The interplay between humans and technology a source of inspiration and inquisitiveness
On 20 April at 9:00, Gustaf Juell-Skielse will give an inaugural lecture at the University of Borås, which will be open to the public. For more information, see the calendar at hb.se
The installation of Gustaf Juell-Skielse as Professor of Informatics will take place during the Academic Ceremony at the University of Borås.
The subject of his lecture is (in Swedish): Hur kan mänsklig och artificiell intelligens kombineras i nya arbetsformer? (How are human and artificial intelligence to be combined through the use of new forms of work?)
Our meeting takes place via Zoom. Gustaf speaks from his home in Stockholm and introduces his research domain, saying, “My research concerns the gap between computers and users. In our research, we are trying to understand how this interplay works from several perspectives. My own perspective concerns organisation and deals with how companies and public organisations make use of and collaborate via digital technology in order to improve their work methods.”
It is evident that digitalisation is pervading various aspects of people’s working life and is of central importance to the way society, jobs, and organisations are structured. Twenty years ago, the main focus was on administrative and industrial processes that were not much noticed by consumers and citizens. Today, our socialising forms have been deeply influenced by digitalisation, which leads to a reshaping of communication forms and of our ways of relating to one another.
“What I would like to work on is identifying the benefits from using digitalization and artificial intelligence for companies and public organisations. What I am examining, for instance, is the ways in which the routines of accounting departments could be modified and developed in order to become more efficient, and how commercial logistics processes could be improved and function differently through the aid of information technology and digitalisation”, said Gustaf Juell Skielse.
Gustaf Juell-Skielse brings up the challenges that he as a researcher can be confronted with. Barriers are something that he and his colleagues consistently have to deal with. Not least does this concern third party developers, such as a team of students or entrepreneurial companies with ideas of their own. Within a number of research projects, Gustaf Juell-Skielse and his colleagues have examined such so-called innovation barriers.
"It’s when you proceed from an idea to a viable product on the market, a product that is profitable. There are, for example, many ideas about digital services that can help people move freely in society, such as for attendants for the visually impaired. They are very expensive to run and most of them are subsidised through advertisements. Something which is not ideal. The question is how many of these apps are going to survive?”
He continued, “Other obstacles might be companies that have developed a project which is too technically oriented and without regard for the market. Or, they may be too market-oriented, yet insufficient technologically.”
Many digital services are dependent on access to data. A problem for health apps can be accessing this data in a safe and appropriate way, he explained.
But the service orientation of digital services can also have negative consequences. BankID is an example, he noted: people had problems booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccination.
“Such services are quite clever, but unfortunately, too many older people have had difficulties using them. Looking at this with a new perspective, digital services are something we expect nowadays of all kinds of organisations, even if they do not have the appropriate competence to develop such services,” he said.
Wanting to learn how an idea can establish itself and how it can be realised
During our conversation, we discussed the topic of what had roused his interest in doing research within informatics. After attaining a degree in industrial engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology, he worked as a consultant for several years, during which time he reflected on what it is that causes an idea to take root and later to become realised.
“As consultants we were quite good at selling ideas for projects and concepts, but I wanted to learn more about what these concepts were based on.”
During the nineties, he gained an insight into the technology used for developing more efficient work modes within the domain of food commerce through the use of logistics, sales, and increased competencies. This gave rise to the publication of his book: Organisationens väg till en kompetensekonomi. Writing the book spurred him to return to the academic world. Yet, what was it that made him want to re-engage with research work?
“I want to understand all aspects of the interplay taking place between humans and technology, because this is something that rouses my curiosity. Furthermore, the sense of community one can experience in the company of research colleagues is really stimulating. It is also a great advantage to have the academic freedom to choose which areas to investigate. At the moment, I am preoccupied by robotisation in different contexts, that is, software robots imitating human behaviour. In other words, the ways in which we interact with different information systems.”
Students can spread research
Which aspects of his research have had the greatest impact? To this, he replied that he considers research as an ongoing dialogue and, after reflecting a moment, added, “Many of the research results that I have had the privilege of contributing ideas to have concerned a continuing debate in different directions, mainly relating to business information systems. The research we have been carrying out, regarding how to make successful use of business information systems, has constituted the basis for an educational programme I have led for nearly twenty years. Many students have adopted these ideas and have later introduced them to the labour market.”
In recent years, Gustaf Juell-Skielse has been involved in the development of new ways of organising digital innovations, both in the shape of competitions and as accelerators and incubators.
Creating sustainable jobs
What are the risks of digitalisation? Gustaf Juell-Skielse reflected on this for a moment before answering, “There are plenty of risks, one of which is sustainability, as computers are causing a growing amount of emissions in the world. Another issue is creating sustainable jobs. If relieved from monotonous tasks, engaging in cognitive work can be experienced as rewarding. At the same time, there are situations when companies, rather than training their employees so they can master new tasks, choose to recruit a new workforce. Companies ask for people who are qualified and who will adjust perfectly to their new jobs without requiring assistance from their employers.”
What does the future of the profession look like? Again, there is a moment of reflection before coming to the conclusion that there is no way of telling what the future will hold.
“About half of everything that a computer system can be used for has been unforeseeable. I think that the way things are going, people will be interacting much more with machines. A shared capacity for undertakings, i.e. human beings in conjunction with AI, will increasingly constitute the basis for future forms of work and jobs. We will abandon parts of the more repetitive tasks, or that consist of collecting and analysing large quantities of data, in order to make well-balanced decisions. There are things that machines can do better than humans and vice versa, for example, when faced with a completely new situation that cannot be tackled by a machine or algorithm.”
As regards research, what is in view for the coming years is to examine the shape and form of the future work of the service sector.
In his role a Professor, Gustaf Juell-Skielse is looking forward to doing research together with organisations and enterprises.
“By doing research, we can contribute to the development of companies. Maintaining a successful dialogue with the business world will also provide educational opportunities for students of systems analysis at the university. What I would like to engage in more deeply is identifying the aspects of data and artificial intelligence that could be of value to companies and business activities”, he concluded.
Background information: Professor of Informatics since 2021.
Leisure activities: Playing music, mainly the guitar and bass guitar, also composing music, mostly pop and rock (as an amateur).
What makes him happy: Seeing the winter aconite in bloom and know that spring is on its way. Going to concerts together with my wife. Composing nice tunes of my own.
What makes him angry: When collaborations do not work out and there is no team spirit. When others are being treated unjustly. When the EU classed nuclear power as environment friendly.
How he wants to be perceived by colleagues: As knowledgeable, friendly, and ready to collaborate, as a doer and not as someone who slows things down.
Publishes a new book
Recently, Gustaf Juell-Skielse together with two research colleagues, Ida Lindgren at Linköping University and Maria Åkesson at Halmstad University, have published the book Service Automation in the Public Sector - Concepts, Empirical Examples and Challenges.