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44: Industry in the Future: UTC an academic partner for enterprise

The ongoing digital transformation of industry is a major societal challenge. For UTC, accompanying a growing number of companies during the changes, the phenomenon represents an increasingly strategic field for studies. This Dossier zooms in on the university’s main activities and on the specific nature of its approach to the industries of the future.

44: Industry in the Future: UTC an academic partner for enterprise

“It would be an error to mistake substitution and replacement”

Questions addressed by Charles Lenay, research scientist at Costech, UTC’s laboratory for technological research in social sciences and humanities.

What is your vision of industry in the future and what roles will humans play then?

It would be an error to mistake substitution and replacement. When you introduce new digital tools, or robots, you often imagine them replacing human operatives. But the truth is that tools - the history of technologies bears this out - never replace anything: they value-add and transform the domain of possibilities. So-called “smart’” machines do not replace us. In reverse, they modify the way we perceive our surroundings, the way we reason, organize ourselves, interact with each other …

We often read about descriptions of industry in the future as modular, agile, resilient faced with environmental change, just as living bodes do. Personally, I feel that we should think less in terms of an isolated body adapting to its milieu, and more like a mycelium – a network of filaments that spread out underground and give rise, from place to place, to mushrooms. We humans biologically function in network modes. Digital technologies will allow us industry to become organized in a more distributed manner in space. Large-scale factory sites, where skills and operations are concentrated, might well be replaced by a networks of smaller production sites. And there again, it would be absurd to imagine that these distributed sites could operate without humans, since it is the latter who embody the sense and meaning of the activities and who make the networks work correctly.

What contribution can the UTC-Costech Lab offer industrialists while they reflect on this topic?

UTC-Costech investigates how technology, and especially digital technologies, modify human activities and the way we experience them. We can help industrialists raise their level of abstract thinking for the purpose of better understanding what is at stake during the digital transformation of their company and to ‘rethink’ the role that their staff and teams can play, faced with automats the purpose of which is not to replace them but more to transform their activities.