When was information technology first discovered?

The history of digitization - part II

All well and good, this whole Industry 4.0 thing. But there was not yet a date for the start of digitization!

That's such a thing. The term “Industry 4.0” is a marketing word proclaimed to describe a process, a social and economic change. It is not a historically accurate technical term - which can only be assigned in retrospect anyway and not in advance. History will judge us, not the other way around.

Setting a date would be difficult anyway. You could now see when some of the technologies mentioned above came onto the market - for example the Internet, which is an important basic requirement for Industry 4.0. The first approaches already existed in the 1960s, in the 1990s the Internet for private use became widespread, but in 2003 the number of Internet users in Germany was just over 50 percent. To take the start of the "World Wide Web" system in 1991 as the beginning of Industry 4.0 seems presumptuous. Because back then there were no industrial processes that were organized or fundamentally changed by the Internet.

Other internet technologies, which are indispensable today, also began surprisingly early. For example the cloud. Wikipedia tells us that the American cloud pioneer salesforce offered its services as early as 1999. However, we have only seen the widespread use of cloud technologies as a means of adding value and increasing effectiveness in the past five to seven years. The situation is similar with other digital technologies, which have been around for years and decades, but whose significance in terms of digitization is only gradually penetrating to us.

In this context, it is also interesting to take a look at Bremen as a high-tech country: This is how Europe's first 3D printer was created in the 1990s at the BIBA Bremen Institute for Production and Logistics. 3D printing is one of the key technologies for Industry 4.0 because it enables individual, decentralized production in industrial quality. But 3D printing was not yet widespread in the 90s - and even today it is not. The triumph of this technology is still to come.

So it is very difficult to pin the beginning of "Industry 4.0" on a date that is historically accurate in the sense that it includes technology as well as social dissemination. And to make it really complicated: The term "Industry 4.0" is hardly used in English. Here one speaks more of digitization - and does not make a sharp demarcation from the third industrial revolution. In English it is a simple continuation of the increasing computerization with now new means - the information age. Instead of a revolution, one speaks much more often of an evolution: Because many of the technologies relevant today have been around for a long time, as we have just shown, while their widespread use is only gradually establishing itself.

Why is the subject of "Industry 4.0" and "digitization" so well represented in the media at the moment, when there is such a long history of digitization?

As explained above, the buzzword “Industry 4.0” has been favorably received by the media and society since its introduction in 2011 in order to give a name to the strong economic and social upheavals that digital technologies have brought with them in recent years. The situation is similar with the term "digitization", which is understood more generally in German and does not refer to pure industrial processes. Digitization encompasses the increasing spread of the Internet and computer-based technologies in all areas of everyday life - whether in agriculture, in our shopping behavior or in media use.

There are many signs of this change: On the one hand, there are the successes of Amazon, Apple or Google, currently the most valuable companies in the world. Companies and technologies are changing entire industries, whether in retail, such as Uber in the taxi business or Airbnb in the hospitality industry. On the other hand, new media such as social networks are emerging and changing the way we communicate. Our consumer behavior is changing as a result: in 2014, for the first time, more than half of Germans had smartphones. Mobile internet is replacing surfing on the PC. Young people spend significantly more time on their mobile phones than in front of the television.