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2 July 2024

Error source or necessity? Researchers explore the human role in future production  

The interplay between humans and technology is a subject of intense debate. Is human involvement necessary if technology can handle the work on its own? A research collaboration between Copenhagen Business School and the University of Southern Denmark, funded by DIREC, highlights the importance of human involvement in automated systems.

As technology becomes an increasingly significant part of industrial processes and daily life, understanding the foundations of human-machine collaboration is becoming increasingly important.

In the research project Cyber-physical systems with humans in the loop, supported by the Digital Research Centre Denmark (DIREC), researchers from the Department of Digitalization at Copenhagen Business School and the Software Engineering Section at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark have examined the significance of the human role in cyber-physical systems (CPS).

CPS are systems that integrate physical objects with software enabling these components to interact and exchange information, for example in advanced industrial processes.

The researchers aim to establish a better conceptual framework and a foster a shared understanding of human collaboration with technology—a shared understanding that is currently lacking.

“Many in the industry view humans as a source of error and risk factors. They wish to automate humans out of the equation, excluding them from system design. However, much of the academic literature sees this perspective as problematic. Instead, systems should be designed to incorporate human roles. This creates a disconnect between academic theory and industry practice,” says Torkil Clemmensen, Professor at the Department of Digitalization at Copenhagen Business School.

Collaboration between humanities and engineering

The research team has combined humanistic and technical approaches in their project, which includes literature reviews, software development, and interviews with selected industry partners.

Combining different research domains is a key success factor for the project and has brought many valuable perspectives, according to Mahyar Tourchi Moghaddam, Associate Professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark. With his technical background, he has developed an artificial intelligence that ensures humans remain “in the loop” when machines make decisions.

“We are investigating the subject from various perspectives, and it has been very beneficial not always to think in terms of technical solutions but to consider how systems can best involve humans,” he says.

Humans play an essential role

The collaboration between the two research domains has led the researchers to conclude that humans play an essential role in working with machines. In fact, humans are difficult to eliminate when cyber-physical systems need to operate optimally. The challenge now is to identify the functions where humans add the most value, which should be the focus of future research.

“We need to find the balance between technological innovation and human capabilities. Therefore, more concrete interdisciplinary research is necessary to promote a harmonious coexistence between humans and machines,” concludes Torkil Clemmensen.

The conclusions from “Cyber-physical systems with humans in the loop” will be published later in a scientific article.

Read more about the project