World of Work 4.0 – opportunity or risk?

APAS assistant is the first industrial robot system certified by the German employers' liability insurance association © Bosch

Digitalisation is changing the way we work. Opinions vary as to whether this is for the best. While some are looking forward to new challenging tasks, others are afraid of the deserted factory and artificial intelligence. Iris Plöger, Member of the Executive Board of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), explains why people remain the linchpin in industrial companies, what opportunities new technologies already offer today and in the future, and why innovation spaces are important.

Many people are skeptical of artificial intelligence, some even anxious. How can confidence and trust in new technologies be strengthened?

The old principle "There is no point in running scared" applies here. Sometimes we tend to point out all the horror scenarios and move into science fiction film versions that have little to do with reality. We all already use artificial intelligence in our everyday lives, without always realizing this. We use it when we are on the move with the help of a navigation system. We use it in our fitness trackers and in other areas. Of course, there must also be rules, there must also be red lines. The industry is working on doing a lot by way of self-regulation and not immediately and nervously calling for the legislator.

What is the future of work in industry? Do employees have to worry about losing their job to a computer?

From my point of view, the concern is not justified. Every technological revolution to date has meant more and more productivity and more jobs. It will probably be the same in this case. We are not prophets. But we have to see that we are in an ageing society, i.e. we will have fewer skilled workers in the future. Artificial intelligence can support us, can help us. It can relieve the individual of certain routine tasks at the workplace and provide opportunities to make working environments a little more exciting.

How can innovation spaces be used in industry to promote innovation?

Innovation spaces are a great opportunity. Because we operate in a regulation jungle. That's why it is helpful to create a certain amount of freedom. Let's take the example of autonomous driving. There is a test section on the A9 where you can try out what it might look like on the road without liability and approval questions, etc. There the car industry, together with the telecommunications industry, can experiment with what really works and then we can think about what regulations we need to change.