This report focuses on analysing the consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics-based automation on industry and work, the related human-machine systems and human-computer interaction, and the need for policy to support a positive transition and mitigate the potential risks. Automation (mechanical or virtual) is a process or task performed by software or a machine. Automation comes in many shapes and differs with respect to its degree of flexibility and the functional autonomy with which it performs a single task or a variety of tasks. Industrial automation uses robots and other automated tools in different industrial settings (e.g. 3D printing, machines for hazardous environments). Business process automation is in charge of basic nonmanufacturing activities (i.e. software tools for human resources, accounts and contract management). Robotic process automation is used in higher-level automation, where software is used in certain circumstances to augment process performance and carry out complex tasks.
As highlighted by the Harvard Business Review (2020), companies that automate their operations will see productivity gains only if they put in place mechanisms to enhance collaborative intelligence. Humans, AI and machines thus need to work together, which demands better understanding of how these new systems operate and what are the best skills to manage them. The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred interest in digital industrial operations and business models. Workers and employees were forced to rely on digital tools and interact with machines much more than before the crisis.
In this context, the specific objectives of this analysis have been to:
- Discuss current trends in human-machine collaboration and map the different challenges related to these new complex systems
- Identify policy approaches and measures deployed to foster a beneficial shift towards human-controlled automation and mitigate the related risks
- Explore any policy gaps in support of technological transformation and provide inspiration for policy action