The SocKETs project is developing six case studies – called SocKETs Labs – to exploit the potential of co-creation in enhancing the innovation process and aligning innovation to societal needs, with a specific focus on Key Enabling Technologies (KETs). This blog issue is focused on the Basque Country lab led by Tecnalia. It deals with KETs-based innovation to enable industrial automation, toward decent work, better industry, innovation and infrastructures.

Recent breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques have triggered great developments into automation of routinary activities within industry. These achievements have made possible some disruptive innovations while at the same time, these have started to spark automation anxieties and concerns about the future of work and massive unemployment and deskilling. To face these concerns, it is necessary to gather industry representatives, citizens, and stakeholders to discuss, think and prototype solutions that can put citizens at the centre of technological developments.

In order to do so, TECNALIA has conducted a mapping of the innovation ecosystem in the Basque Country region, including considerations on the context, barriers and opportunities for the introduction of new technologies, key actors, networks, and relevant actions and interactions.

This mapping exercise has contributed to reveal several interesting aspects of the industrial automation ecosystem in the Basque Country. Here are some of the most relevant elements:

  •  The Basque Country is a forerunner in technological innovation and its industry is composed by a vibrant regional ecosystem of actors composed by universities, Research and Technological Centres (RTOs), dedicated clusters, private companies and public companies that articulate the industrial policy that steams from the Basque Government.
  • AI is particularly gaining momentum in the last years and the most promising technologies and applications in the field are machine learning applications, computer vision technologies, online learning, real-time learning and edge computing.
  • The Basque industry is slowly but increasingly moving towards the incorporation of AI in its manufacturing industry. The expected impacts seem to be clearly positive as it can facilitate processes to be more efficient and faster whilst increasing the quality of final products and avoiding common failures. However, the manufacturing sector is a traditional sector with constant needs regarding technological updating and digitalization. This implies a lack of data or bad quality data available, which might hinder the implementation of AI in the regional manufacturing sector.
  • Other concerns are related to the ownership of data and many companies are reluctant to share their production data, machine status (except for remote maintenance), manufacturing process data, etc. The imaginaries coexisting in society are characterized by distrust towards national and regional politicians, which could affect the levels of trust of society in industry and technology as well.
  • Moreover, there is a limited awareness and experience of co-creation and social innovation activities in the business sector. Increased trust and common understanding between citizens and technologists are needed to conduct successful societal engagement processes.

The emergence of a research ecosystem around AI in the Basque Country will entail significant transformations in the structure and composition of the industrial structure of the region. These transformations will demand an active role of the regional government and different stakeholders for coordinated actions and measures directed to counteract the negative economic externalities that digitalization of industry will bring to the territory. Factors such as deskilling and reskilling, unemployment, workplace surveillance, automated decision making, algorithmic accountability and transparency will be at the very heart of these transformations.

In this sense, there is a great opportunity to promote societal engagement around AI, industry and society. This societal engagement can actively contribute to the facilitation of this transition to an Industry 4.0 that can consider societal needs and expectations for promoting decent and meaningful work conditions in the forthcoming digital industry in the Basque Country.

Read the report on the Basque Country innovation ecosystem.
Read the report on the 6 SocKETs Labs innovation ecosystems.