Since 2010, the consequence of Industry 4.0 has been evident in almost all sectors of German industry. Automation, digitalisation and other information technologies are driving productivity and interrupting the current value chains. The dynamic advances in technologies, paired with all types of cross-sector innovations, is creating increasing concern about the possible adverse societal impact, such as increasing inequality, and the diminishing of jobs. While we cannot be truly sure about the consequences and the types of society that will arise from complicated changes to the work of work, we can touch on some significant trends.
Historically, policy makers and scholars have witnessed an association between the age composition of a workforce and economic competitiveness. A greying workforce challenges employer with the possibility of a considerable dimension of their workforce being close to retirement and it shed lights on the worriment about the relevance of age-related deterioration in physical and mental capacities to productivity. In the digital world, however, this link seems to be impaired. On the contrary, technology benefits seem to increase competitiveness gaps and serve as a driver of social inequality. Therefore, we witness an increment of the competition for an edge in new technologies among nation states as well as individual organisations. The geopolitical tension in relation to this will likely continue, and the present trade war between the USA and China has much to do with new technologies. There is constant pressure for new kinds of regulation, and it is difficult for policy makers to keep up with latest technology landscapes and ecosystems. The advocates of globalisation and protectionism are increasingly contrasted. Concurrently, technical innovations do not seem to curtail either.
We cannot have a truly prosperous society if we neglect the humankind. Some business contacts in the automotive industry and the smart cities sector occasionally joke that new technologies are ready to develop clean, sustainable and productive urban infrastructures that may be disrupted due to human errors. For decades, fiction films have portrayed future scenarios in which machines conquer the world. Stephen Hawking famously viewed AI as a significant intimidation to humanity. Society 5.0, a notion created mainly in Japan, is a demonstration of an attempt to shed light on human concerns, particularly on how we view technologically advanced environments. Also, driving user-friendly technologies in everyday lives, the initiative has also attempted to seek solutions to the issues of productivity in an ageing society. With the improved human-machine interfaces, we can drastically heighten our own capabilities. The more effectively we get at the seamless integration of human and machine, the more advantageously we can keep an ageing workforce active, safe and highly productive. To conform to these technical innovations, policy makers can urge organisations to provide more training for next-generation manufacturing technicians to create a seamless shift between technologies. As such, the agein g workforce can remain both safe and productive in factories.
Throughout history, innovations have increased productivity and enhanced human well-being. If the trend continues, we will be confronted with an expanding debate: do we need to have so many people employed if technologies and machines take over more and more works from human? The challenge is becoming increasingly apparent now that we are faced with a fast ageing population, with an increasing number of individuals staying healthy for longer, and yet spending most of their life outside the labour force.
Participate in the upcoming QS-APPLE 2019 under the theme of “Industrial Revolution 4.0 and Ageing Societies: The Changing Roles of Universities in the Asia-Pacific” from 26-28 November 2019 in Fukuoka, Japan.