Industrie 4.0: Mein Har(t)z Brennt Part 2 Doubleplusgood


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A natural resin, harz in German.

In the face of apathy, new dreams are emerging. From a technocratic perspective, these new dreams make sense. But just as we’ve seen with the European dream, an ever closer union, needs backing from citizens. New dreams need to be passionately supported, easy to understand and easy to spread. A technocratic idea is not enough: we need to give this idea heart so that people can believe and support it. It needs to be scary, terrifying and powerful like all good nightmares and dreams while being simple and well delineated. The best ideas are new and ancient, ephemeral and real.

Climate activist is well on its way to becoming the most desirable profession.

In the Netherlands, we tend to not get worked up over our own nature. Long since resigned to the fact that we’ve killed everything bigger than a breadbox and managed the few signposted highway surrounded parcels of nature left; we tend to protest for other people’s forests. At one point there was a broad-spectrum concern for something called the Green Heart. This was to be pierced by something else called the Iron Rhine. I’ll spare you the details but everyone was worried about the Green Heart. I was not aware that the Netherlands had a Green Heart. I had been to the Green Heart but did not find it especially remarkable or nice. I was unaware that it was supposed to be wonderful or special or protected. It was an agricultural area that to me looked like the rest of the country. But, naming matters, words matter. The Iron Rhine, which sounded like some bad super robot from a Fritz Lang film, was replaced with the word High-Speed Line which clearly made it more palatable and likable. Meanwhile, sections of this line where called Trace’s which sounds French and fancy and not like a scar on the earth but more like a cool thing you’d like to picnic next to. We ended up building the High-Speed Line. We also did end up building a billion Euro tunnel to protect the Green Heart though. A seven-kilometer tunnel beneath intensive agriculture and farms. Words shape thoughts and these shape the heart and this shapes the world. I read a quote once that said that if “global warming” instead was called global cancer that we would have solved it by now. And I believe that. I still remember how unified and unambiguous the global response to “the hole in the ozone layer” was. I’m still convinced that on that day words won for us. Most didn’t know what the consequences were, but ‘a hole in a layer that is something that we should fix’ was something everyone could agree on. Ideally, that’s what you want: a term that everyone agrees on already before the debate begins. No child left behind.

We live in an era of fake news but it is important that we remember that the person who popularized the term fake news is also the person who generates the most fake news every day right now. But the most important thing that we must know about fake news is that this person invented said term to indicate that he was being attacked and disparaged by this fake news and that this person did this in order to be able to counter, factual arguments and established bastions of truth through a single throwaway term. It is even more important to know that this is working. FakeTruth would have gone a tad far but this was the Goldilocks right terminology that seems lifted straight from the pages of 1984 to our Twitter generated reality of today.

Doubleplusgood with a pinch of salt is, therefore, the way to go. We can with the same propaganda technology accomplish much good. Look at our own industry: 3D printing is the wrong term and is instead one specific technology. Try as we could however, this is the one term that journalists liked and they unified the development and the revolution of our entire industry under that term. Many things that were not news became news because they were a part of the “3D printing revolution.”

Harz Forrest and hill landscape in Germany.

A similar development happened with EDM. Dance or electronic music had dominated the charts of several European countries for decades before an American journalist coined the term EDM and used it to encapsulate an industry that had been growing in many guises and under many terms for decades. The popularized EDM term became valuable because the more you saw it the more you saw the ever-presence of electronic dance music globally. The more this occurred the more journalists could talk about the rise of EDM and crown other people kings of it. This is precisely what happened in 3D printing. Worried about our fate on this dying earth I’ve spotted a term that’s been gaining currency that we could use to usher in a new technological revolution while strengthening democracies and helping to save our planet. If we conclude that there is very little to hope for in the successful democracies of Europe, we must manufacture new hope. We must have new dreams and new aspirations to be happy. Rather than turn to racism and caudillo nonsense, let’s find a dream that many can agree on; one very similar to the successful European dream that sustained us post WWII. This dream should be Industrie 4.0.

Rammstein has a song called Mein Herz Brennt.

This used to be an academic term whose main use was to get subsidy from the German government. Roughly speaking the current meaning of Industrie 4.0 is:

A series of technologies that will lead to automation and developments such as completely automated lights out factories. Formally it is a part of a German government initiative High Tech Strategy 2020. Intelligent manufacturing will in Industrie 4.0 see networks produce things in a decentralized “smart” way. IoT was tacked onto this in the sense that through the dream of IoT one could monitor parts, machines, and events in your factory.  More pigs at the trough meant that disparate things such as cloud computing, customer profiling, AR, big data and other things got glued to Industrie 4.0. People started to talk about the fourth industrial revolution. What happened is that a strategic thrust by one government was captivating the minds of the press worldwide. Eager marketers started to pop a sensor on something and called it a 4.0 product while the Digital Twin and other additions took 4.0 deep into enterprise software.

So Industrie 4.0 sounds cool and is memorable just like 3D printing and EDM are. It sounds precise but is actually amorphous. You can apply this term to almost anything and many companies can make their thing a 4.0 thing quite simply. But, in a world where vaccines are questioned, technology is no longer a universally trusted answer for all that ails us. The simple fact that Industrie 4.0 could replace all human labor is scary and this will hype the term to no end. We must build a bigger church however to get absolutely everyone interested. For that to happen, we need Industrie 5.0.

Part One of this story can be found here.

Images: Prezemak, StefanMandy Hall, Oliver.

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