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“if he got a "C" in a course, nobody cared, but if he went to school three minutes late he was sent to the principal's office -and that generalized. He realized that what it meant is, what's valued here is the ability to work on an assembly line... The important thing is to be able to obey orders, and to do what you're told, and to be where you're supposed to be.”—
Here come da 'bots
I mentioned before that I’m one of the very select 100,000 people enrolled in the Stanford “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” online course starting in October. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I always say. And here’s several reasons I’ve run across in just the last couple weeks that make me I say that:
Airplanes are big, complicated things to put together. They require high-precision positioning of joints, and, heretofore, the work has been done by highly-skilled, and, presumably, highly-paid workers. But the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials in Germany is working on a system for airplane assembly mainly using robots.
Aircraft will in future be machined — and their parts increasingly bonded together — by a host of small industrial robots, much as we see in today’s automotive sector… They [system designers] envision fuselage segments, tail fin and wings sitting atop a kind of rolling assembly line and being carried past one-armed robots, akin to automotive production methods. […] However, there is one more challenge: Aluminum, the classic aircraft material, is increasingly being replaced by CFRP [that is] unyielding during assembly, so they [parts] sometimes need to be assembled under tension. While technicians have developed a feel for how much tension is permissible, which allows them to assemble these parts manually, robots don’t know how to do this yet. Nonetheless, Niermann and his colleagues are certain that they will have an initial demonstration facility up and running around three years from now.
In a more prosaic setting, farming, robotics is rolling along too. The Kinze Autonomy Project is developing a line of equipment and software to enable farm equipment to operate driverlessly. They recently demonstrated a John Deere tractor pulling a cart that can catch the stream of grain from a combine. (Here’s the YouTube video.)
The Kinze Autonomy Project is designed to reduce the need for skilled operators by taking the human element out of the tractor cab. Kinze will market this technology to help growers increase their productivity by allowing them to focus their time and attention elsewhere while performing cursory monitoring of the Kinze autonomous equipment. […] “This technology could be used to do a variety of tasks, including planting, nourishing, maintaining and harvesting crops.”
Uh, pardon me, but isn’t that “human element” in the tractor cab also known as a guy with a job? It’s dusty and boring, but it’s cash in the bank to somebody. (Oh yeah, it’s not a person, just an “element.”) And doesn’t “planting, nourishing, maintaining and harvesting crops” pretty much cover all the jobs in farming? When the driverless tractors come won’t these ” human elements” need to be “focusing their time and attention elsewhere” like picking up an unemployment check and looking for other work that doesn’t involve working with crops?
But for the sheer magnitude of robotic impact you’ve gotta like IEEE blogger Evan Ackerman’s post about plans by Foxconn to bring in one million robots to work on their electronics assembly lines in China in the next three years! Foxconn is one of the biggest Taiwanese electronics manufacturers for the iPhone and other devices assembled on human assembly lines. They’re notorious for the suicides of employees, so much so that they evidently have put up nets around some building. Critics of the company have claimed that working conditions are so bad there that it’s no wonder people want to jump.
It looks like Foxconn has figured out how to solve the problem: get rid of the pesky humans by replacing them with robots. Indeed, humans demand pay, cause problems, get sick, etc. Take that, troublesome meat-puppets! The robots rumored to be the droids of choice are FRIDAs (Friendly Robot for Industrial Dual-arm Assembly) from the Swiss company, ABB. According to ABB the robot is intended to “work alongside” people, not replace them. Looks like it might work out: the FRIDAs, after all, don’t have a head, just a handle.