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New industrial revolution to usher in age of Pinoy micro-entrepreneurs

MANILA, Philippines – The revolution is coming, so we better be prepared for it.

That was Filipino tech entrepreneur and PLDT chief strategy officer Winston Damarillo’s main takeaway from a week of discussing global issues with world leaders, CEOs, and celebrities like Bono and Leonardo DiCaprio at last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Beyond the glamor, what struck the self-confessed geek the most was the summit’s main theme: The 4th wave of the industrial revolution.

As he put it, this revolution is more about the buildup and rapid change in technological advancement in the world today.

“We now got to this critical mass of technological development, in digital technologies, IT, the physical science of manufacturing, automation, and robotics, as well as advancements in health and bio sciences,” he explained.

What we’re really looking at, he went on, is “a very rapid change towards a technologically-driven industry, where the way we envision telcos, banks, and health care institutions will change, and change at a very rapid pace.”

Shaking up all industries

Things that seemed like science fiction just a few years ago is now being made possible by advances in technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing.

Damarillo cited self-driving cars as an example, saying that the idea of this technology becoming reality is probably even less than a decade away.

“If we have self-driving cars, we would have much more efficient use of fuel. So you cut fuel consumption by a significant amount, about 30% is what people say. We’ll cut the amount of materials we use to build cars," he said.

The technology that enables Bitcoin distribution, called block chaining, is another example of this phenomenon. It makes it possible to record every transaction executed in a digital currency, thus taking up the traditional role of banks.

Having 3D printing go mainstream will also change the production process, eliminating the need for goods to be produced in factories and shipped all over the world.

This latest revolution is built upon the previous digital one, a phase that's best encapsulated by the smartphone becoming the most essential tool in today’s connected world.

What the 4th will do is amplify connectivity by introducing more technology and blurring the line between the digital and analog worlds.

The consequences are far reaching, not just for the Toyotas, Shells and BDOs of the world, but for everyone – right down to consumers themselves. Everyone will be affected.

Rise of the micro-entrepreneurs

Damarillo pointed out that this can be good or bad. While the rise of automation in the 4th wave of the industrial revolution may cause some people to worry about their jobs, Damarillo emphasized that it will bring about a shift in function.

“It isn't going to remove the ability of human beings to make economic gain, it’s just going shift it,” he said.

That shift, he said, will favor forward-thinking countries and people.

“I think in the Philippines, when the 4th industrial revolution comes – and we’re gonna be ready for it – it’s going to herald the era of the micro-entrepreneurs in the Philippines,” Damarillo said.

An Uber driver is an example of this. “When I feel like I want to make money, I’ll drive, I’ll turn [Uber] on. Then I’ll use my car, and I’m in the transportation business. When I’m done, I’ll turn it off and I can hang out or do other things,” he explained.

The reason this is possible is because a lot of the technology that can be used to take advantage of the revolution is now readily available.

Smartphone penetration in the Philippines is increasing exponentially, and the country is already one of the most adept in terms of communications and social media platforms.

“If you’re a digital sari-sari store, it’s just a question of mixing and matching all these technologies to offer that value and bring it to a customer,” he said.

Damarillo pointed out that the trick is to adapt models to local environments through what he calls indigenous innovation.

Enabling customers without credit cards to pay for e-commerce or Uber rides is one such example.

It's local innovations like this, he pointed out, that will enable emerging countries to close the technology gap.

Leveraging consumers

That said, there are certain areas where the gap between rich and emerging countries is unavoidable.

Damarillo’s biggest fear is that the 4th industrial revolution will exacerbate an already existing opportunity divide. (READ: Digital revolution falling short in developing world – WB)

“The rich and capable developed countries tend to become more capable in adapting to AI and technology legal stuff. Meanwhile, a lot of the developing countries are still stuck with the second and third revolution,” he explained.

To him, supporting micro entrepreneurs is key, as they are the future platforms of monetizing the revolution.

In this, the government can help by providing the basics, good network infrastructure, and Internet for all. It could also facilitate loans to micro-entrepreneurs, similar to what Singapore does, Damarillo suggested.

Creating a support structure for them will enable the Philippines to leverage its key strength: its young population.

“We have a young population that will be the future consumers. If you look at emerging countries, we have growth, whereas developed countries have stopped growing,” he said.

Intellectual gap is the biggest

The crucial thing to understand about the 4th industrial revolution is that it is as much a technical revolution as it is a cultural revolution, and we need to be mentally prepared for that, Damarillo said.

“The biggest gap in the 4th industrial revolution is not capital, it’s not regulation, it’s not automation. It's the intellectual gap. We should probably be really, really vigilant about that,” he said.

One problem he noted was Philippine educational institutions, which aren't "as good as the best [ones] in developed countries and fast-rising economies like China."

It's one of the reasons he founded Developers Connect Philippines (DevCon), a non-profit peer-to-peer training organization. The idea behind DevCon is to provide a venue for developers to pick up the latest and greatest in technology and train their peers on it.

The pace of technological change makes it hard for any institution to keep up, but there are options everywhere. For example, there are plenty of freely available technical courses online, including those from globally prestigious universities.

Any Filipino who wants to advantage of the revolution has the tools to do so. The key is to be aware of the ongoing changes and to constantly think of ways to take advantage of it, Damarillo said.

“We have to think, 'Hey, with all these capabilities and technology that is accessible to me, there’s going to be something I can do with it,'" he said. ­ – Rappler.com