Low Intensity Conflict & the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Forward Observer

Low Intensity Conflict & the Fourth Industrial Revolution

28 December 2020
Austin, Texas

Klaus Schwab is the founder and executive director of the World Economic Forum.

Schwab made headlines over the summer when he started talking about the “Great Reset,” which he says will rewrite the framework of the economy, society, geopolitics, the environment, and technology.

That’s going to be the focus of next month’s World Economic Forum conference, but we at Forward Observer have been getting spun up on what it means and how it’s going to affect us in the future.

Each year, I spend several hours watching the Forum’s live streams and reading transcripts and first-hand accounts of the presentations. The world’s financial elite often share their expectations of the future, which I then report on for FO subscribers. I’ll do the same this year.

Over Christmas break, I got caught up on two of Schwab’s books — The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2017) and Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (2020) — in preparation for next month’s WEF.

As Schwab describes, the First Industrial Revolution happened in textiles, which led to the replacement of human labor with machines.

The Second Industrial Revolution included electricity and sanitation, which lead to longer human lifespans and a general higher quality of life.

The Third Industrial Revolution included microchips and computer processing.

And the Fourth Industrial Revolution includes artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In short, Schwab is concerned that these technological advancements will lead to further income and wealth inequality, and he wants to ensure that the technological benefits and wealth creation are distributed equally.

The underlying problem is that technology and its effects will be disruptive and lead to conflict — hence the need for elites and society to “shape” the Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to Schwab.

And this brings us to Low Intensity Conflict.

Some of us woke up on Christmas morning and checked the news to see a bombing in Nashville.

While investigators haven’t published a motive for the bombing (at the time of writing this), there’s speculation that the Nashville bomber attacked an AT&T building out of fear of 5G communication networks.

Coincidentally, Schwab writes about this kind of oppositional violence. Technological advancement in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics will not only displace millions of jobs but will also drive fear and unrest. This will manifest itself in an expansion of low intensity conflict.

My approach to understanding and analyzing Low Intensity Conflict is centered on three structural fault lines: political, social, and economic (below).

I haven’t made up my mind if technology is a fourth plane or merely an accelerator, but I am certain that technology will drive Low Intensity Conflict.


1. Technological advancements are expected to displace millions of American workers — somewhere between 10-50% of all U.S. jobs in the next 20 years, depending on who you ask — at increasingly faster rates than the last 20 years. Because of the rapid scalability of these technologies, job losses are likely to accrue more quickly than jobs created, resulting in persistent and widespread joblessness leading to heightened levels of class conflict. Capitalism versus Socialism will dominate socio-economic conflict this decade.

2. There’s also likely to be an expansion of the Culture War as biotechnologies, neurotechnologies, human-machine systems, augmented reality, and a number of other advancements assault traditional moral beliefs and pose new ethical questions. As we saw with abortion clinic bombings and the murders of abortionists in the 1990s, we may see similar attacks against the people and companies that are developing unconscionable technologies. Other than 2018’s YouTube shooting, the Nashville bombing is the only other technology-related attack that I can recall, assuming the bombing targeted AT&T’s 5G network. Technology-related terrorism may become common this decade.

3. We’ve seen elements of the Far Left and Far Right express a desire to engage in cyber warfare against the government and other targets. Radical and extremist groups have publicly advanced cyber capabilities as a strategic imperative for their revolutionary aims. The Fourth Industrial Revolution brought us the Internet of Things, and as more devices, appliances, facilities, and systems will be on the internet this decade, the surface area for cyber exploitation will increase. There’s the possibility that, in addition to nation-states and criminals, domestic activists and revolutionaries will carry out disruptive cyber attacks as a part of the low intensity conflict.

I have other concerns about how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect our country and our every day lives. If enough people are interested, I’ll prepare a Forward Observer Futures presentation with some of my thoughts on what’s ahead.

Until next time, be well.

Always Out Front,
Samuel Culper

P.S. – If you agree that our lives will be affected by disruption and conflict in the future, then sign up for my daily Early Warning intel brief. We look at data points on the political, social, and economic planes, and provide Early Warning of future disruption. If you have assets or people to protect, then you can’t afford a lack of situational awareness. We provide intelligence so you can make better decisions about the future. –> Subscribe here.

Mike Shelby is a former Intelligence NCO and contractor. He's now the CEO of Forward Observer.

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  1. Well put Sam. I like your model graphic. I believe technology is one accelerator, but would also include the new-found willingness to apply virtually any tool or tactic to achieve political/economic/social agendas. Nihilism has replaced previously societal moral limits on the fringes and any limits on those tactics. There is little fear of appearing “too extreme”, so targeting races, communities, children will become as commonplace as it is in the Arab/Afghan terrorist culture as we’ve studied for decades. Big tech/media will similarly justify the use of information control, doxing, etc. It’s taking the “centerists” far longer to figure this out than it should. They created and used these fringe elements/tactics and now they will become the victims.

  2. With respect to technology driven job loss.

    It’s often the story, that I hear, that job losses due to technological developments will be the low end jobs and the jobs of blue collar workers.

    This seems like it’ll be just the opposite, with a lot of white collar jobs at risk. I can’t quote any sources, but there are articles talking about how cyber security automation and legal advice automation are already incredibly power tools.

    The Luddites of the 21st century may include lawyers and technical experts.

    How would that alter things as this plays out?

    1. You’re correct. Job losses will apply to white collar jobs, too — accountants, attorneys, etc. The World Economic Forum focused on that topic last year. Let me go back and dig into some of my notes to get a good answer for you.

      1. This is just a thought, so I have no solid body of evidence to back it up. What’s the likelihood of these displaced workers banding together in order to disrupt the technology that displaced them? Out of work lawyers could tie up companies and technologies in court for years and displaced security professionals and software professionals are in the unique position of being able to active work against the systems. Kind of the digital hammer of the old Luddites.

        1. Yeah, that’s a great point that I haven’t considered. What would a digital Luddite revolt look like? Hmm…

          1. If these displaced people could organize, come up with objectives, specific lines of effort, unified and complementary strategies they could pose a threat similar to state level actors. That level of organization to happen clandestinely and to provide continuous disruptions clandestinely, etc…Doesn’t seem likely, more of a worse case scenario to war game about.

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