Science Museum employee Kerry Law poses for a photograph by an audio visual display at the Large Hadron Collider exhibition at the Science Museum in London, November 12, 2013.
Toby Melville / Reuters

From social media to the Internet of Things, digital fabrication to robotics, virtual reality to synthetic biology, new technologies are racing forward across the board. Together they are ripping up the rule book for people, firms, and governments alike. Mastering this so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is the theme of the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Annual Meeting, for which this special collection serves as background reading.

Klaus Schwab kicks things off with an overview of the topic, followed by sections on the technological trends driving the revolution; those trends’ economic, social, and political impacts; and the resulting challenges for policy. Drawn from the pages of Foreign Affairs and the pixels of, the articles feature world-class experts explaining crucial issues clearly, directly, and authoritatively.

Read Neil Gershenfeld on 3-D printing, John Chambers on the Internet of Things, Daniela Rus and Illah Nourbakhsh on robotics, Laurie Garrett on synthetic biology, and Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger on big data. Follow debates between Martin Wolf and Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence on how new the new economy really is, and between Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell on the political power of social media. Learn what Clayton Christensen thinks about the prospects of entrepreneurial innovation in the developing world, how Craig Mundie sees the future of privacy protection, and why Kofi Annan and Sam Dryden believe IT is transforming African agriculture.

We’re delighted to showcase all these and other highlights of our coverage of a rapidly changing world. They’ll bring you up-to-date on some of the most important developments going on around us. But at this rate, by the time we’ve truly gotten a handle on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ll probably be well on the way to the Fifth.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now