Thursday, 21 November 2013

A third Industrial Revolution?

Is there a Third Industrial Revolution under way? Chris Anderson thinks so, with the advent of desktop manufacturing.

Our understanding of history -from school syllabus, mostly - is that there was only one Industrial Revolution. Were there two? Some believe so, the first when James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny, the second triggered by James Watt's steam engine and its adaptation in several manufacturing and mining processes.

I used to be believe that it began with the steam engine and there was a second stage Electricity was harnessed on a large scale. There are apparently historians who believe the Industrial Revolution never happened - but I have not read those works, I've only read references to them, so I refrain from comment! Yet others think there were several stages of the industrial revolution. These would include:
  1. The mass manufacture of cotton textiles in the mills of Manchester - triggered by John Kay's shuttle, Hargreaves' jenny, Eli Whitney's cotton gin, Arkwright's mule / power loom etc. 
  2. The Chemical industry, kickstarted by the manufacture of aniline by BASF in Germany
  3. Watt's steam engine, for mines and mills
  4. The transportation revolution - mainly railways and steamships - triggered by locomotives of Richard Trevithick & George Stephenson
  5. The automobile revolution - Diesel, Otto, Benz
  6. The Electrical revolution - Edison, Tesla
This six stage timeline of the Industrial Revolution happened over a hundred years, hardly an overnight occurrence. From John Kay's shuttle to Arkwright's mule was a 40 year period.

Notice that these ignore such dramatic developments as the Communication revolution, Plastics, Steel, Cement, Electronics, and Computers.

Drones have changed warfare, but are not covered in the news. Some science stories like the Higgs boson and Mangalyaan get tremendous attention, while developments in biology get no attention at all. 3D printers, electric hybrid cars, electronic ink, the Google driverless car, shale gas revolution, the ubiquitous rare earth elements - these get no coverage at all, they are simply not in the public conscience. That is a pity.

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