The Industrial Revolution has really been the only revolution of its kind: various others such as the Technology Revolution and the Digital Revolution while perhaps revolutionary in concept have not had the revolutionary effect on the social structure of humans of the first Industrial Revolution. Historians disagree on the precise dates, but it is considered to have taken place between 1780 and sometime between 1820 and 1840. It occurred in Britain first and was established there; the second country to embrace the IR was Belgium.

There were two major effects: the invention of machine technology and with it the harnessing of far greater energy; this had a major effect on transport and the ability to manufacture goods in much greater quantity and more cheaply. For instance, coal mining had been restricted to easily accessible seams near the surface, but with the invention of pumping machines by Newcomen et alia it was possible to get much more coal, by mining deeper,. which could be used to supply steam and thus energy for the new machines; coal being cheaper and more efficient than wood (which anyway was fast disappearing). The second effect was to convert populations, which had until then been largely living in rural areas and occupied with agriculture or crafts, into urban dwellers working in the new factories.

Of course, there have been great advances in communications and travel since 1840, but these have been largely spurred by the developments of the first Industrial Revolution and its need for greater efficiency and greater volumes of energy.

As you can see, there was a need for enormous structural change in societies everywhere. So now we live in the digital and everyone is talking about AI. We have already seen limited use in the automotive industry: initially, automated machines that can construct cars, and now the move to driverless EVs. If you have ever used predictive texting you will spot the problem immediately: it can make informed suggestions, but it can never be intuitive. So yes, there will be Artificial Intelligence of a sort and it will probably be quite sophisticated, but while it may be able to make a machine and make improvements to existing machines, it is doubtful that it would ever be able to invent a machine.

Recently (in the last couple of years) a driverless vehicle was doing a test run in the US; there was a person in the car but he was not controlling it. The car struck and killed a female pedestrian. Apparently, it is necessary to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times. Well, it appears we still have some way to go, however, lets not forget the tens of thousands of road deaths that exist now with human’s behind the wheel!

Words by Sean Myers