A German perspective on the social dimensions of automation
- Posted on January 29, 2018
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will fundamentally change our society - I am firmly convinced of this. I am of the opinion that fear, moaning and persisting is not helpful. What is also clear is that the number of digital transformation winners must be kept as high as possible and their losers caught up.
The rapid advance of AI allows companies to advance into completely new dimensions of automation. Mixed workforce from people AND machines will be the normal case in a few years. This is also evidenced by a study on Intelligent Automation, which has been carried out for Avanade by Wakefield Research. According to the report, 31% of the companies already use the right technologies worldwide, and by 2020, this figure should double. Automation, by the way, rarely means that an industrial robot works with a human being; rather, it is about collaboration in the services sector, implementing chatbots, etc.
More productivity at the expense of people?
Ultimately, this new kind of automation is necessary to open up higher productivity levels. After all, many companies are moving towards a point where old-fashioned measures are exhausted, which is the result of the survey. Ultimately, a lack of automation would slow progress - from which investment should it be financed if companies were to make less profits in competition?
The argumentation as such is therefore in itself coherent. But just because a thing is correct in principle does not mean that this applies to all its aspects. And this is certain: as always in the economic history of mankind, the digital change will also bring losers, but also a great many winners. The number of coachmen and smithies is now manageable - with the triumph of the automobile industry or industrialization in general, entire professional groups have been pushed to the brink of insignificance. At the same time, new opportunities and increased productivity and prosperity emerged in the factories and companies of the 19th century.
Shift of activity profiles
Recently, I was able to discuss these questions in the course of a press conference together with Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi and digitalization expert Dr. Holger Schmidt. According to Schmidt, AI and automation in 10 to 20 years will lead to 15% fewer jobs in metal and plant engineering, as well as electrical engineering. Nevertheless, he pointed out that the number of positions in the media, humanities and social sciences would increase by 10%.
However, a shift towards more and more highly qualified professions is decisive. This was also the keyword from sociologist Prof. Armin Nassehi. He did not regard the topics of digitization and industrial policy as being strongly occupied by politics, and characterized the sentence that impressed me: "Digitization and artificial intelligence require a discussion of knowledge, not just a discussion." He explicitly pointed out the many opportunities of digital pattern recognition, and to the fear of the Germans before her. Here only the Enlightenment, which has so far been too little, can help.
Solutions for more progress and more winners
Ultimately, the quintessence of the discussion was that the number of jobs may reduce, but far less dramatically than often feared. There is even the chance to bring back some production to Germany by lowering costs. But most felt that very low qualified and highly qualified positions will be among the winners - the "middle class of the professions" will be reduced.
In order to start with the idea of producing as many winners as possible, the participants also agreed on one thing: the most important task for maintaining and creating jobs is education and the accumulation of experience with new technologies. They are the essentials. There will always be people who depend on the social system. We can and must ensure that we can continue to afford these social systems and that they must be taken as little as possible. And we have that in our hands - by helping our children find the right path. Here we are all asked, as parents, as professionals and as members of a state that provides education and infrastructure.
I invite you to review the Intelligent Automation research that Avanade has recently released and see for yourself how leaders are planning for the future.