We’ve had two massive industrial revolutions in the last 250 years. Both changed the social, political, and economic landscape of the entire world. For the people that lived through those times, the world was never the same again.

And I believe that we may be on our way to a third and even more encompassing Industrial Revolution.

The first one began in Great Britain in the 1760s. Efficiency gains in hydro power and steam engines made it possible to use machines instead of human labor. Mechanized spinning of cotton increased cotton output by a factor of 1000. The substitution of coke for charcoal made possible larger blast furnaces and vastly increased economies of scale in steel production. Machine tools for cutting metal parts made it possible to replace wood with metal parts in machines and frames.

The second revolution was similarly extraordinary. It began with the first mass-production of steel in the 1860s (Bessemer Steel) and culminated with the first real production lines. Rapid industrial development in the US, Britain, Europe, and Japan benefitted from the first true electrification of factories; mass production; and new materials, alloys, and chemicals. The first communication technologies (the telegraph, the telephone, and radio) led to faster transmission of news, ideas, and information.

The social and economic effects of this can’t be understated. While there were clear benefits, not every innovation decreased human suffering. The wages of workers increased, life expectancy grew, and more food was produced, but the first revolution saw the mass drafting of child labor to run the new machines. Many extraordinarily skilled craft workers lost their jobs to mechanization. Unskilled children could produce more running a machine in day than a craft worker could in a month.

Similar positives and negatives can be mentioned for the second revolution. There were advances in public health and food production, falling prices for everyday goods, and vastly improved world commerce thanks to the instant communication of the telegraph and the telephone. Crop failures in a region no longer resulted in mass starvation due to improvements in rail and ship transportation. But along with these benefits came great upheavals in employment and social strife as people transitioned from small town agricultural work to factory jobs in crowded cities. Once again, skilled labor was displaced as new processes and technologies took hold.

And we may be going down that road again.

Information technologies have experienced massive increase in capabilities and decreasing cost for years now. The price-performance curve for processors, memory, and communications capabilities is now bringing a whole host of “Big Bang Disruptions” to all sorts of industries and business models. It used to be that new technologies were generally marginal, low quality and only partially innovative. But what’s happening now is Big Bang Disruptions driven by the latest in software, memory, and communications that tend to be mainstream, high quality, very innovative, and lower in cost. For example, notice how cell phones have displaced photo cameras, video cameras, day timers, watches, maps, auto GPS systems, music players and more.

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And there are more Big Bang Disruptions coming. I believe that 2014 is the beginning of a massive shift in how we live, how we work and how we play. Our home lives and our work lives will be entirely different in the next few years. And I don’t say that lightly: I am seeing radical change, the magnitude of another industrial revolution. If you’re a manufacturer, if you’re a system integrator, if you build hardware devices, or if you develop software, you’re standing on quicksand. There are unprecedented threats (and opportunities) in every business and every business model. It’s likely that nothing—no product, no business—will be left untouched.

Here’s my 2014 list of technologies that may lead to another Industrial Revolution.

1 of 6: HTML5 with WebRTC

What is it?

HTML5 is the latest incarnation of HTML. What started out as a simple markup language has evolved into HTML5, an amazing vehicle to deliver information in ways you’ve only seen in dedicated applications.

HTML5 is really a combination of a vastly improved HTML markup language, advanced Javascript, and CSS 3 (Cascading Style Sheets).  Combine all that with WebRTC (the addition of embedded Real Time Communications in the browser environment to support video, audio, and real time data communications), and you have an exponential increase in capabilities. We’re talking about advancements like allowing web pages to play video, audio, scale, mask, provide perspective, do fades, rotations, flips, spin 3D images, have vector graphics, and transport real time data all with very simple Javascript commands. Not only can you do mor,e but you can do a lot more with much less effort than a native C++ or Visual C application.

Google engineers built the shooter game Quake II entirely into HTML5 code—all of the 3D graphics, networking, local game saving, and other features are entirely in HTML code with some JavaScript. See it here.

Why is it disruptive?

  1. It kills a lot of plug-ins, specifically things like FLASH and AJAX. Skype, Go-to-Meeting, and other proprietary PC applications.
  2. The traditional telephone system we have today and VOIP are dead.
  3. Web applications are now more attractive to developers than native applications. They will be easier, faster, more functional, and less costly to build than traditional applications.
  4. HTML5 apps can run directly on any device without any reprogramming.
  5. It may make the entire app store concept obsolete. Web apps are always up to date—no updates to do. App vendors like the Financial Times and others are already shifting away from apps in an app store to HTML5 Browser apps.

How will it affect Industrial and Building Automation?

  1. More and better web presentations from even smaller devices.
  2. More Integrated video and audio.
  3. More standard, lower cost hardware for HMIs. The traditional HMI business is dead. They can’t compete with the functionalities offered by HTML5 web applications.
  4. All current OPC Drivers are obsolete. They won’t work with web apps.

The real benefit is that it unshackles hardware from software. Developers will easily build software applications that run on your desktop, phone, and plant floor display.

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