Talk in the Park

Humans Getting in the Way? How Digital Networking Is Changing the World of Work and Society

Digital networking is nothing less than a turning point in history. Therefore, Robert Bosch GmbH and the Robert Bosch Stiftung have made digitalization the overarching theme of this year’s Talk in the Park event series. Following a discussion on the topic of big data, the talk on July 20 was all about the effects of digital networking on companies and society.

For the first time, two renowned experts held keynote speeches.

Dr. Christoph Kucklick, editor in chief of features magazine GEO and author of the nonfiction work Die granulare Gesellschaft. Wie die Digitale unsere Wirklichkeit auflöst. ("The granular society. How the digital realm is replacing our reality."), dramatically described the revolutionary consequences of digitalization. Kucklick described the intelligence revolution as the use of intelligent machines in almost all areas of life. He argued that this development would lead to a massive redistribution of knowledge, expertise, and economic opportunities. Kucklick used the term "difference revolution" to describe the use of digital technology to measure and exploit previously covert differences between people. Whether consumers, patients, or voters, it’s all about the individual – "the average" is an out-of-date concept. After all, the control revolution raises questions about data ownership. Kucklick argued that both nation-states and large corporations collect and evaluate data without being subject to an effective control mechanism.

In terms of the world of work, Kucklick warned against seeing the machines as a threat: "The distribution of labor between humans and machines is not an either/or question. It’s not about competing with each other, but about cooperating in an intelligent fashion." He used the example of chess, where he argued that people didn’t stand a chance against computers for many years. He explained that teams comprising people and machines are even better than machines alone, as they combine experience and creativity with powerful analytical capability. With this in mind, he believes that people need to change the way they see themselves. In his view, we need to move away from the notion that we are the smartest life forms in the universe and think of ourselves as creative and empathetic beings instead.

Bernd Dworschak, senior researcher at the Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart, explored two scenarios for the future organization of labor. In the automation scenario, intelligent machines perform the control and management roles. Human employees carry out tasks under the guidance of the machines but no longer make any decisions. In this scenario, even specialists become superfluous to the production process. Demand will center on highly qualified experts who can install, modify, and maintain the machines.

Were the specialization scenario to become reality, the consequences of digitalization would be less dramatic. In this scenario, technology supports employees, but people still make the decisions.

Dworschak argues that in either case, the demands placed on employees will change. Above all, they will need an understanding of systems and the way IT interacts with the real world. As acquired knowledge becomes out of date ever more quickly, Dworschak advocates lifelong learning. "We need an environment that is conducive to learning and jobs that require you to plan, organize, and communicate."

Both speakers emphasized the fact that the education system also has to respond to the challenges of a digital world. They believe that schools should teach basic principles and skills - and fewer facts about the world itself, which is changing all the time. In order to deal with the change, they argue that we must all be prepared to consciously unlearn old patterns of behavior - even though this is often easier said than done.

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Photos: Robert Thiele 
Dr. Kurt W. Liedtke, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, in conversation with speaker Dr. Christoph Kucklick.