Rethink manufacturing

Rodney Brooks’ new company and the new face of robotics in the work place.  This is the harbinger of the future as predicted by the MIT authors of Race Against the Machine and the need to produce a more educated labor force.  Be sure and watch the video.

This may indeed make inroads into more and more areas.  The IBM Watson computer which won the Jeopardy game show indicates that even some intellectually demanding jobs, even what we might call careers, can be at least in part algorithmically coded.  The matter goes beyond just the issue of computers which run servo-mechanisms used to perform mechanical tasks.  Already the jobs most in peril of vanishing utterly due to computers are jobs such as accounting, or any job that involves data searching, collating, sorting and so forth.  Curiously the jobs the least in danger of this are the low end jobs, it is hard to get robots to work at McDonalds, and the highest end jobs.  So we might think of this as a one-two punch against the middle class: the first punch from upper management and outsourcing, and the second due to automation.

Even subjects like physics could be “algorithmatized,” for most applied problems (I am thinking of those days of solving Jackson E&M problems) have a routine aspect to them that could in part be coded in a program.  Already proof checking algorithms for mathematics are appearing on the scene.  Algorithms for medical diagnoses are appearing, so aspects of the medical field are starting to be impacted this way.  Complex engineering systems are more and more automated, from nuclear power stations to the latest generation of aircraft that practically fly themselves.

I remember as a kid reading an article by either AC Clarke or Isaac Asimov where he predicted a future where most repetitive and danger jobs were automated and people were free to pursue their individual creative talents.  While this was an optimistic ideal, it is pretty apparent this will not happen.  Such a world would in effect have this component of welfare or socialism unacceptable to those who run things.  The converse situation will of course happen, which is a continued concentration of wealth and power upwards.  It is a maxim of the human condition and our history; outside of some exceptions such as maybe recent history of democracy, people who control the wealth and power over the world do not care about other human beings. LC

One might think, however, that automation should free the human beings from doing automated type jobs leaving them to be able to think more and do the thinking jobs.  Unfortunately there are too many of us and not enough of those jobs either.  It would be nice if we could provide an education that would help for changing times, but since we seem to care less and less about education – as our science and mathematics ranking reveal, it looks like we are headed for a less educated population and less menial jobs available for them.  Ain’t the future great??  Education is one of the if not the most important item on the agenda – knowledge, skills and expertise provide mobility, innovation and creative thinking.  It is an enabler.  I think we can also kiss economic growth and prosperity goodbye if we continue to ignore our rapidly declining position.
I don’t want to be identified as a Luddite particularly, and I do physics which is not exactly a Luddite field, but one problem with all technology is the reality of what transpires always falls short of the dreamy promises.  The airplane before WWI was touted as a great liberator of mankind, but of course a few decades later there were air raids with hundreds or over a thousand airplanes that dropped bombs on cities.  Automation is a similar blessing-curse.  In an ideal setting automation can liberate us from both physically demanding and dangerous work as well as mind-numbing work that many millions of people do.  The problem with “liberation” is that it can mean you are liberated from one agony into another.  The other problem is that humanity does not have social control, and I dare say most people lack much individual control, over their use and relationship with technology.  I find it amusing that millions of people are becoming unpaid data entry clerks, who spend a phenomenal amount of time loading data, pictures, personal information, etc onto social nets and the cloud.  I can’t think of a more perfect way to establish a total data base behind a computer based surveillance system used by our future totalitarian government.  It is rather astounding if you think about it.

The whole socio-economic thrust of the day is disenfranchisement of the average citizen.  This is done with the advertized idea of more freedom; “we’ll get government off your back,” and other shibboleths popular these days.  Of course what this means is that government will retreat ever further as not just a system one can appeal to for protection, benefits or redress, but as a system that even upholds your Constitutional rights.  There are some intentional aspects to this, and people who run the money world have a sense that most people are going to become economic soylent green.  This disenfranchisement just means people will have few opportunities to do anything about their lot. LC


About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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