Introducing One of Our New #rp18 Topics: We Can Work It Out (Science Year 2018)

“Working Worlds of the Future” will be a focus topic of the Science Year 2018. The Science Year, organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is dedicated to examining a range of socially relevant current issues from (applied) research and development. It aims to make science more approachable and ensure that decisive developments from the labs, think tanks and ivory towers of the world don't simply pass us by.

With the #rp18 track “We can WORK it out”, we want to imagine and experience these working worlds of the future. And we look forward to including your ideas and thoughts on the subject – by way of the Call for Participation, which has started this week!

Sub-conferences on the BMBF Science Year topics have been part of three previous re:publica events – in 2014, on the Digital Society, in 2015, on the City of the Future, and in 2017, on Seas & Oceans. We are the logical choice for the topic of future work environments, seeing as the issue has been on our radar since the earliest beginnings of re:publica. Next year's event will not only be about automation and shortage of labor, but also about the role of research and science in addressing these changes in the workplace – taking place on the re:publica stages and in form of “sweatshops”, artworks and performances.

Historically, work has constantly been subject to change. The first Industrial Revolution was driven by hydro and steam power, the second accelerated by the assembly line and electricity, and the third shaped by electronics and progressive automation.

The fourth revolution makes use of all technological and organizational possibilities currently available. In addition to the chances and opportunities that technological innovations, digitalization, artificial intelligence, and the buzzword “Industry 4.0” might provide, the focus is on the social and environmental effects of changing work environments worldwide- not only since the prevailing globalization. Gig-Work goes without borders.

In 2002, the Internet researcher Jeanette Hofmann described the transformation into the much-quoted knowledge society like this: “The time of smokestacks, mass production and monotonous manual labor is over. The future belongs to knowledge processing, and focuses on clean and intelligent jobs.”

The (social democratic) promise of the increasing automation of heavy physical labor that surfaced early in the last century is now seemingly becoming a reality. The consequences are not only positive. Work becomes more pliant, porous, and fluid as a result. For many workers, this brings unreasonable uncertainties and demands, which timely social and economic policy responses will have to address.

One of the reasons for this crisis of work is of course digital transformation, which has the potential to streamline work processes and eliminate subroutines. Today, we once again face a paradigm shift, which may at first seem like a step backwards in historical terms: the outsourcing of work itself. Only that this time, luckily this externalization allegedly does not take place at the cost of “lesser” human beings as it was in antiquity, but makes use of machines instead- or anonymous "mechanical turks".

“We can WORK it out” tries to present perspectives that go beyond the constraints of current economic policy, engineering and business administration, unlocking the working world of the future and approaching it academically and philosophically. What are the opportunities and challenges that arise in terms of architecture, everyday life, ethics, law, sustainability? What is our final destination, and what is the groundwork that has to be laid down now to get there?

  • What does the future of (digital) work look like?
  • Which groups are leading the debate internationally?
  • How are we going to learn and work in the digital sphere?
  • Can we build prototypes for the future today?
  • How do we make production processes more efficient, ecologically friendly and socially responsible, worldwide?
  • What follows the Limits of Growth?
  • Which techno-/sociological questions are raised here that connect to other re:publica discourses like privacy or power structures?

Let us make artists, international activists, academics and digital communities part of the debate, and encourage policy-makers worldwide to renegotiate the concept of work to build a more sustainable and equitable future. We will explore the state of work as it is today, and reflect on how it may change and transform in future – within individuals, businesses and societies.

We envision a wide range of talks, workshops, hands-on makerspace projects and artistic expressions – and of course, new media formats like robotics. Via the link to our Call for Participation, you can also send us your submissions for the Science Year 2018, and we will get back to you by February 2018 at the latest. In the meantime, you can look forward to confirmed speakers introducing themselves here.


Science Year 2018 – “Working Worlds of the Future”

The Science Year 2018 focuses on the “Working World of the Future”. Digitalization, alternative ways of working, artificial intelligence research and similar fields present new challenges and opportunities to scientific and civil societies. How will people work in future? And how do you prepare for these scenarios? What role can science and research play in designing the terms of labor? The Science Year 2018 highlights the impact technological and social innovations have on the economy of tomorrow, and discusses the new standards of socio-political dialogue and work experience that we face today. “Learn, experience, create” is the motto of the Science Year 2018, and all interested participants are called upon to join in, ask questions and find solutions. The Science Year is an initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF, organized in collaboration with Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD). As a central instrument of federal science communication, the Science Year conveys current research to the public and fosters the dialogue between science and society. 

Wissenschaftsjahr 2018 - BMBF