2.2 Augmented Worker, one of the answers to tomorrow’s challenges
Evolution of the age pyramid
All the studies are unanimous about the aging of our population. The majority of people over 85 prefer to remain at home despite a loss of autonomy to other options (living with a relative, retirement home, home assistance, etc.). There are many reasons for this trend. Among them are the improvement in the economic situation of the elderly and the omnipresence of technologies that promote the independence of generations.
In Japan, 28% of the population is aged 65 or over. This has led to a shortage of labour, particularly in the manual labour, construction, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. To alleviate this problem, Augmented Worker solutions have already been developed to help seniors carry out activities and thus keep them in production capacity for longer. These include the use of exoskeletons to help seniors perform the physical tasks of their jobs and stay active for as long as possible.
As a result of this ageing phenomenon, four generations are often present simultaneously in Japanese companies and new forms of employment (senior workers, self-employed workers) are emerging. Two major challenges then arise: managing the transmission of knowledge and managing the place left to technology in our daily work.
New modes of production and labour organization
The concept of a single lifetime occupation is running out of steam. According to the study conducted by Ifop for Monster in 2017, among a sample of 1,000 working people, 64% think they will change jobs 3 times during their working life. This ambition is indicative of a new trend: professional mobility.
To respond to this new phenomenon, training and job entry must accelerate. It must not only be an integral part of the corporate culture, but it must also be done in a quick and fun way. Technology can in many cases shorten training cycles, either by increasing efficiency through the use of virtual reality helmets, for example. Or by coming to assist the collaborator in the closest possible way to his activity. The example of the VTC driver who no longer has to know the names of the streets is a perfect illustration.
Change of consumption patterns
Impatience is an important characteristic of today’s consumers. They want it all, and they want it now. To corroborate this trend, a study published by eMarketer of more than 1,500 U.S. consumers revealed a 59% increase in the number of shoppers expecting retailers to offer same-day or next-day delivery compared to 2017. Speed is therefore the key to success for economic players. For example, e-commerce giant Amazon has launched cashless physical stores called Amazon Go.
Consumers are increasingly embracing digital and automated interactions. Online applications to manage one’s bank account, travel or leisure are now the norm. Consumers have access to personalized, continuous and real-time information. They are autonomous in their decision making. This digitization of human relations reinforces the impatience of consumers who want to have access to available data anytime and anywhere.
Consumer impatience puts continuous pressure on the industry and thus implicitly on workers’ performance. Innovative solutions must therefore be found to help employees be more productive in order to meet these new expectations, for example by developing new digitalized internal and external interaction modes (text chat, video, real-time document sharing, virtual meetings, etc.).
Change of market and trade rules
In a world where competition comes from unpredictable players, productivity must be constantly increased. This can be achieved through quality activity monitoring, more information and improved working conditions.
The worker’s production capacity can be increased simply by having access to the data necessary for his or her work. A good example of this has been communicated by DHL, which has conducted experiments and announced the success of its “Vision Picking” pilots. This revolved around the use of augmented reality headsets at some of their storage and distribution sites. In addition to achieving the initial goal of freeing workers’ hands and providing information, the experiment showed an increase in productivity, a reduction in the error rate, and a decrease in the time needed to integrate and train new people.
A similar finding was obtained at Boeing and Enedis, which conducted similar experiments. The benefit obtained was a 30% and 25% reduction in the time needed to complete their daily tasks, respectively. In addition to this gain, Boeing employees reported a better quality of life at work due to the elimination of computer use on the assembly line.
Integration of environmental impacts
Augmented Worker developments are inconceivable without contributing as much as possible to energy and raw material productivity gains.
According to the calculations of this organization, if all humanity consumed as the French do, in 2018 it would have exploited the equivalent of the regeneration capacities of 2.9 Earth. A result very far from the sustainable level on the scale of our planet alone. In short, we have exceeded the planet’s capacity to reproduce the natural capital without which we cannot meet our needs.
Ces chiffres fournissent la preuve, s’il en fallait une, que les ressources se font de plus en plus rares. Le gaspillage de ces dernières devient donc le principal challenge des entreprises. En effet, elles cherchent à la fois à réduire leur empreinte carbone tout en augmentant leur productivité. Cela passe donc par l’optimisation de l’exploitation des ressources grâce en grande partie aux innovations technologiques.
These figures provide proof, if proof were needed, that resources are becoming increasingly scarce. The waste of these resources is becoming the main challenge for companies. Indeed, they are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint while at the same time increasing their productivity. This means optimizing the explotation of resources, thanks in large part to technological innovations.
Our planet is limited, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means afforded to us by our planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial and our only chance for a prosperous future.
For example, the increase in teleworking to reduce part of the daily transport and the pollution associated with it is a simple use case illustrating the impact of the Augmented Worker on CO2 emissions and the positive externalities that result from it.
However, beyond this first level of analysis, it is also necessary to consider the negative impacts linked to the digitalisation and virtualisation of working methods. Is the energy consumption of 10 teleworkers less than, equal to or greater than that of 10 workers in the same office pooling electricity consumption to connect their computers, wifi network and lighting?
For the manufacturing of digital hardware, many natural components are necessary (silicon, lithium…), and the increase of digital tools via the Augmented Worker reinforces these needs.
The subject of the impact on natural resources is therefore complex and calls for a global reflection on the manufacturing processes of digital tools as well as on their use, obsolescence and reuse (cf. Bengs Lab’s Blue Note on the circular economy).
Increase of regulatory constraints
Protection of private data
A General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been established to control the data collected by companies. Its purpose is to make any organisation that processes personal data (customers, prospects, users, employees, etc.) accountable. It applies to any processing of data that directly or indirectly identifies individuals.
These regulatory constraints are established to protect the use of the worker’s data when implementing innovative technologies.
When an Augmented Worker technology performs tasks with a high degree of autonomy of action and decision making in relation to the worker, the question of responsibility arises in a complex manner.
If a robotic tool fails, who is responsible for the consequences? The manufacturer of the tool? The developer who wrote the algorithm? The company that acquired it? The worker using it?
What is the limit of liability between the right of control granted to an automated tool, the action of the human worker, and the service provided?
For example, if a lorry driver at the wheel of a self-propelled truck capable of driving alone on certain portions of the route is the victim of an accident, these questions arise critically and need to be anticipated by the legislator, company managers and insurance companies.
In general, the current regulatory framework based on human interventions in full responsibility for action, within a well-defined unit of space and time, needs to be completely overhauled.
The unity of space and time, just through the telework made possible for more and more professions via digitalisation and Augmented Worker, is being called into question. The company director who has an obligation of result on the safety at work of his employees is at risk when many of his employees are at home and he has no control over their working environment, the respect of working hours, etc…