Nowadays, we witness the arrival of the robots to our daily life. Robots are mechanical minds bringing to us more artificial intelligence than mechanical hands. However they are being programmed to follow a broader spectrum of actions than never before.
I believe that we, as humans, have been developing tools through all our history because, in general, “tools” tend to be more reliable and tireless than our “human muscles”. A typical example here is the change that took place in transportation during the 20th century. Human transportation shifted from animals, e.g. horses, to machines, i.e. cars, etc. We shifted from 40 km/h on a horse in the year 1900, to 400 km/h on a Maglev train in the year 2000.
As a consequence of the replacement of human labor with “mechanical muscles” people will tend to provide the human genius within a particular specialization. Programmers and engineers of robotics and artificial intelligence program cars becoming automatically driven, some of people’s workload to be automatically done, and even games could be played by machines. This technological evolution is taking us to a place where we never were before. The questions arise when some evolutionists state that human brains will be less in demand… and we all wonder whether this is true or not.
I would recommend watching the following video “Humans need not apply”, from which I got the inspiration to write this post.
As in the video, the use of the metaphor in which two horses discuss whether “better new technology (cars) would make better jobs for horses” in the year 1900 can be eye-opening. The fact that the population of horses in the world picked in 1915 means that, after the arrival of the automobile, they were not so needed anymore as mean of transport. It is difficult to imagine how this tendency will affect the humankind. Some efforts are being made studying the exponential growth of technology and the reach of the “Technological Singularity”.
“Technological singularity is a hypothetical event related to the advent of artificial general intelligence (also known as “strong AI”). Such a computer, computer network, or robot would theoretically be capable of recursive self-improvement (redesigning itself), or of designing and building computers or robots better than itself. Repetitions of this cycle would likely result in a runaway effect – an intelligence explosion – where smart machines design successive generations of increasingly powerful machines, creating intelligence far exceeding human intellectual capacity and control.” (Wikipedia)
In the last 20 years, we saw robots working cost-effectively only in narrow situations. Toyota’s assembly lines set as examples of progress in the past. Today, a new generation of robots can take decisions and interact totally autonomously within their environment.
As an example, the following product from RethinkRobotics; our robot friend “Baxter“, is not pre-programmed for only one specific job. He is openly ready to interact and decide autonomously. Enjoy him in action in the following video.
On Google’s side, Larry Page explained in this video TED speech called “Where is Google going next?” the capabilities of the artificial intelligence algorithms being developed in Google (as of 2014). They designed a computer program which able to play video games without any other input than the colors of the screen!
Another interesting new development is the “Self-Driving Car”. It is a project by Google involving the development of technology for autonomous cars which are being tested in several US states.
On May 28, 2014, a new prototype of a driverless car was presented without neither steering wheel nor pedals.
Considering that there are 70 millions of jobs related to transportation in the world, I wonder how these technologies will impact on the evolution of logistics.
Tiny auto-robots have taken over Amazon’s warehouses so substantially that Amazon had to buy their manufacturer Kiva Systems as a strategic move to secure their supply chain automation exclusivity as they became a strategic advantage for the company. In this official video from Amazon we can see many human workers: Amazon customer service. However, the reality of its warehouses looks more like in this other video:
If we take the stock markets, computers manage the decision taking and the flow of money in the world every single moment. High frequency trading uses proprietary trading strategies carried out by computers to move in and out of positions in seconds or fractions of a second. Broker firms are far more interested in communications speed than in standardized human brains from MBA’s schools. Broker-dealers now compete on routing order flow directly, in the fastest and most efficient manner, beating rivals in speed.
White collar jobs are not safe heavens for this revolution anymore. Could you believe that even computers are being taught how to learn, on their own, how to code their own programs?
A foreseen influence of the robotics on the economy and our society seems inevitable. Examples are not set to express that automation will have a negative impact on our lives, but to understand the trends of current and future developments. Automation is considered a tool to produce abundance with little effort. Our society will change, and there will be benefits and drawbacks as there will be effectively less efforts to make! r(did i say work?!)
And what about construction jobs? check out the following video of FastBricks Robot Animation.
In the year 2007, I had the pleasure to work with Torbjörn Danielsson and Kare Folkeson, from Virtual Manufacturing, in the design of a new factory line and the industrialization of a new clean tech product. At that time, I was in charge of the design and construction of the new factory of a Swedish/Spanish company called ClimateWell. It was a discovery for me to see how these two Swedish colleagues were using virtual design tools to 3D replicate the line lay-out and simulate the manufacturing workflow. The set of software tools they used, ranged from Catia and Delmia to Avix and robot programming.
Suppliers of equipment, like Kuka, normally, provide their clients with 3D virtual models in Catia of their industrial robots. This service allowed us to replicate and test the performance of the different robots of their portfolio in our virtual factory, facilitating an informed and risk-reduced purchase.
Two months ago, I came across this video from SpaceXchannel, where the admired Elon Musk, explains how virtual design is used in Space X. It showed how they create, manipulate and print in virtual 3D some of the rocket parts that they need, all at once. This process accelerates enormously the design-manufacturing workflow, allowing them to move directly from the conception of an idea to the factory floor, in one step. In particular, I enjoyed the cost-effective use of the 3D metal printing which I had not seen before. In my opinion, if this approach was generalized, it could booster local manufacturing in Western countries. The design and manufacturing processes could become spectacularly efficient.
To summarize, these quick design and manufacturing processes allow us to:
2.) 3D print: MakerBot, or many others, to 3D print our own designs at home. Alternatively, we can use 3D printing services provided by a local company in our town. In France we have 3Dhubs. Other large corporations as UPS and Staples are planning big scale moves into this field in the USA.
Will this advanced 3D design and printing return the manufacturing jobs to Europe and the USA?
Are our schools and universities delivering the up-to-date education needed to catch up with current economic challenges?
Most probably, many actions are needed to improve our educational system. In particular, it needs more flexibility in order to adapt to new trends and knowledge from the industry. This may not an easy task, but it is needed to recover the lost jobs in Western economies.