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Futures of Robotics. Human Work in Digital Transformation

Article  in  International Journal of Technology Management · March 2017
DOI: 10.1504/IJTM.2017.10004003
6 2,400
3 authors:
Jari Roy Lee Kaivo-oja Steffen Roth
University of Turku La Rochelle Business School
Leo Westerlund


Int. J. Technology Management, Vol. X, No. Y, xxxx
Futures of robotics. Human work in digital
Jari Kaivo-oja*
Turku School of Economics,
Rehtorinpellonkatu 3, 20500 Turku, Finland
*Corresponding author
Steffen Roth
ESC Rennes School of Business,
2 Rue Robert d’Abrissel, 35000 Rennes, France
Leo Westerlund
Aie Ltd., Näätätie 3, 00800 Helsinki, Finland

Abstract: In this article we discuss the futures of work and robotics. We
evaluate key future trends in the field of robotics and analyse different
scenarios regarding the futures of human beings and work life. Subsequently,
we present a roadmap of robotics, which covers key aspects of industrial and
service robotics, discuss technology foresight insights and inter-linkages to
robotics, and identify three critical technology roadmaps: the technological
future of robotics, digitalisation and ICT technologies. Finally, we analyse
economic, social, and political key challenges of the digital transformation of
work and labour policy in the European Union in general and against the
backdrop of the European robotics strategy in particular.


Keywords: robotics; work; digital transformation; foresight; futures studies.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Kaivo-oja, J., Roth, S. and


J. Kaivo-oja et al.

Steffen Roth is a tenured Assistant Professor of Management and Organization
at the ESC Rennes School of Business, an Affiliate Professor at the Yerevan
State University Department of Sociology, and a Visiting Professor at the
International University of Rabat School of Business. He was awarded a PhD
in Management from the Chemnitz University of Technology, and received
another PhD in Organizational Sociology at the University of Geneva. He was
a Visiting Professor at the University of Cagliari, the Copenhagen Business
School, and the Yerevan State University. His research fields include
organisation theory, functional differentiation, next societies, ideation and
crowdsourcing, and culturomics.

Leo Westerlund is a writer, translator, interpreter, performing artist, and
thinker. His main interests lie in the societal dimensions of (technological)
development, languages, language philosophy, sound environments, and music.
He has actively participated in research projects on service design such as
in the INTERREG IV A project ServiceD and has been responsible for
Finnish-English translations and the linguistic aspects in this context. In
general, he is described as a man with an insatiable appetite for information and
knowledge about the world and the people in it.


In this article we shall discuss the futures of work and robotics. The key idea is to
evaluate current trends of European work life and present some diagnoses and prognoses
as well as a policy prescription for European robotics strategy with special attention to
human welfare as well as health and safety issues. Focus of European economic and
social policy has been on ‘jobs and growth’ and ‘social inclusiveness’. These two policy
priorities remain relevant but many ongoing changes and transitions in the European
economy and civil society require more attention. These include developments regarding robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).


European robotics strategy is explained in many ways in the Robotics 2020 report, its
summary outlining current developments in the following way:

“Robotics Technology will become dominant in the coming decade. It will influence every aspect of work and home. Robotics has the potential to transform lives and work practices, raise efficiency and safety levels, provide enhanced levels of service and create jobs. Its impact will grow over time as will the interaction between robots and people.”

We want to underline that robotics is not only a matter of science, technology and
innovation policy but also a social and health issue. As US Robotics outlines, moving from internet to robotics will include many social and cultural challenges. Achieving open innovation and creating a strong component marketplace are important strategic
objectives for European policy-makers. Many essential aspects of robotics and AI
developments include great social challenges and health and safety risks, which require
political attention. European societies are currently facing important challenges.

can be an integral part of wider solutions to these challenges, but also entails important
ethical, legal, and societal (ELS) impacts. Addressing these impacts needs to go hand in
hand with the deployment of technology. In the EU Robotics strategy, a key issue is to
underline that early awareness of the inevitable ELS issues will allow timely legislative

action and societal interaction. Of equal importance is the need to ensure industrial and
service designers of robot systems are aware of these issues and provided with guidance to create compliant and ethical systems. Addressing the ELS issues will help support the development of new markets by building confidence.


This article includes the following sections, each elaborating different key aspects of
robotics and future of work life. Section 2 evaluates key future trends in the field of
robotics. Especially futuristic insights to modern ubiquitous knowledge society are
provided. Section 3 includes various scenarios regarding the futures of human beings and work life. This section includes evidence-based insights concerning key changes in work life and human welfare. Section 4 presents a roadmap of robotics, which covers key aspects of industrial and service robotics. Section 5 provides some technology foresight insights and inter-linkages to robotics. There are three critical technology roadmaps

1 the technological future of robotics
2 digitalisation
3 ICT technologies.

Section 6 identifies the key challenges of future work life and labour policy in the
European Union: economic, social, and political. Section 7 informs readers about some
important strategic projects of the European Union, especially about the European
robotics strategy. A summary is outlined in Section 8.
Key future trends in robotics: futuristic insights to modern ubiquitous
knowledge society

2.1 New phase of European knowledge society policy

In the European Union the robotics Public Private Partnership (PPP) is the agent for
implementing the robotics strategy. Its purpose is to connect the science base to the
marketplace, a connection that ultimately benefits the society as a whole. Its vision is to
attain a global leading position in the robotics market across all domains.


The ongoing societal transformation takes multiple forms. Different aspects of this
development have been given a multitude of names, depending on the viewpoint and
focus of attention; information society (see, e.g., Machlup, 1962; Porat, 1977), knowledge society (see, e.g., Stehr, 2002), service society (see Malaska, 2003) super-industrial society (Toffler, 1970), post-industrial society (see Touraine, 1971; Bell, 1974), network society (see Castells, 1996) participatory economy (see Hahnel, 2005), telematic society (see Nora and Minc, 1981), and ubiquitous society (see Greenfield, 2006; Stappers, 2006) have been used, alongside an array of other more or less descriptive key words, to highlight the ways in which our societies have changed and continue to change. Albeit each of these concepts describes a slightly different sphere of the society or a different point along a chronological line of development, the terms are definitely not mutually exclusive.

Discussing the technological and business aspects of this development, we are faced
with yet another array of concepts: everyware (Greenfield, 2006), anywhere revolution
(Green, 2010), Web 1.0, Web 2.0 (see, e.g., O’Reilly, 2009; Gehl, 2011), Web 3.0 (see