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The machines first, the human after?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution / Repaint the Future! Your Guide to a Sustainable Tomorrow
Forfatter: Klaus Schwab/Erik Rasmussen
Forlag: Gyldendal/Sustainia (Danmark/Danmark)
Artificial intelligence cannot replace social knowledge and competence, as it is inferior to human judgment and always will be.


A transformation of humanity – nothing less! After two imperialist wars, and then more than half a century of reconstruction. In the field of tension between two civilizations' competition to achieve hegemony, the world now faces a human revolution.

At the beginning of a new year, the economic and political elite has every year since 1971 made a pilgrimage to the small Swiss mountain town of Davos to, among other things, take a look at The State of the World and to identify the golden opportunities. The latest Global Risk Report prepared for the occasion is used as a background.

At the head of the organization that attracts the elite to Davos, the World Economic Forum (WEF) every year, stands Klaus Schwab. In the book The Fourth Industrial Revolution (hereinafter FIR) he describes the background and content of what he thinks is an upcoming transformation of humanity.

Teknologiudviklingen. Dear child has many names, and synonymous with FIR Often mentioned are "Industry 4.0", "Machine-to-machine" and "Internet of Things". The use of the steam engine in England, steelmaking, electricity and the chemical industries in Germany and the US as well as automation of production by means of electronics and IT systems have led to FIR and its technological innovations with the use of cyberphysical systems to deal with new complexity.

The international institutions established after the Second World War, with the subsequent neoliberalism and the 2008 financial crisis, have forced the nations into unprecedented complex crisis and development scenarios, where FIR pretending to open doors to a new world with a new economic recovery.

In Denmark – according to the EU a digital pioneering country – a Singularity University (as the only one outside the US) is in the process of being set up, a Disruption Council has to make recommendations regarding the future labor market and the engineers have set up their very own SI-RI Commission (SIRI – Apple's intelligent personal assistant).

For the competitive state and the labor market, updated competencies require. The educational qualifications and professional experience that have been significant at any given time prove to be worthless later. It can therefore be argued in this context that personal and organizational flexibility and constant adaptation will be the key to survival within the paradigm.

Historical changes. These years, we are witnessing a number of fundamental changes across all industries, with new business models, new breaks and disruption to established job structures and the transformation of production, consumption, transport and distribution systems, says Klaus Schwab. In addition, a paradigm shift is underway in the way we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform and entertain ourselves. Yes, the authorities and institutions are entangled in major changes under the influence of the new technology. In summary: The changes are historical in their size, speed and scope.

While Klaus Schwab expresses concern about whether a common understanding of how "the people" will get involved in the revolution can be achieved, the WEF leader is also perfectly aware that "in the history of human history there has never been a time of greater opportunity or greater potential dangers ». No risks mentioned, no forgotten?

megatrends. The book about FIR explain the historical assumptions and what are the basic and systemic changes – seen from the WEF. Klaus Schwab lists the driving forces behind FIR in physical megatrends (driverless vehicles, 3D printers, advanced robotics and new materials) as well as digital (Internet of Things, the way of managing supply chains) and biological (synthetic biology that raises a number of ethical challenges, among others).

All in all, a tale reproduced by a representative of the economic elite. But where do we have the public and popular debate about the "revolution"? Is development inevitable? In the disruption council set up by the Danish government and which must make recommendations for the future labor market by the end of 2018, the culture is not represented. Should people in the future be attached to the machines, one must ask?

Repaint the future. The international sustainability think tank Sustainia – with Erik Rasmussen as its leading profile – has, after seven years of experience focusing on global risks, decided to offer sustainable solutions to the whole world, ie cities, businesses and communities.

Fear can be transformed into trust, risks into opportunities, apathy into empowerment, alienation into inclusion, fragmentation into engaged narratives, post-truth into a new age of enlightenment.

With the UN's 17 world goals as a backdrop, Sustainia has so far partnered with UN Global Compact, DNV GL, C40 and IKEA to find the sustainable solutions. Conferences, including the UN Secretary-General, as well as a number of publications are now the basis for Sustainia's latest publication Repaint the Future – Your Guide to a Sustainable Tomorrow.

With the book, Sustainia wants to retell the disaster story in a new narrative that includes an 18th world goal that, based on the individual's conversion, should show how global risks can be turned "to business opportunities by changing the mindset by which we understand the challenges". "Who wants to follow a pessimist?" asks the author.

As a result of an ongoing learning process, according to Sustania, fear can be transformed into confidence, risks to opportunities, apathy to women empowerment, alienation to inclusion, fragmentation into engaged narratives, post-truth for a new period of enlightenment, "unconscious" needs for sensible needs, linear innovation for exponential innovation, profit for profit to profit for life – and finally, restlessness can be transformed into binding cooperation.

In the 18th goal, Sustainia does not indicate anything bottom-upperspective on how the citizen can organize themselves in communities, but only how the citizen can contribute as an individual consumer. The individual citizen's efforts to establish sustainable, resilient communities that simultaneously unfold within the context of a regenerative culture, for example with a view to the biosphere, are beyond Sustainia's concept. Singularity University with artificial intelligence and machine learning must support continued economic growth and of course be humanity-centered, as added in the book.

Back to basics. Every day there have been complaints about the way the authorities manage the community, regardless of the level of administration. The public administration has been "bourgeois", "incoherent" and "uneconomical", the criticism has sounded. The counter-image to this – the "modernized" administration – is characterized by a comprehensive introduction of information technology, precision, speed, profitability and the citizen's presence is guaranteed. Today, most governance reforms are based on an ideal image with such content.

The trend towards digitized management has been ongoing for a long time. And, of course, modern technology should help to solve the extensive tasks a public administration today is facing with payment processes, forms and their processing, appeals and so on. But the development has also meant that management is increasingly an impersonal device. The caseworker – as a human being – is simply anonymized and disappears behind a facade of technology. This also removes recognizable accountability.

Proponents of these trends are convinced that digitalization is in the interest of citizens to a greater extent than the well-known traditional management practice. True, in many respects the "customer" benefits from the public administration's solution to digitalisation. These include quickly available information about the legislation and the plans that may be in place and are awaiting implementation. Still, it is a matter of the degree to which digitalization has evolved in the interest of the citizen.

For years, a development has been promoted where the citizen no longer has to physically approach the public administration. This is done only in very special cases, such as a passport and driver's license issue. However, due to staff shortages, the "customer" now rarely experiences that responses through the digital service are delayed for up to several weeks.

Profitable or not? It is well known that the trend towards digitalisation in this public administration has not come to the world according to the wishes of the citizen, but has come about according to business economic calculations which can be useful in business but have limited utility in public administration. The proponents have managed to convince politicians and government officials that their technical apparatus and its maintenance would entail lower costs – thus, first and foremost, saving staff. Engineers and information engineers have consistently presented all the benefits of the appliance, but the need for information technology was presented without the overall consequences of introducing it into management processes. The savings ratio was simply estimated – and it was not as high as expected. The technique also entailed considerable costs for procuring, programming, maintaining, interfering with irregularities and training of personnel – and often the cost of unsuccessful millions of data projects. Added to this are the human consequences: With the intake of machines, personnel have been marginalized, resulting in stress and trauma.

The human. Another aspect of the relationship between the state and the citizen is perhaps even more significant: the machines work schematically, according to algorithms, which, instead of dealing only with the individual case, relate to the totality of cases. Therefore, when it comes to a limited case processing with legal concepts or the exercise of discretion, the automatic data processing is of no help. A caseworker – with the relevant educational background – can easily live up to individual casework; she is superior in judicial proceedings to the deviation any machine. Nor will the new extremely difficult tasks of the administration – environmental protection, social supervision and control, social assistance – be solved with enough sophisticated automated calculations. Artificial intelligence cannot replace social knowledge and competence, since the technical capacity of humanity is inferior to human thought and judgment and will continue to be so.

The policy underlying public administration practice should recognize, once and for all, that technology alone can be an aid only and that it is more important to take care of the necessary personnel and provide for its training.

Niels Johan Juhl-Nielsen
Niels Johan Juhl-Nielsen
Juhl-Nielsen resides in Copenhagen.

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