Robot Or Not To Robot

There is a lot of news these days about robots, and how they will replace workers. Yes, there will be some automation to replace human beings in the work place. How soon? It is hard to say because of all the possibilities. Robots have done amazing things in car factories. They weld, they paint, they assemble, they replace human effort. Or do they? We tend to think a robot is human. It is not. A robot is a machine that is controlled by a computer. Who controls the computer? Answer, a human. Ah, but the level of artificial intelligence has grown rapidly, and computers can now think like humans. Maybe, yes, but maybe no. even with artificial intelligence (AI) software the amount of memory and programming it takes to get a machine to think like a human is enormous. But, computers are now defeating humans in the game of chess, isn’t that proof that AI is gaining on us? Yes, but again, the computer required to play chess at that level is enormous. We take our brains for granted, but within our skull resides a computer the likes of which no computer designer or programmer will ever be able to match. Well, at least not in my lifetime.

How about the claim that robots that look like people are now able to act as sex surrogates. I’m not ready to try that one, nor do I want to. The idea of placing my very valuable and sensitive member into a machine to pleasure myself gives me visions of gears and ratchets, and gnarly wheels that turn and grind and abrade, and well you get the idea. Robots are a poor choice for having sex, maybe only a little better than the blow up sex dolls available. Think about this, you are engaged in a passionate french kiss when the saliva from you tongue leaks into the robot’s circuitry and causes the electrons to short circuit making the robot lock its arms around you in a bear hug that leaves you breathless and lifeless.

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I worked at a factory and my primary goal was to reduce labor from the manufacturing process. After trying many concepts that failed our R&D boys came up with a novel idea that worked in a prototype system. We loved it and ran with it. The concept was workable, but the practical execution was not. My teams worked out a better mechanical way to make it work. Our system had problems too, but we continued to take baby-step improvement toward long term success. When we got the thing running smoothly and steady we switched to solve another problem which was start-up. The start-up procedure we invented was purely manual, and it took a skilled technician to make it happen. Often start-ups required ten or fifteen minutes to achieve. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like much in a twenty-four hour day, and it wouldn’t be if things ran smoothly for twenty-four hours. The whole system was complicated, and often problems totally unrelated to automation caused the system to shut down, and that required a new start-up. To make a very long story shorter this project took a team of too many engineers twenty-years to accomplish. At the end, the system was equal to a lights out operation with very few humans present. Except when an alarm sounded and the technical-department had to come to the rescue. Automation requires a level of expertise to maintain. Alley-garage level mechanics were not the level of experts it took to get to the heart of the problem.

If automation was so easy, why do companies choose to move their operations to China and places more remote? First is the cost of automation. Making machines to make things is expensive and time consuming. The investment required to automate is enormous. It is easier to pay very cheap wages to make things by hand.  Second, maintenance is expensive and automation requires highly skilled workers to maintain them, and highly skilled workers make a very good salary.

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After finally achieving the goal to automate an entire factory the owner decided to ship the whole thing to a foreign country anyway. Why? We cost him too much. True, he eliminated most of the labor of making the product, but he was going broke paying for the technical staff required to maintain the process, and to keep it running. Think about that sex-robot you are dreaming about. Again, you are actively engaged in the act with the robot when a previously undetected bug causes the bot to go wild and he sends an alarm to the tech-staff for help. In the meantime he shuts down with his arms locked around you in an embrace of passion. There you are stuck until the Robot-nerds can come from wherever they will come from to unfreeze the operation.

It is my professional opinion that robots have come a long way toward becoming successful workers in our society, however, they will require a staff of experts to manage and maintain. It will be years before they are reliable enough to be safe in our midst. Of course Hollywood will make them glamorous and desirable by showing us how useful and good they can be. Except, that Hollywood lies a lot in the name of creativity, and over simplifies, and glorifies the actual mechanics of operation.

Back in the thirties we had some wonderful automatic food dispensers called Automats. Previous to that there were automated food vending machines in Germany in the late eighteen hundreds. The systems in the US lost favor with the public for various reason, the main one being it worked on nickels only. Think about paying for your $4.95 hamburger in nickels. At twenty nickels to the dollar you would have to pump 99 nickels into the machine to get the burger. Of course we won’t have that problem because we use credit cards today, even for a candy bar.

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Robots replacing humans is a scare tactic used by businesses who stand to lose profit if political issues like a minimum wage are on the docket. In that regard a robot works, but I don’t believe the business people understand the technical issues that would drive them into bankruptcy. Eventually, robots will succeed in making our lives better, but for now I think they are just a vision of the future. I remember the sales pitch I got from computer salesman who convinced me of all the wonderful things I would be able to do with a personal computer.  He was right, except the computer he sold me was twenty-five years away from doing all those wonderful things. Mr. Robot is probably at that stage today.

Creatures to Replace Humans

It won’t be long before these creatures will be wearing skirts and dating our sons.

Dogs will become obsolete since this dude will retrieve the newspaper in any weather.

Order takers at Mc Donald’s will be programmed to stand behind the cash register, and to take orders 24/7 without pay, insurance, or vacation benefits. Think of all the people who will become free to find real fifteen dollar an hour jobs. Then again, maybe those same people would be in line with these creatures competing for the same jobs.

Enterprising people will own many of these, and rent them to McDonald’s for fourteen bucks an hour while they remain at home playing virtual reality games.

The Chicago Bears would buy eleven of them to field an unbeatable team.

Grumpa Joe’s Place would buy one to write blog pieces that go viral every time.

Mind Control

When the term mind control comes to mind I envision some evil entity controlling me to do evil things. A friend sent me the video below titled Mind over Mechanics which shifts the paradigm completely. Now I’m thinking that if a bunch of college kids can do what is shown then certainly Uncle can get into my head if he sees the need. What do you think? http://www.youtube.com/embed/6LWz4qa2XQA?feature

Cheering for the Underdog

This video is about an amazing robot. A technician deliberately tries to defeat the bot by giving him unexpected new situations to deal with. I found myself cheering for the bot, and hoping he would kick the technicians ass, instead the bot does an amazingly smart thing. You will not be sorry you watched this video. You are looking at your future job replacement. The upside is the world will need millions of bot mechanics to keep them going.

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