By Carina Tüllmann | Fraunhofer IML – Modern technology is becoming more and more intelligent, it is mastering more and more complex tasks and even showing signs of taking on human traits. In view of this, cooperation between people and technology must be re-evaluated and redesigned. The Innovationlab Hybrid Services in Logistics wants to initiate a discourse in society as a whole about the subject of mechanical responsibility.

In today’s logistics, automated systems like order-picking robots, storage and retrieval machines or fork lifters determine the perception of cooperation between people and technology. Yet, this cooperation will fundamentally change with the implementation of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence – away from people and technology working »side by side« and towards them working with each other. However, that is all still up in the air. But people are already dealing with a wide range of technological systems: whether they are robots or cyber physical systems, assistance systems or deep learning. For a long time now, this has not only been about communicating with technology, purely sending and receiving news, but about interacting and about how people and technology respond to each other and interact.

The more intelligent technological systems become, and the more complex and organisational the cognitive tasks they manage are, the more the lines between people and technology blur.

The majority of the systems used in the working world still allows us to see which decisions were made by people and which were made by technology. Usually, technology plays a role in preparing the decisions, then people give the go ahead – or not – based on personal experience, knowledge or feelings. However, the borders between people and technology are beginning to blur, the more intelligent technological systems become, and the more complex and organisational the cognitive tasks they manage are. People automatically hand over some of their responsibility to technology.

But how much responsibility can, should and may people hand over to technology? Which information or data can, should and may people share with technology to enable it to act responsibly? The challenges connected to these questions are, on the one hand, of a legal nature. Topics like security and liability are key. This discussion is already being led at a political level: right now, the European Parliament has just passed a resolution with a large majority that requires comprehensive laws for robots and artificial intelligence at European level. On the other hand, societal and ethical issues are also significant, such as those about considering attitudes to morality or about the »dehumanisation of the working world«. Questions concerning »mechanical responsibility« are gaining in significance.

People as conductors of the digital system

Principally, the form of cooperation between people and technology is determined by systems created by people themselves. Therefore, they are in control of designing not only the technical but also the working systems. As conductors of the digital system, they can relate people and technology to each other as they like – i.e. they can conduct! Last year, with its thought-provoking »Innovation Potentials of Man-Machine Interaction«, the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) pointed out that the positive development of human-machine interactions is not going to happen on its own, but that it is an organizational task for society.

A task for communication

The discussion must include a variety of actors. Each of them has to contribute their own profession’s and industry’s point of view. In the end, the issue of interaction between people and technology remains a thrilling task for communication. It is all about giving priority to the enormous opportunities for business, society and for the individual. Challenges mustn’t be kept secret but must be explained because transparency is the basis for accepting technology. Last, but not least, the interaction between people and technology has to be visible and made alive – at best in realistic use cases and showcases like at the Innovationlab, and it must be explained by those that developed and implemented the digital technologies. Cooperation between people and technology will then be successful and have a positive impact.

About the author

Carina Tüllmann, Department of Strategic Initiatives at Fraunhofer IML, is responsible for Communication and Innovation Management at the Innovationlab.