- Register


Home >Digital transformation & societal discourse

Digital transformation & societal discourse

09 January 2018

While digital transformation and associated technologies are generating enormous interest, scratch the surface, and behind the enthusiasm lie issues for society at large, as this article from Omron outlines

The availability of products and services that use digitised technologies has increased at breakneck speed. In the world of work, data analysis and visualisation, integrated and networked machines and collaborating human-machine dialogue are becoming established in the same way that personal computers became part of the office environment in the 1980s. From the critical perspective this has brought with it risks such as data fraud and attacks by hackers.

Any consideration at all thus far of risks and opportunities for the world of work and society at large has been rudimentary and fragmented.

Society 4.0

While it is certainly the case that new technology is able to improve the standard of living of society as a whole, technology is itself responsible for less desirable developments, like environmental pollution in emerging countries or rising unemployment among the low-skilled, specifically through the use of automation. In this respect, the interplay between society, technology and science can be seen as a cycle leading to a system that exerts constant evolutionary pressure on society and technology.

technology is itself responsible for less desirable developments

Industry 4.0 will influence the conditions of, and requirements for, employees in many areas. Driven by the application of machine-to-machine communication and an increase in autonomous systems, a scenario has arisen in which the demand for qualified production controllers and managers has increased but the demands placed on workers themselves can be reduced. How the increase in productivity is divided among workers depends crucially on social partners. The impact on the general situation of workers and unskilled labour can be positive. On the other hand, their skilled counterparts will have to come to terms with growing pressure on performance and skills.

Discourse needed

Industry 4.0 and, more generally, the digitisation of our day-to-day lives brings improvements. The increased efficiency, improvements in productivity and new services it can provide will change society, consumer behavior and corporate landscape. The transformation will mean countries that promote digitisation will be able to defend and build on their competitive position.

The change to a digital society will take place over the next 20 to 35 years. The course of growing demand for skills and training, the transformation from analogue to digital infrastructure and the adaption of fully integrated commercial ecosystems will not always run smoothly. Looking at the impact of Industry 4.0 it would seem that  polarisation lies ahead in which, depending on the combination, individuals, regions and industry will see advantages but also risks that cannot be influenced directly.

The availability of digital infrastructure, an increase in the availability of data sources and a requirement for the efficiency of services and algorithms in line with Moore’s Law are the prerequisites for the change to a digital society and Industry 4.0. From a critical perspective, however, if ubiquitous intelligence or infrastructure is not available in idealised form, cannot be used, or is consciously disregarded, then this in itself has inherent risks.

The effects of Industry 4.0 and the further use of robotics in the world of work are many and various, and are influenced by the availability of infrastructure in a company and global alignment, as well as by digital investment strategies and cooperation between social partners.

Digital transformation will require a transformation in the demand for skills. More highly skilled and top-skilled workers with an understanding of complex relationships will be required. The knowledge surrounding these relationships will become obsolete more quickly as technology continues to develop, and will have to be kept constantly up to date. The knowledge society will experience a new and greater dependency on up-to-date knowledge, while at the same time processes considered monotonous and irksome will be reduced as machines become capable of making decisions autonomously. In some cases, such a development will mean that even specialist workers will no longer be required in a production environment, and it is also possible that Industry 4.0 could bring about "technological unemployment" among both specialist personnel and their low-skilled counterparts (Möller, 2015).

Key Points

  • According to Omron, consideration of risks and opportunities that digitalisation brings has been rudimentary and fragmented
  • Demand for qualified production controllers and managers has increased but the demands placed on workers themselves can be reduced
  • Countries that promote digitisation will be able to defend and build on their competitive position