Science - February 21, 2017

‘We need a fourth technological revolution’

Tessa Louwerens

We need a fourth technological revolution if we are to continue to be able to feed the growing world population. This is the view of professor of Information Technology Bedir Tekinerdogan, who gave his inaugural lecture this month.

Photo: Guy Ackermans

Tekinerdogan came to the Netherlands with his Turkish parents at the age of four, and grew up in the village of Ulft, south of Doetinchem. He studied Informatics at the University of Twente, where he got his PhD in 2000. After working for some time at Bilkent University in Ankara, he was appointed to the chair in Information Technology in Wageningen in 2015.

Humanity has make three major technological leaps, says Tekinerdogan: the harnessing of steam and water power, the discovery of electricity, and the digital revolution. We now find ourselves in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, he says, with several major innovations such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing and big data. ‘In industry 4.0, the distinction between systems and factories becomes fuzzy. Instead we shall see smart systems, in which machines communicate directly with other machines. This leads to an autonomic system which optimizes itself.’ One example of this is smart farming: precision agriculture which makes use of IT to optimize crop production.

You need three things to construct a smart system, explains Tekinerdogan. First of all you need to collect large amounts of data. Then you need smart applications, or software, which can analyse these data properly and ensure that machines can communicate with each other. But as well as all this, Tekinerdogan says we mustn’t forget the human dimension. ‘People are not just users of these systems; they design, develop, test and maintain them too. We need to pay attention to the impact of IT on people and vice versa. There is a lot of fear around too: what if the machines take over?

Tekinerdogan understands the fear but is convinced that we cannot progress further without this technology. ‘It is important that we see the potential of IT and use it in the right ways. The population is growing exponentially and if we don’t do anything there will be shortages of food and resources in 2050. I think we can optimize food production and energy and resource consumption with the aid of smart systems, so that we can feed the growing population in the future too.’