Navel-gazing in the Decade of Data

Dec. 4, 2018

Human beings being human, we’re constantly getting ahead of ourselves.

Ever seen a picture of yourself and been shocked at how that version of you looks vastly different than the

Smart Industry's Chris McNamara

you that you consider yourself to be? Whether it’s better or worse, our true appearance is oftentimes misaligned with how we envision ourselves. Our self-awareness differs from our self.

Machine self-awareness is at the core of digital transformation. We’re not talking The Singularity here, in which artificial intelligence triggers runaway technological growth, resulting in the enslavement of humanity and the transformation of planet Earth into a hub for robot domination of galaxies throughout all universes. Not yet, anyway.

Rather, self-awareness at the level where machines are diagnosing their own problems and either fixing them on their own or alerting humans to come to the rescue. This is a reality—perhaps happening in your facility. This is a good thing.

And we humans, who spurred this digital transformation, have an ever-growing awareness about it. This magazine here, along with countless other resources out there, are devoted to understanding—to developing greater awareness of—where we’re at on this digitalization journey and how we can most quickly get to where we need to be.

Digital navel-gazing? Maybe. But reflection is critical during this current state of being, which happens to be a state of change, transformation, revolution.

It’s hard to imagine this same level of awareness during previous Industrial Revolutions. The players were blowing themselves up with steam engines and covered in soot and just starting to grasp the true power of computing. Henry Ford could not have imagined automotive assembly lines manned (for lack of a better word) by robots.

Illustration by Jack Reilly

While many consider this The Age of Irony, we could also consider it The Decade of Data (copyright pending on that phrase). We’re smack dab inside a period of unprecedented analysis of oneself, one’s condition, one’s surroundings and one’s industrial facility. This constant analysis prompts us to be, ironic, for sure, but also armchair futurists.

We trade futures. We devour data before selecting starting lineups for fantasy football rosters each week. The internet is teeming with prognostication about how Industry 4.0 has/is/ will change our lives.

And—human beings being human—we’re constantly getting ahead of ourselves.

Industry 4.0? That’s already getting dusty, baby. The term “Industry 5.0” yields 116 million Google results. “Industry 6.0” generates nearly as large a return. When I copyright The Decade of Data I should probably also claim the term Industry 8.0. I just need to figure out what it means.

The 2018 Smart Industry Conference was not just a celebration of collective awareness of digital transformation, it was also a communal exercise in admitting that we all have gaps in our understanding—we can all benefit from listening to others in this space, stealing bits of others’ awareness to bolster our own.

This will fuel digital transformation across the manufacturing space.

There were no industrial conferences like Smart Industry during the early Industrial Revolutions. It’s a positive sign that we’re doing them now. And when some event-planner gets around to producing The Industry 8.0© Conference & Expo: A New Decade of Data©, they’ll know who they have to pay to get the rights.

Chris McNamara is content director with Smart Industry.