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What bees have to do with the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Quite a lot, it turns out.


Bees and the genetic technology that underpins research on bees is an illuminating window on our future and the complexity, politics, and uncertainty of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has defined the 4IR as “the confluence of technological breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet of things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy storage, and quantum computing.”

This new industrial revolution challenge political and social systems because is of its transformative scientific and technological advances, its transnational nature, and the very rapid pace of change it brings.

What this new revolutions also brings is a considerable uncertainty about the economic and social impact of these advances. With uncertainty, divisions and the politics between supporters and opponents of the change emerge quickly.

A good example of this comes from beekeeping.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In the Guardian long read Invasion of the ‘frankenbees’: the danger of building a better bee (and accompanying podcast), Bernhard Warner describes the incredible biotechnology advances that allow scientists to essentially copying and paste sections of bees’ dna; the chemicals use din agriculture that are threatening bees; the catastrophic consequences if bees were to reduce dramatically in number or even disappear; the power of agricultural industries and multinationals to push certain technological solutions; community and farmers’ initiatives which try to protect their business but can also miss the opportunities that new technologies can bring; the design and testing of micro-drones to conduct artificial pollination of crops; the struggle of legislators and policymakers who either cannot keep pace with the technology changes and their implications or are under the influence of economic powers and lobbyists.

A complex picture indeed, and in just one sector. A snapshot into the complexity of the imminent Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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