Being the lead Paper presented during the 2nd International Conference on ICT for National Development and Its Sustainability, organized by the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences, University of Ilorin at the Main Auditorium of University of Ilorin on 3rd of March, 2021.

The pace of technology evolution and its revolutionizing impact on the world we live and work in today have never been so pervasively gargantuan. Potently disruptive digital technologies and new robust applications of data are driving swift innovations across many economies and societies. Previous traditional drivers of economic growth are becoming progressively inadequate, and cannot be exclusively relied on to create the desirable standard of life for people. Now, proactive nations and organizations are deciphering old problems with new elucidations, by exploiting the infinite and adaptable dynamics of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to transform socio-economic conditions for better.

So, as disruptive technologies such as cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain and others are speedily changing the physiognomy of socio-economic activities, they are also transforming the skills required for the future, fashioning new business models, overhauling industries, and aiding the transition to the phenomenal era of a new industrial revolution. That new industrial revolution, said to be knocking hard at the door, is being called the Fifth Industrial Revolution or Industry 5.0. It would not be out of order to briefly grasp the essence of the Fifth Industrial Revolution before exploring the shape that ICT and sustainability will take in it.

As at today, the universal apprehension is that the Industry 5.0 is coming too fast, because the Fourth Industrial Revolution is still on the stream of penetration. From historical insights, we understand that every industrial revolution had come in intervals of centuries, and had advanced societal development to some extent before another industrial revolution would follow. For instance, the First Industrial Revolution came on stream in the 1780s with steam-powered mechanization and fossil fuels or petroleum. Then the Second Industrial Revolution followed in the 1870s, bringing electricity and mass production capabilities. In the 1970s, the Third Industrial Revolution occurred with the evolutions of electronics and information technologies that fostered the idea of automation in manufacturing.

And in the 20th century, humanity was ushered into the Fourth Industrial Revolution which leverages the innovative powers of the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing for the facilitation of a real-time virtual-physical systems convergence. Today, we are still in the middle of the evolution of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while technology pundits are already forecasting and analyzing the fast approaching era of the Fifth Industrial Revolution which will be all about artificial intelligence enabling autonomous manufacturing in concord with, not in exclusion of, human intelligence.

So, as the current Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about using ICT to automate processes and introduce cutting-edge computing in order to help organizations optimize efficiency and maximize profits, it also generates anti-human outcomes in terms of job losses due to increasing automation or digitalization. There is then a critical imperative to restore the primacy of human factor and ensure sustainability of jobs along with the increasing innovations of ICT. This is the primal challenge that the Industry 5.0 is understood to come to solve, by catalyzing as a human-centric solution to guarantee sustainability with the power of ICT.

At this point, this discourse naturally devolves into a wider examination of ICT and sustainability in the Industry 5.0. As earlier hinted at, the coming era of the Industry 5.0 will be driven by artificial intelligence promoting human productivity and social good. Under the current Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence is already a functional constituent of ICT as shown in technologies like personal digital assistant in mobile devices, driverless cars and so on. In the Industry 5.0, ICT will be more pronounced as a veritable vehicle of artificial intelligence on a wider, more pervasive scale.

For years, the misunderstanding surrounding the concept of artificial intelligence seems to make it look anti-human and anti-sustainability. However, the Industry 5.0 will make it humanity-friendly. Artificial intelligence, as explained in a 2018 report by the Brookings Institution, is said to mean “machines that respond to stimulation consistent with traditional responses from humans, given the human capacity for contemplation, judgment, and intention.” It is further explained that artificial intelligence-driven machines can make decisions like human beings, just as they can also assist us to anticipate challenges or tackle the same as they develop. The Brookings report likewise affirms that artificial intelligence functions with the attributes of intentionality, intelligence, and adaptability, which all must align with human values and ethical imperatives to be able to advance humanity towards a better society.

Thus, leveraging the dynamics of artificial intelligence as clarified in the foregoing paragraph, ICT in the Industry 5.0 will incorporate intelligent devices, intelligent systems, and intelligent automation agents like autonomous robots to synergize with humans in productive activities. The autonomous labour force will understand human expectations, as both humans and machines work together with more peace of mind and less conflict of interests. In the process, manufacturing systems will be revolutionized as AI-driven ICT in the Industry 5.0 will eliminate the stress and complications of repetitive tasks, while improving productivity and operational efficiency, and saving costs.

When it comes to the issue of sustainability, things will get better with the humanity-friendly ICT innovations in the coming Industry 5.0. Generally, sustainability is often interchangeably explained as sustainable development which, according to the United Nations, means development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition mostly references environmental preservation. However, sustainability in a broader sense and in the context of this paper goes beyond environmental conservation to also imply concerns for social equity and economic development. Sustainability, therefore, is clarified as having ramifications of environment, economy and society.

In view of the foregoing explanations, sustainability will be central to the Fifth Industrial Revolution as the AI-powered ICT innovations will be more progressive in purpose. First, as mentioned in the early part of this paper, human jobs will be sustained in the Industry 5.0 and not undermined as under the Industry 4.0. This is possible because the new ICT artificial intelligence architecture of the Industry 5.0 will open up new job opportunities in the areas of “intelligent systems, robotics programming, maintenance, training, scheduling, repurposing, and invention of a new breed of manufacturing robots.” So, there will be jobs sustainability.

Second, sustainability value will be assured in the Industry 5.0 as businesses prioritize ‘human flourishing’, ethical practices and social progress over only profits. This means that there will be a greater connection of business to purpose, such that capitalism will gradually give way to socialism or humanism. In the coming Industry 5.0, business will become a very potent force for common good. In fact, today’s consumers are already putting pressure on businesses to be sustainability-minded or risk contending with brand disloyalty and boycott.

And third, environmental sustainability in the Industry 5.0 will also be guaranteed. Over centuries of industrial revolutions, environmental pollution has got increasingly worse, with manufacturing and other economic activities generating toxic waste that degrades the environment. Now, environmental awareness has become a global concern and businesses are pressured into getting environmentally friendly. But while the Fourth Industrial Revolution is more concerned with optimizing efficiency and productivity without consideration for environmental preservation, the Fifth Industrial Revolution will harness the powers of collaborative AI technologies and with advances in computation, ICT will be able to exert a better influence on pollution and waste management to secure the world’s environmental sustainability.

So far, it can be inferred that the Fifth Industrial Revolution is shaping up to be epic in its revolutionizing liberation of new realities. In simple terms, the Industry 5.0 can be explained as the co-creation synergy between humans and machines in the workplace. But in a deeper dimension, the Industry 5.0 will see ICT bending technology innovations to serve human civilization in a way that guarantees the wholesome development and sustainability of economies, societies and even the environment. There will be an increasing imperative to improve productivity without eliminating human agents from the manufacturing industry.

So, as human beings will be expected to proffer higher value to productive activities with repetitive tasks being done by robots or autonomous workers, there should be a proper alignment among technology, businesses and society to minimize conflicts that can jeopardize the human good. Of course, there must also be a fostering, verification and validation of transparency and ethical values in how robotic systems and machines will work with humans in the Industry 5.0. And in all, societies and economies of the world must bridge the indispensable skill gaps that will exist in future management responsibilities of the artificial intelligence-driven workplace.


United Nations General Assembly (1987) Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future 

Prof. G.A. Aderounmu is the Director, Africa Centre of Excellence: OAU ICT-Driven Knowledge Park, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.


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