The City in the (IV) Revolution


Let the world be grafted onto our republics, but the trunk must be our own.”

José Martí[1]

The City of Knowledge was created for a world to come. That world takes shape on the ground that is being sowed by innovative projects of great importance in many parts of the world, sometimes slowly, others at high speed. The latter is the case of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which concerns the City in many ways. The first one of these certainly refers to its mission of shaping an innovative community that uses the resources of science, technology, enterprise, and culture from a humanist perspective that links innovation to social change.

Such has been a usually unforeseen consequence of each one of the industrial revolutions generated by the development of the modern world system from the late eighteenth century to the present day. The difference that the City seeks to make consists of making the consequences of its work foreseeable, to guide it towards the vision of a prosperous, inclusive, sustainable, and democratic future, which, for example, is able to foresee and avoid the creation of conditions that contribute to the creation of socio-environmental disasters such as the pandemic that has affected all of humanity.

In this perspective, an article from the World Economic Forum reminds us that new technologies “such as the steam engine and the mechanization of textile production started the First Industrial Revolution,” and led to “historical sociopolitical transformations such as urbanization, universal education, and mechanized agriculture.” The Second, generated by electrification and massification of production, “introduced entirely new social models and ways of working.” And the Third, associated with digital technology and instant telecommunications, automated an ever-increasing number of productive and administrative processes, and “connected the planet and reduced time and space” from the 1970s until now.[2]

Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) brings technological innovations whose scope can only be appreciated from perspectives that allow us to understand for example that “while each of the technologies will have a separate impact, what will define our lives the most in the future will be the changes in social and economic systems.” This 4IR, in fact, relates in part to the relationship between production and the society which produces, that is, the producer who consumes, the consumer who produces, and the organizational structures, work and the life in which we all participate in both activities.

This helps to understand that multiple discussions at this early stage of the 4IR relate to “such basic issues as personal data ownership, infrastructure security, and the rights and responsibilities of the new disruptive enterprises.” It is basically a question of building a “conceptual framework that helps companies, governments, and individuals anticipate the radical technologically-based changes that lie ahead in business models and ethical and social issues.”[3]

Admittedly, if on the one hand, the 4IR seeks first to intensify the cycle of production- distribution-consumption- production, socially and politically, it creates unprecedented capacities for citizen control of public management, and for governments to work with, and not simply for, citizens and their organizations. On the other hand, these same transformations may increase the control of citizens by the State, and that of consumer behaviors by large corporations that hold market power. So, as Klaus Schwab, founder of the Forum, once said, this Fourth Revolution:

Will not only will change what we do: it will also change who we are. It will affect our identity and all issues related to it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, know people, and take care of our relationships.

For the City, this is of the utmost importance, as the 4IR defines the technological and social environment in which it sets out its vision and exercises its mission. This presents us with peculiar opportunities and risks for an organization operating in the global knowledge management services market, from a humanist perspective that encourages our work in all circumstances. In this regard, for example, the 4IR makes it easier for the City to grasp with all its clarity the relationships between technological innovation and human development. But also, and above all, it helps us understand our place in a circumstance that proves how solving any complex problem always creates new and more complex problems, in an energy-powered dynamic generated by its own contradictions.

In this case, the technological and social dimension of our environment becomes visible in data and considerations generated by entities such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which is given to us by Mexican analyst Juan Danell Sánchez in a recent article. For ECLAC, Danell tells us,

Communications networks and infrastructure are increasingly used for productive, educational, health, and entertainment activities. […] Mobility data during the first few months of quarantines shows a world that is physically paralyzed, but not virtually. [So,] in countries in the region […], attendance at food stores and pharmacies decreased by 51%, in entertainment and stores that sold non-essentials products by 75%, and in workplaces by 45%. At the same time, website traffic and the use of applications for remote work, online education, and online shopping reveal a significant increase in the use of digital solutions. Between the first and second quarters of 2020, the use of remote work solutions increased by 324%, and online education more than 60%. E-commerce and deliveries grew by 157%.

The numbers, Danell adds, reveal that this form of change “from the outside,” is indeed conditioned by internal structural factors such as a heterogeneous productive structure, “a work market with a marked informality and precariousness, a vulnerable middle class, a weakened state of welfare, a poor digital infrastructure and socio-economic restrictions on access and connectivity.” Thus, for example, in 2019 66.7% of the residents of the region had an Internet connection. The remaining third have limited or no access to them due to their economic and social status, in particular their age and location,” as “the difference in connectivity between urban and rural areas is significant.”[4]

Today, the contradictions generated by the progress of our species over the last 300 years are summarized into an uncertain, socially, and environmentally destructive prosperity, which cannot sustain a democratic society, nor encourage the formation of entrepreneurial communities as it encourages that of entrepreneurial individuals. Today we also know that the 4IR can exacerbate these problems if it is assumed as the mere continuity of the previous ones or contribute to solving them if we see in it the opportunity to integrate our human capabilities and our technological resources to innovatively address challenges posed by human development from the local to the global.

The City understands that its commitment to human development is expressed in its purpose to link innovation to social change. From its perspective, the 4IR does not herald another era of change, but the opportunity to make way for a change of times, when prosperity will be equitable, sustainable, and democratic, or it will not be possible. When faced like this, it can certainly be the revolution of the City.

[1] “Our America.” The Liberal Party, Mexico, 30 January 1891.Complete Works. Social Sciences Editorial, Havana, 1975. VI: 18.

[2] Four principles of leadership of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”


[3] Regarding this, for example: Schwab, Klaus: “The importance of shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” 18-01-2018

[4] In countries like Bolivia, El Salvador, Paraguay, and Peru, more than 90% of rural homes do not have an Internet connection, while in Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, only half of rural homes are connected. Danell Sánchez, Juan: “Great fortunes, the gallows of the capitalist system.”

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