The Fourth Transformation: A vision of the near tomorrow from Shel Israel and Robert Scoble


One of the things I like most about The Fourth Transformation, the new book from Shel Israel and Robert Scoble published in December 2016 that I just finished reading, is the way in which it will help you to join up the dots and begin to understand the fundamental, disruptive and accelerating changes we already see around us brought by advances in technology – notably, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) – and massive shifts in people’s behaviours.

You’ll encounter plenty of new terms, phrases and expressions in this book – starting with mixed reality (MR) and spatial computing – that you will increasingly see online and in the workplace. There’s a useful glossary at the end of the book that explains myriad terms like those.

If you’re keen to explore what’s next, this book is a good place to start.

It’s also a book in which readers who either have little interest in the subject matter, and who find other books addressing  the subject matter – and there are plenty – hard work or lack a rich story-telling element to hook you in, will find a worthwhile experience that assesses a tech-enriched landscape over the coming decade in layman’s terms.

While The Fourth Transformation is a slim volume – just 208 pages in the paperback edition – it packs more than enough thought-provoking insights from the many use cases of real-world organizations already on their transformation journeys in a compelling narrative that’s conversational and authentic.

So what is it about and why should you read it?

Let’s look at the full title – The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything.

In the book’s introduction, Israel and Scoble explain the three transformations over the past 50 years that have already had profound effects on the workplace and on all of us in society generally:

  1. The first came in the 1970s when people started using text characters to talk directly with computers.
  2. Then along came GUI. Apple introduced the Macintosh in 1984, which was followed a few years later with Microsoft Windows.
  3. The third transformation came in 2007 with the iPhone, followed by Android phones. Touch became the primary interface, and it transformed personal computing from everyone to everywhere.

The two authors then build a credible bridge to the fourth transformation, one that explains it in a logical manner:

We are now at the dawn of the Fourth Transformation. It will move technology from what we carry to what we wear. The user interface will move from a screen you tap to computer-generated images that you actually touch and feel. Instead of inputting with our fingers, we will type much faster with our eyes on virtual keyboards. In previous transformations, it was all about the interface between technology and people; now it becomes all about the experience – and that changes nearly everything.

The book is split into three sections:

  • Part 1 describes changes in technology and people.
  • Part 2 tells you about changes already going on in four areas of business: retail, the enterprise, health and learning. We also explain how artificial intelligence is changing the way we interact with devices in our personal lives.
  • Part 3 looks at the big picture, first examining the disturbing possibilities of lost privacy, jobs and the ability to discern truth from illusion.

It’s that final part 3 that I find intriguing as it flips the positive picture the book strongly – and rightly – paints and looks at a potentially dark underside, one where the social cost of fourth transformation technologies will be high and very uneven.

The narrative examines this underside in a way I find disarmingly honest. Billed by the authors as “This is our vision of the near tomorrow. What could possibly go wrong?” it talks about the consequences of such transformation in terms of cost, to society, to organizations, to individuals.

Presenting this dark side alongside the powerful vision of what’s undoubtedly coming over the next decade provides the reader with some valuable context and balance, something that will offer a frame of broader reference when you encounter reporting and opinion across the media landscape, far too much of which leans only towards the Dystopian.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the book is foreworded by Gary Vaynerchuk, a serial entrepreneur, CEO, investor, author, public speaker, and internet personality, whose enthusiastic narrative is a great scene-setter for the story that follows.

I mentioned the book’s introduction earlier. Here’s a suggestion – listen to a very good recording by Jeffrey Kafer of the complete introduction here:

In sum, The Fourth Transformation offers you a great story that will help you see more clearly the profound changes confronting us in our workplaces and in our homes.

But you may not agree with all you read here and prefer to make up your own mind. In which case, after reading The Fourth Transformation, at least you can make an informed decision.

The Fourth TransformationThe Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything

Published in the United States by Patrick Brewster Press
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 2016
ISBN-10: 1539894444
ISBN-13: 978-1539894445

Available at Amazon US (US Kindle edition), Amazon Canada (Canada Kindle edition), or Amazon UK (UK Kindle edition).

(A concise extract from this post appears as a review on Amazon UK.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.