Indo German Symposium: Future of Work

© DWIH New Delhi

To deepen our understanding of the changing world of work, to strengthen academic and industrial networks between scientific communities in India and Germany, and to gain insights into the impact of automation, digitalization and man – machine interaction on society, the German Centre for Research and Innovation – DWIH New Delhi organized a two-day Indo – German Symposium on the ‘Future of Work’ on the 19th and 20th of March, 2019 in New Delhi.

The symposium brought together speakers from India and Germany for an interactive exchange of ideas, presentations, studies and research findings aimed at answering significant questions pertaining to five themes, (also the five sessions of the symposium) namely:

  1. Artificial Intelligence and the New Working Environment
  2. Redesigning Workspaces
  3. Working Together with Artificial Intelligence
  4. Impacts of New Technologies on People
  5. Realigning Work Processes

Ms. Heike Mock, Director, DWIH New Delhi, welcomed the speakers and the audience to the first day of the symposium with an introduction to DWIH New Delhi as one of the five Centres established by the German Federal Foreign office to internationalize science and research and highlight Germany as a premier research destination.

Her remarks were followed by the Inaugural Address from H.E Dr. Martin Ney, the Ambassador of Federal Republic of Germany to India, who set the tone for the sessions to come by quoting renowned German poet and thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Compared to the ability to meaningfully organize the work of a single day, everything else in life is child’s play.”

He talked about the ‘work of the future’ in the context of the ‘future of work’, the changes in tasks and profiles under Industry 4.0, and highlighted how scientific excellence requires successful international co-operation, similar to the ongoing partnership between India and Germany.

A small teaser of each of the five sessions followed, giving the audience an idea of what to expect in each session.

After a small coffee – break, it was time for the Keynote Address. Dr. Didar Singh, the first keynote speaker and a member of the ILO Commission on Future of Work presented the megatrends on the future of work, as reported by organisations like the World Bank and the ILO. He also threw light on the major future challenges for India, including but not limited to the vast number of people working in the informal sector (82% of workforce), jobless growth, skill deficit and dismal female participation in the labour force. Lifelong learning, universal social protection, sustainable investment in infrastructure and a boost to the gig economy were then presented as possible tools to fight these problems.

The second keynote was delivered by Dr. Thomas Lange from acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering, Germany. He supplemented the thoughts shared by Dr. Didar Singh, encouraging organisations of the future to make themselves comfortable with uncertainty and complexity, citing example of the spectacular growth of WhatsApp and it eating into Deutsche Telekom’s market share. “We need less experts,” he stated, “but more fast learners.”

The first session began post lunch, with Prof. Dr. Gregor Engels from University of Paderborn decoding “The use of Modern IT in Working Environments” and the opportunities, challenges and risks associated with the same. Complementing the idea of Ecosystem 4.0 introduced in his presentation, Dr. Moritz Haemmerle elaborated further on the principles, constituents and practices of Industry 4.0 in his talk which centered around The Future Work Lab in Stuttgart, Germany. He emphasized that there could be “no Industry 4.0 without people.” Mr. Volker Schmid, the final speaker for Session 1 then proceeded to talk about downsizing over – engineered solutions through an account of his company Festo Didactic SE’s journey towards smart factories.

Christos Chantzaras from the Technical University of Munich opened the next session on Redesigning Workspaces. He chronicled the stages of workspace evolution till date, when space has now become a medium of innovation and disruption, as evident in fluid forms and blurring boundaries in formal organisations. IIT Roorkee’s Dr. Gaurav Raheja took the discussion further by highlighting “New Dimensions of Work – Space Relationships” where he envisioned work to be synonymous with life, and to display its human centric side rather than a machine centric one. Soon thereafter, the audience got a rare glimpse into the story behind India’s first open office at Siemens (through Ms. Sangeeta Ray, Vice President, Siemens Real estate) where space served as a medium for openness and where from now, “collaboration is the way forward.”

The first day culminated into a networking dinner, where the participants got a chance to interact with the speakers and explore collaboration opportunities with them.

Session 3, Working Together with AI, perhaps one of the most anticipated sessions, also proved to be one of the most engaging ones. Opening the symposium on the second day, Dr. Sabrina Schneider from the University of Kassel enquired if we could delegate strategic decisions to AI? Lack of trust in AI coupled with lack of forgiveness for wrong forecasts seemed to be the major deterrents towards the process, she concluded, as were the questions of responsibility and morality. Prof Dr. Barbara Deml from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology then demonstrated how robots could even sense human motions (for example at BMW), to enable collaborative work between the two in a factory space and enthralled the audience with these “human aware robotic systems.”
Prof. Dr. Simon Eickhoff of Forschungszentrum Juelich, the next academic to address the gathering, presented the applications of structural and functional brain imaging using AI, to predict everything from the gender and age of the subject to their outcomes with therapy for specific diseases. Assessment by AI is more objective and clears the road for unbiased inferences, a revolutionary development for modern brain science.

Having examined the technical aspect of the Future of Work, the time was now ripe to also discuss the societal implications of technology and digitalization. While Dr. Santosh Mehrotra from Jawahar Lal University had rich data to illustrate the Indian perspective of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Dr. Tanja Carstensen, a sociologist from LMU Munich, brought gender into the discourse, highlighting the working culture changes allowing more and more women to balance a family and job with the help of digital technologies like flexi – time, work from home etc. Dr. Maximilian Goethner, a micro – economist from the University of Jena had interesting points to make on the skill and task biased effects of digitalization, with low skilled and repetitive task bearing the brunt of the threat posed by machines replacing humans at work.

The last session, Realigning Work Processes, saw speakers including Dr. Carsten Dreher (FU Berlin), Mr. Hubert Reilard (EFD Induction) and Dr. Dev Nathan (institute of Human Development, New Delhi) talk about topics as diverse as SME Innovation Patterns, geological trends in production and manufacturing, dispersion of value chains, and organisation – specific business models and processes for achieving competitive advantages in a fast changing world of work.

Each session was followed by a dedicated QnA round, with participants from both industry and academia making the most of the opportunity to pose some thought-provoking questions. The Indo – German Symposium on Future of Work was the year’s first major event, portraying Artificial Intelligence- this year’s theme, with close to 300 people in attendance.

Date: 19 and 20 March 2019

Venue: India Habitat Centre, New Delhi