The best tools have always augmented and freed us

Main visual : The best tools have always augmented and freed us

‘However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be the widely held belief that our work should make us happy,’ writes British philosopher, Alain de Botton.[1]

He then points out that over the last two millennia, work was seldom seen as a source of happiness or satisfaction. In fact, Aristotle put it bluntly in the 4th century BC, ‘All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.’[2] Many modern-day workers might agree. Work is for earning a living, and it must be endured.

Of course, that’s just one side of the story. There have been many other philosophers and thinkers who have disagreed. They’ve seen the virtue in skill and a job well done. But now, I believe we have a chance to leverage the power of digital to ensure that every one of us can focus on quality and skill and producing outcomes that enhance not only the lives of our customers, but our own too.

Fujitsu’s new Spotlight on Smart Manufacturing shows how the development of Industry 4.0 is part of a continuous process of historical development. As Karl Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, puts it, ‘Today, the on-demand economy is fundamentally altering our relationship with work and the social fabric in which it is embedded.’[3] And Fujitsu is working hard to ensure that the digital technology on which that new world is founded delivers human-centric outcomes.

Digital technology should make life easier and better for all of us

It must make us more productive, not by forcing us to work harder, but by enabling us to work smarter. Manufacturing is being transformed by technology. But that’s nothing new. It is the one sector where technology has always been a huge factor in production. What digital is doing is changing the nature of how you make goods, and how human beings interact with the production process.

Fujitsu’s own experience provides a clue to what the future will look like for both manufacturers and the people who work in smart factories. Technology has long replaced much of the hard, physical labor needed on the production line. Now, digital is taking out much of the mental ‘grunt’ work. That’s good for skilled people. They don’t want to have to do repetitive tasks, they want to use their knowledge and skills to make a difference, and boost quality.

One of Fujitsu’s customers, the manufacturer of sophisticated wind turbine blades, was suffering too high a rate of quality problems. Skilled engineers would end up spending far too much time examining each blade for possible faults. They wanted to work on design and development, but instead they were looking for faults. So, together with Fujitsu, they used AI and machine learning to create software that worked alongside the experts and learned all the possible faults, and then took over the task of finding them. The faulty blades were then quickly identified so that the humans could discover the cause, fix the problem on the production line, and then move on to more valuable work.

Human skills augmented rather than replaced by technology. It might not be the source of total happiness, but it helps make work more fulfilling. It also shows why we, as a species, have been able to create industry 4.0 (and the previous three versions, of course) – it’s because we use tools to augment our mental and physical powers, and do so in a creative way. If we approach industry 4.0 in that spirit, then it will benefit us all, commercially and personally.

Download the spotlight here.
Find out more here:

[1] Lines of Work ‘Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2011
[2] The Politics Aristotle
[3] The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Karl Schwab: Portfolio/Penguin 2017