Ten years ago, no one held a miniature portable computer in their hands. But today, much of the world uses mobile phones as their primary means of access to the internet, online business, online shopping, and social media. Twenty years ago, everyone was beginning to worry about Y2K and the potential for computer systems to shut down completely. Thirty years ago, very few people even knew what the internet was (and those people who knew called it the world wide web back then).
Technical tools that have become fixtures in our world and our lives today are things that many older people living now couldn’t have conceptualized when they were young, much less their parents and grandparents. Many things have evolved so rapidly that the only thing we know we can expect is change. So, it’s not surprising that this year’s theme for World Standards Day is “Standards and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
We’ve lived through one industrial revolution recently—the growth and predominance of computers and IT in today’s business and private activities. Now we’re moving into an age where our digital worlds and our physical worlds are colliding. The Internet of Things is bringing “smart” aspects to tools we could never have imagined being smart, like a refrigerator or a doorbell. Many of these new technologies are beneficial, like new renewable sources of energy to replace older means of energy production. And fields like robotics and artificial intelligence are making us ask challenging questions about what makes us human and makes us ethical beings.
When we look at those opportunities and challenges, it’s clear that standards are a vital way to address and integrate the evolving tools of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And IEEE is leading the way in many fields, from standards for distributed energy resources like the IEEE 1547™ series, to the ever-growing family of smart grid standards under IEEE 2030™. IEEE 1872™ creates an ontology for robotics, while fields like augmented and virtual reality are being addressed through the IEEE 2048™ series of standards. And IEEE 3141™ looks at how to design and implement scalable and robust immersive experiences for 3D body processing—a tool for how we might shop, learn, and play in the future.
The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems, both through its Ethically Aligned Design guideline document and its series of IEEE 7000™ standards, is examining the ethical implications of these new Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and their impact on our lives, our technologies, and our data.
We can’t predict how this Fourth Industrial Revolution will play out, in the same way very few people could have foreseen how ubiquitous the mobile phone would become in just ten years. But in the same way that our wired and wireless communications standards in the IEEE 802® series facilitated that whirlwind growth of mobile phones as our own handheld portable computers of today, IEEE standards will certainly play a key role in how the products, tools and technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution become a part of our future lives.
Happy World Standards Day from IEEE Standards Association! Get involved today.