Industry 4.0: Stairway to Heaven?… or a Highway to Hell?

Group 5

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and biotechnology/ material science are a few fields recognised as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

Technology is fundamentally impacting every aspect of our lives. This holds great promise for curing or preventing disease, improving agricultural output and enhancing the quality of life in many ways. However, there is no neutral technology, which makes us deliberate the key ethical dilemmas: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/how-can-we-enjoy-the-benefits-of-the-fourth-industrial-revolution-while-minimizing-its-risks/

Industry 4. 0h-YES

The fourth industrial revolution has the potential to increase global economic levels and the standard of living for people all over the world.

This is largely due to the gains in productivity and efficiency; therefore, more products will be produced with less effort. As the supply increases, the price of the products will fall, which means people can get the same product but pay less for it. People will no longer suffer from “Inadequate supply”. In fact, according to a utilitarianism standpoint, there is great potential to bring happiness and satisfaction. This can be evidenced by looking retrospectively at the introduction of industry 3.0. There was a huge breakthrough after the introduction of automation and computers, which, consequently, clearly led us into ground-breaking developments. Now, with the advent of industry 4.0, having data in storage systems where information can be autonomously exchanged without the need of human intervention, translates to industries taking a huge leap in the improvement of the manufacturing processes.

The technology in industry 4.0 permits the latter’s machines to communicate directly with the manufacturing/business systems, and other departments. Hence, those machines can rapidly adjust their performance accordingly while interacting with different systems. Moreover, smarter and automated machines significantly reduce human intervention, which in return, improves the workers working environment because they have less pressure and can finish their job quicker and easier. This point can be evaluated from a care ethics viewpoint. Here, “people’s abilities and limitations impact moral decision-making” (https://www.vlereader.com/Reader?ean=9781444395709). With the implementation of automation, this no longer becomes an obstacle and the right procedure will be followed. This is especially important because a company will be associated with various other parties and institutions, so relieving the pressure from human judgement should be the correct course of action.

In the traditional manufacturing system, many products are manufactured in a specific way which is very inflexible. On the other hand, in industry 4.0, products can be made by various methods. Very complicated geometries can also be produced, using technology like 3D Printing. Therefore, personalised products can be manufactured such as customised earplugs, teeth guards, even bone implants. These personalised products open new markets and improve people’s well-being. This could potentially take us down a route of ‘eudaimonia’ or the highest good and, “According to Aristotle, the good life is the final goal of human action.” (https://www.vlereader.com/Reader?ean=9781444395709). This is only applicable if the intent is good such as preventing/curing disease or introducing biological mechanisms as stated above. In this way, industry 4.0 can help lift humanity and reach a new moral consciousness. However, this virtue ethics could be just as easily manipulated as through ethical egoism where the founder of a large company may find loopholes to act for self-interest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_egoism

Industry 4.NO

Industry 4.0 introduces robot-made products that substitute employees for the sake of reducing the costs of labour. According to the founder of the Kantian ethics theory, Immanuel Kant, “good will” dictates whether an action is morally acceptable, reducing labour to increase profits is not considered morally acceptable. Reducing employees could result in the decrease of jobs and the increase of unemployment thus snatching millions of families of their primary income for the sake of increasing multi-billion-dollar companies’ profits. With an ever-growing population, which is considered the youth’s world, the upcoming generation will suffer from a lack of jobs. According to D. West, there are 1.7 million robots being used industrially all around the world. Japan is leading the way with 300 000. The question then arises: Is it morally acceptable to cut out a family’s income in order to increase billion-dollar companies

profits? Since the aim is to reduce cost of labour, this leads to cutting people off their jobs, which is not considered an action of “good will”. The primary winners will be company owners who gain from the increase of profit. It is true that by introducing robots, the price of the product will decrease; but, who is it decreasing for? The world already suffers from an increasing inequality between the rich and poor in developed countries, industry 4.0 is only going to widen the gap.

With the advancements in information technology, there are big threats to privacy and people have less control over personal data. The meaning and value of privacy gives rise to problems concerning power, law and ethics. For example, there is a problem with ‘Big Data’. The data entered by the user could be used to make decisions from observing their behaviours i.e. sites visited, browser history etc. (ref https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-privacy/)

From a duty of care standpoint this breaches the philosophy completely because there is no moral obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others. This ultimately introduces the question: should the technology be developed? Nowadays people have almost all their details stored online so maintaining privacy and safety is imperative otherwise the consequences could be severe.

Since the use of big data is only benefitting a small number of people and not the remaining percentage. This does not satisfy the majority of the population, therefore can be considered unethical by utilitarianism.

Initial Decision

Although there are several drawbacks, following the Machiavellian maxim, “The end justifies the means”, we are for the development of industry 4.0.

16 thoughts on “Industry 4.0: Stairway to Heaven?… or a Highway to Hell?

  1. Good use of ethical justification for both sides of the issue, however, the topic seems broad and that makes the dilemma a little unclear for me.
    Industry 4.0 is a broad term, but I think of it as the Internet of things whereby devices are sharing information, making processes quicker since less steps are required. Your identification of the loss of jobs is a good observation – although each preceding industrial revolution carried such fears that were initially realised but ultimately proven to be unfounded.
    Overall, it’s a good article just look to bring the key points forward and spell out a clear question, please.

  2. This article provides interesting ideas. However, I have a question. Studies show that Japan is the world leading in robotics, but their employment rate is decreasing over the years. Can you explain why this is the case?

  3. Industry 4.0 brings a lot of convenience to people’s life, but only a small number of people will use industry 4.0 to harm the interests of others. Therefore, I think the advantages of Industry 4.0 outweigh the disadvantages.

    Overall, good article

  4. From my perspective view, the industry 4.0 will be increasingly popular in future. Although there exist some possibility of the technology to be abused, this is only a small possibility. It is already implemented and seems to be working so far.

  5. Interesting read. Lots of pros and cons detailed for Industry 4.0. In general it seems like the focus of this article was on automation.

    This point: ‘Since the use of big data is only benefitting a small number of people and not the remaining percentage. This does not satisfy the majority of the population, therefore can be considered unethical by utilitarianism.’ It’s a controversial statement and would be great to see some evidence.

    1. Thanks surajtailor,

      Good catch! The information is a bit outdated: In 2012, only 0.5% of all data was analyzed (source, Guardian)

      Now the statistics have changed dramatically and the ethical consideration is quite the opposite:

      Big Time Big Data Statistics

      The big data analytics market is set to reach $103 billion by 2023
      In 2019, the big data market is expected to grow by 20%
      In 2020, every person will generate 1.7 megabytes in just a second
      Internet users generate about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day
      As os Semptember, 2019, there are 2.45 billion active Facebook users, and they generate a lot of data
      97.2% of organizations are investing in big data and AI
      Using big data, Netflix saves $1 billion per year on customer retention

      source: https://techjury.net/stats-about/big-data-statistics/#gref

  6. A fairly well rounded article however the article seems to be based around an overestimation of the role of consumerism in happiness. Cheaper and more readily available manufactured goods are not nescessarily going to make people happier as we have seen in past decades woth this trend.

    1. Thanks 333999,

      Although materialistic possessions may not always lead to happiness and may be difficult to quantify, for those who were going to buy the product anyway will be paying less and would be objectively happier. – This being due to efficiency with advanced automation leading to greater economies of scale.

  7. Interesting topic. It is very applicable to current times where humanity is taking a turn to a more advanced and technological period. I believe that humans have control over themselves and are able to do whatever pleases themselves. While there would be risks involved with different parties and the privacy and security of citizens threatened, there is no method of halting the advancement of such technology. The advancements are inevitable and will ultimately happen as they are beneficial in an economic and utilitarian perspective!

  8. As long as it follows the codes of conduct and strict guidelines, why not? Do you have any evidence to why it shouldn’t? Obviously industry 4.0 means a lot of things and it is difficult to justify the ethical considerations for the whole term – in my opinion.

  9. When industry 1.0 – 3.0 were developed in the past, people might also have this kind of argument. For or against it? I think history tells us already because no one can stop the revolution. Human are genius and we will always come up with methods solving the problem that the industrial revolution brings us. What we need to do is to cream off the best and filter out the impurities of industry 4.0 instead of against it.

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