disruptive Change

La Constancia
Courtesy latitudes-flickr/Flickr

This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 21 October 2016.


The fourth industrial revolution will benefit mankind tremendously. We can also expect disruptions. Upholding state centrality will ensure continuity and stability amidst this seismic shift.


The first, second and third industrial revolutions gave mankind steam power, electricity and electronics respectively. We are now entering the era of the fourth industrial revolution – a seismic shift that will give us a set of radically new technologies. When these technologies materialise – namely artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet-of-Things (IoT), 3D printing, bio printing, gene editing, autonomous vehicles (AVs) and so on – the world as we know it today will be dramatically transformed.

We can look forward to enhanced longevity. Given persistent shortage in human organs for transplant, bio-printing – a process which draws on 3D printers to create human organs – will let hospitals ‘print out’ human organs on-demand. Cutting down on their development cost, new drugs can be experimented on 3D-printed human organs to quickly establish their efficacy and safety. Gene editing can mean that babies in future will be born free of many genetic disorders.

The State of the State

Flag of Islamic State of Iraq. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published June 16, 2014 by War on the Rocks.

One of the most fundamental questions lurking beneath the surface of 21st century security discussions is the question of what constitutes a state. Does the prominence of powerful sub-state actors with state-like functions show that the state is declining?

Recent events in Iraq suggest that our confusion is a function of substantial definitional problems. Is the Islamic State in Iraq really a state? An armed movement that has a state? None of the above?

While I cannot improve on the analysis of ISIS offered by Middle East specialists Douglas Ollivant and Brian Fishman, I at least can offer a few general observations derived from the literature about the problem of analyzing ISIS as a state.

Review – Future States

Globes. Photo: caffeinatedjedi/flickr.

Future States: From International to Global Political Order
By: Stephen Paul Haigh
Ashgate, 2013

In Future States Stephen Paul Haigh addresses the phenomena of globalization. The central argument made is for the resilience, adaptability and centrality of states in the global system, a system which is rendered neo-medieval in form by globalization. For Haigh, states transformed into embedded cosmopolitanism states are an institutional necessity in a global system that has returned to “medieval-style configurations of segmented or cross-cutting authority” (p.3). Clearly, the book deals with some extremely big questions and the author’s arguments are supported by a clear, subtle and reflexive analysis of globalization and states throughout.

Future States provides a comprehensive investigation of the development of modern states as we now know them. Haigh recognises that there is nothing natural about the concepts of sovereignty and the Westphalian state system (p.48), and he explores how they came to be. Haigh argues that with the formation of the Westphalian system “Pope above and Lord below lost influence; in their stead the King” (p.57). Driven by material causes (p.48) as well as and ideational ones (p.50), this political order signalled a shift of identity, power and allegiance from institutions at either extreme of near and far and concentrated them in the middle (p.57).

Charles Tilly, AD 990-1992: Twenty Years On

The French Revolution
According to Tilly, the French Revolution (a milestone in the civilanization of French politics) emerged from protests against the high taxes French Rulers imposed to compensate for the costly American War. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The other day I was re-reading what should perhaps be on every politics student’s bookshelf, Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1992 by Charles Tilly. In this book Tilly examines what formed the modern state by looking at the impact of Europe’s violent history. In contrast to other theories like the idea of a social contract, Tilly argues that: “War wove the European network of national states, and preparation for war created the internal structures of states within it.” The European welfare state as we know it today, Tilly argues, occurred as an inadvertent spin-off from rulers’ bargaining with subject populations when seeking to extract the means to wage war. In exchange for giving up their most valuable resources (sons, lands, weapons, animals), citizens were granted civil rights, social benefits and protection by the state in return.

Throughout the more than 200 pages of historical anecdotes, AD 990-1992 develops a convincing argument that it was indeed rulers’ zeal for developing and adapting to new types of war – thus changing the nature of political-bargaining – that pushed state-transformation. For example, in Revolutionary France the public only agreed to mass disarmament and conscription in exchange for rights of civil suit, local assembly and social benefits.