Humane Digital Transformation: Towards a human-centered digitalization
Digital technologies are changing the way we live and work with consequences that are difficult to assess. The Bern University of Applied Sciences is committed to ensuring that technology is developed, used and regulated in such a way that it serves our vision of a just society and puts people’s needs at the centre. To this end, the BFH has launched the strategic topic area of Human Digital Transformation. Its head, Prof. Dr Sarah Dégallier Rochat, presents it here.
In the coming years, our relationships with technology, with other people and with nature will change. To support society in managing this change, the BFH has established three strategic thematic fields (TFs):
The aim of the Human Digital Transformation theme is to promote an interdisciplinary approach to research so that we can solve the challenges of digitalisation with a focus on human needs and dignity. BFH sees it as its mission to broaden horizons, to teach, to research and to shape the future of a responsible society.
While BFH already has a great deal of expertise in research and teaching in the area of digital transformation, the new thematic strategy field aims to shift the focus from technology to human needs. BFH wants to distinguish itself as a contact partner in the field of responsible digitalisation for industry, healthcare and the public sector. This position is strengthened by our leading roles in the Swiss Center for Augmented Intelligence (SCAI) and the Swiss Center for Design and Health (SCDH).
People and machines complement each other
As a university of applied sciences, we want to use our interdisciplinarity and our roots in practice to address the challenges of digitalisation holistically and not limit ourselves to a technological solution approach. By looking at the challenges in their social context, we can not only ensure the development of responsible, ethical technologies, but also provide solutions that harness human strengths. As Daugherty and Wilson write in their book Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI , “[d]he simple truth is that organisations can achieve the greatest performance improvements when humans and machines work together as allies, not adversaries, to benefit from each other’s complementary strengths.” Machines can provide speed, accuracy and efficiency in performing repetitive or complex tasks, while humans can bring creativity, judgement and contextual understanding to the decision-making process.
When humans and machines work together and complement each other, they can leverage each other’s strengths to achieve better results than either could achieve alone. This is often referred to as “augmented intelligence” , “augmented workforce”  or “operator 4.0”  and is a growing trend for organisations that want to harness the power of advanced technologies while benefiting from human expertise and experience.
Recognising the significant social, ethical and economic potential of digital augmentation, BFH is committed to being at the forefront of this new field. We have established a community of researchers and faculty that promotes dialogue between disciplines to ensure a holistic approach to the development of sustainable digital technologies. A socio-technological perspective is necessary to understand the impact of digital tools in their daily use and to make informed decisions in the design, development and integration of technology . If artefacts – the tools we have created – have supported humans since the dawn of civilisation, the new decision-making possibilities of artificial intelligence pose new risks, particularly with regard to users’ freedom of choice and the power dynamic between humans and machines . To ensure an inclusive, equitable digital transition, it is therefore crucial to initiate a cultural shift in which technology is adapted to humans, rather than expecting humans to adapt to technology.
Technology – empathetic, inclusive and responsible
The Humane Digital Transformation theme aims to promote the necessary shift in perspective within BFH to support responsible digital transformation. By putting human needs and dignity at the forefront, BFH can ensure that its technological advances are not only cutting-edge, but also sensitive, inclusive and responsible. BFH wants to use the thematic area of Humane Digital Transformation:
- guide the population through the digital transformation
- Provide expertise for the responsible design and integration of digital technology
- Develop technologies that support people in industry, the public sector and health care
These goals are in line with BFH’s values of fairness, privacy and sustainability. To achieve greater impact, we share our research findings with our students so that they not only apply it in their future work, but also become advocates for our vision of human-centred digital transformation. By equipping our students with this knowledge and mindset, we aim to create a multiplier effect that goes beyond our immediate sphere of influence and ultimately contributes to a more human-centred and sustainable digital future.
BFH has been researching and teaching all aspects of digital transformation for years. While technology was often the starting point in the past, today we primarily focus on people and their needs when developing new technologies. In the field of Human Digital Transformation, BFH researchers are investigating in five focus areas how technology can best benefit us in a sustainable way and how it can achieve greater acceptance in important areas such as healthcare.
The five focus topics are:
- Open Digital Knowledge
- Human Centered Augmented Intelligence
- Digital Engineering & Value Creation
- Digital Healthcare
- P. R. Daugherty and H. J. Wilson, Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI. Harvard Business Press, 2018.
- “Augmented Intelligence: What it is and why it will be smarter than AI,” BBC Science Focus Magazine. https://www.sciencefocus.com/future-technology/augmented-intelligence/ (accessed Mar. 25, 2023).
- M. Moencks, E. Roth, T. Bohné, M. Basso, and F. Betti, “Augmented Workforce: Empowering People, Transforming Manufacturing. World Economic Forum White Paper,” Jan. 2022.
- “The Operator 4.0: Towards socially sustainable factories of the future,” Comput. Ind. Eng. vol. 139, p. 106128, Jan. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.cie.2019.106128.
- S. K. Parker and G. Grote, “Automation, algorithms, and beyond: Why work design matters more than ever in a digital world,” Appl. Opt. Psychol. vol. 71, no. 4, pp. 1171-1204, 2022.
- S. Dégallier-Rochat, M. Kurpicz-Briki, N. Endrissat, and O. Yatsenko, “Human augmentation, not replacement: A research agenda for AI and robotics in the industry,” Front .Robot. AI, vol. 9, 2022, Accessed: Mar. 25, 2023, [Online]. Available: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2022.997386