Colleague Robot – Industrie 4.0 and its social effects on inequality and society

Politics & Society
re:publica 2016


Cyber-Physical Systems spanning both physical and virtual spaces, flexible work assistance systems such as Google Glasses and Smart Watches, human-machine interaction involving adaptive robots – key elements of the so called Industrie 4.0 may sound like an engineer’s vision of future workplaces, but are already reality in certain working environments today. This talk approaches Industrie 4.0 from a sociological inequality perspective, focusing on the way social texture changes through Industrie 4.0 technologies.


Industrie 4.0 is a concept based on the idea of a 4th industrial revolution induced by continuous digitalization and the development of technologies such as Cyber-Physical Systems as well as intelligently adapting machines and systems. Although widely discussed in current literature, robust assertions or empirical data, esp. on the non-technical aspects of work, are lacking.

Industrie 4.0 offers all kinds of social scenarios: Ranging from the idea of an ascending, skyrocketing level of workplace autonomy, to dystopian visions of humans being (yet again Tayloristic) slaves and work tools to robots and machines. Let`s ask why and how Industrie 4.0 and its associated technologies foster social changes in any way!

While we don`t have the gift of clairvoyance, sociology may offer “a look around the corner of the future” (Harvey Sacks).


This session zooms into two levels of technologically induced changes in social texture:

(1) Macro-level of society.

Technologies, influencing the way work is organized, have powerful social effects − through tech induced changes of work, social (class) positions change too.

Your new colleague is an adaptive robot, measuring your level of fatigue or stress and deciding autonomously whether you should change tasks? That special authority of decision making may change your level of workplace autonomy.

Software does your job faster than you ever did? The social status of your job (and consequently yours) may decline.


(2) Individual level of chances.

Integrating demands of work and private life, keyword: Work-Life-Balance, may be a struggle for some, for others it isn`t (I heard). So what are the chances of “successfully” integrating work and private life in digitalized work environments?

Sure, “successful” can mean different things to different people. But the structure of opportunities to be “successful” to owns individual liking are changing through digitalization – for some for the better, for others for the worse.

Stage T
Dienstag, 3. Mai 2016 - 13:00 bis 13:30