Are we ready to embrace a New Industrial Revolution?

21 October 2013 05:37 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Patali Champika Ranawaka
Minister of Science and technology


According to the Mahawansa chronicles, when Prince Vijaya and his 700 strong men disembarked in Lanka, Princess Kuveni was spinning cotton under a giant tree. It proved the fact that our ancestors by then had known how to spin cotton to produce clothes.

It also was a fact that ancient China and India, over 2000 years ago, had been using hand-operated spinning wheels. Thereafter, Egypt and Arab countries had made use of the same methodology. China invented the peddle - operated spinning wheels some 1500 years ago and after the 15th century, it came into extensive use in most parts of Europe.



James Hargreaves was a weaver in Lancashire- England. In 1766, when he visited one of his friends, he saw a spinning wheel falling on to a side. To his surprise, he saw the fallen wheel maintaining its momentum and continuing the spinning process in an unfamiliar orientation. Hargreaves having inspired by that incident, later developed a new machine (called Jenny) composed of simultaneously working parallel wheels to increase the output by eight fold. Having received a patent for his highly efficient machine in 1770, it was developed to raise its output 16 -fold. Later, Curtright invented the modern loom machine which could produce a huge amount of wool and apparels.

In old China, to produce one pound of cotton wool, it needed 200 man-hours.  However, with the invention of the new machine it was reduced just to one hour. Machines simply multiplied the muscle power. This trend spread all over Europe after 1760 and French diplomat Louis Guillermo Otto named it as ‘Industrial Revolution’ in 1799. Until 1820, the world’s biggest manufacturer and the economy was China. However, Britain subsequently surpassed the Chinese economy using new machine power, amplifying muscle power and exploiting vast resources in hinterlands that were under them, by way of subjugation and violent means. In 1875, the USA- an off-shoot of Britain, became the biggest manufacturer and the economy of the world. In 2010, China regained the title of the world biggest manufacturer. It is estimated that China would surpass the USA as the biggest economy by 2020.

" We Sri Lankans having missed all the phases of Industrial Revolution are being subjugated economically. However, we should not miss the new phase. We should strive hard to explore the possibility of entering into a new innovation economy based on a New Industrial Revolution "
Although nobody could exactly estimate the time span of human existence on this earth, it is roughly calculated to be one million years. So the new era beginning from 1760 up to date is just a 250 year period which is very insignificant when compared to the human history. Whether we call it Industrial Revolution, Era of scientific method or modernisation, its impact on ecology and the society had been huge and beyond estimation.

During the early stages of human history, mankind used its own crude muscle power. Over one hundred thousand years ago, they used wooden and stone tools. Sri Lankans were the first nation to use iron, dating back to some 4000 years. The Iron Revolution changed every tool and equipment, enhancing human capability in agriculture, housing, clothing, medicine and transport. Thereafter, gradually human beings extracted other energies from animals and plants.

All the other living species on earth were scared of fire. However, humans were able to originate and control fire and thereby gained control over other species.
Some invasive predatory cultures made use of collective muscle power of both humans and animals for their advantage. Townships and elite livelihood in Europe and North Africa were constructed and maintained by the use of slave labour. That unfortunate collective human power and inhuman slavery prevailed until it was replaced by coal power in 1860.

It was widely agreed that the second phase of the Industrial Revolution prevailed from 1860 to First World War (WW1-1914). During that time almost all the machines (except atomic power and computer) were being invented. Landmark inventions among them were internal combustion machine, turbine, electronic generator lighting system and signal transmission systems etc. Machines like locomotive railway engines, automobiles, and machine power ships, airplanes, radio, telephone and structures like railways, canals, expressways, ports, airports, factory lines, sky scrapers and banking system etc. completely changed human history.

Due to the Industrial Revolution, the population in Britain trippled during 1700-1850 and its life expectancy also increased from 37 years to 76 years. Also, from 1800 to 2000, average per capita income and inflation adjusted grew tenfold. Same phenomenon prevailed all over the world.

After 1960, the new electronic era dawned. Dry technologies based on bites like computers, information and communication had taken giant leaps. After 1980, wet technologies like chemical and biological technologies emerged and continued to develop. After 1990, worldwide web and cyber space emerged. Data and information knowledge of humankind is now being doubled every six year period.  

After year 2000, scientists explored the atomic world once again. Quest for atomic world and micro particles which began in 1900 ended up in 1945 with the advent of the nuclear bomb and nuclear applications. Now new technology called Nano technology (10-9m) is advancing. When things get smaller and smaller, its characteristics get different modes. Nano technology now creates leaps and bounds in scientific world from self-cleaning apparels to bacteria killing light bulbs. Now scientists are trying to go further into the atomic world that is to explore Picco (10-12m) and Pemto (10-15m) world- that is Quantum world. In Nano only characteristics differ, but in Quantum world, theories also differ. That is, in Quantum world energy could be destroyed or created unlike in classical world.

Now, the emphasis also is on space technologies, especially on satellite and geo information systems which may become very useful tools in predicting climate events and physical planning.

In this decade, another new trend would be, synthesizing of wet technologies with dry technologies. Information technology would meet gene technology. New tools are also being introduced. One such thing would be 3-D printers which may lead to a new industrial era of Bonsai economics. In this regard, technology historians have even suggested that like Stone Age, Iron Age and Information Age 3D Printing Age also would dawn.

Historians, who tried to explain human history through technological means, categorised it into two phases. The first phase of Industrial era simply multiplied the muscle power and the second phase simply multiplied the brain power. However, in the new Industrial era both muscle power and brain power would be synthesized and amplified.

Historians, who describe human history in terms of economic growth, have identified three phases. According to them, during the first phase, the economic growth had been achieved through factor driven strategies (factors are low cost labour and resources). In the second phase it had been efficiency driven or investment driven. In the new phase it would be invention driven or exploring innovation economy.

Historians, who describe human history in relation to environment, have identified four phases. In its first phase, they call it primordial development paradigm. The second phase is coexistence development and the third phase is predatory or modern development. The fourth phase would be sustainable or green development, based on new innovations.

All these readings converge into the sole idea of a new Industrial Revolution based on innovation. We Sri Lankans having missed all the phases of Industrial Revolution are being subjugated economically. However, we should not miss the new phase. We should strive hard to explore the possibility of entering into a new innovation economy based on a New Industrial Revolution.

  Comments - 1

  • rasa Tuesday, 22 October 2013 09:30 AM

    We need to find out why we find it difficult to produce even basic items both 'food and agricultural items' and industrial products' for our local market and also export on competitive terms. What is keeping us back always.


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