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I believe we have reached a turning point in the usefulness and effectiveness of professional robots. For several decades it was pretty easy to predict wholesale adoption of “the robots will save us” mantra would be followed by failure. I however strongly believe Toyota’s approach (thoughtful usage of robotics to enhance people is the better strategy). But the ease of using robots to succeed in the longer term is much easier today than 10 years ago.
Robot-first strategies are going to be succeeding quite a lttle bit going forward. Those efforts will not be good enough when competing with firms using the best strategy perfectly (but which will be rare).
I wrote some relating to this some previously: Technological innovation brings great chance of increasing results and our quality of life. But transforming potential gains into real results comes with many challenges…
Essentially I see many people today too dismissive of the usefulness of robots in business. And they have past illustrations to point to in demonstrating how a huge commitment to robot-initial failed. It isn’t that today robot-first is the better strategy, but I do believe the real world types of conditions have improved to make the blanket assumption that such initiatives will fail as unwise.
A big portion of this is that while we can simplify the argument to “robot first” or “robots helping people” it really isn’t that simple. There are numerous reasons why today the conditions will vary than they have been. Technological and software improvements are a huge part of that.
But also there's more thoughtful thought of the advantages Toyota’s operations philosophy brings. Sadly not enough, but still companies are better at this time at thinking and acting as if their employees have brains than they were 30 years in the past. Granted there is still quite a distance to go, but nonetheless progress has been made it seems to me at the macro level. Many companies that are not doing as well creating programs that maximize the benefits available from using the minds of every employee as those reading this blog would wish are still doing better in that vein than is true 30 years ago.
Certainly many most people today understand the vast benefits provided by manufacturing robots. There is reason to get worried about the hazards of organizations hopeful that just putting in industrial robots will fix all their problems.
Industrial robots are the most advanced application of robots in business today but they are still far from plug and play solutions. They require skilled professionals to have them work effectively; but the functions and usability have greatly increased over the last 20 years. Respect for folks (and all that entails about the management system) is a significant part of creating a management system to have the most accomplishment integrating robots.
We refer to commercial “robots” for equipment that do jobs people used to perform in plant life, but those robots are nothing like what we think of robots as a stand alone concept. In the last 20 years professional robots have become far more “thoughtful” and have gained software that makes them seem more like “robots” in the perception that they are considerably more than just a machine. But they still look nothing beats robots. Autonomous cars look nothing like our C3PO vision of robots (androids) but are in many ways quite robot-like (making many decisions and likely conversing with us in ways approaching out C3PO eyesight.
Interactive speakers (like Alexa) exhibit a number of the characteristics of robots but again look nothing beats our vision of them in our mind. The next 5 years will see an explosion in the use of machines much closer to our perspective of robots (like the Pepper robot proven above). Smart phones previously perform many aspects of the 1960s watch of how robots will be building our lives much easier. And small vacuums take on that specific cleaning undertaking (without the ascetics of an android pushing a vacuum cleaner but ticking off that attribute for robots to execute for us).
The ability of us to create technological solutions to accomplish tasks that required persons has exploded in the last 20 years and will continue to. Lawyers are finding much of what they do can be achieved by a computer. Many, doesn’t mean all, clearly. Search and rescue in disaster spaces is another endeavor that robots are participating in an increasing role in; and the utilization of robots will likely continue to grow quickly. Technology is taking over many aspects of medical care that were not long ago seen as requiring highly trained and experience medical professionals (reading scans, diagnosing condition…).
I think several advances are moving so fairly quickly that we are not properly thinking about the permanent future of our businesses. The disruption these adjustments will take will be challenging to predict and plan for. Still we must try. And a commence of that is to appreciate how extreme these technological changes happen to be from the perspective of how our companies will function.
The introduction of millions of C3PO type of robots is not going to be how these changes take place in the next 20 years (learn about Toyota’s most recent humanoid partner robot). But technological solutions available to us today (that could be seen as features C3P0 would provide) are already huge and those availability of solutions is increasing rapidly.
The continued increase in the application of algorithms and artificial intelligence to mimic the work of experts is just one more area that has an almost unimaginable impact how our organizations and economy will function in only a few years. Things like automated translation are definately not perfect but those attempts are already very useful to read content in overseas languages and even communicate with others (I have done this myself employing online translation to talk with those that don’t speak English, it isn’t perfect but it is amazing).
In fact the usefulness of robots (even if we get the huge benefits from something that doesn’t look like C3PO) is becoming so great that I really do ponder if we are going to have macroeconomic problems as a result of difficulty of rendering very good jobs for tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. I will explore the economic concerns I discover in my Curious Cat Investing and Economics blog page (once I really do so, I will put in a link to that post here).
One example of a huge gain for society would be self driving vehicles. It would also eliminate an incredible number of jobs across the globe (it would also add tens of thousands, or more, good jobs but still will bring about many fewer jobs, I think). The gains from this technology is big (not only economically but with regards to greatly reducing deaths due to car accidents and serious accidents and both the costs and reductions in standard of living that end result) and we have to hope it comes to be. But the macro economical disruptions many similar reports happening in the next 20 years could cause is a serious risk to the fundamental structure of our overall economy and society.
I actually wrote of Robo Cup 2006 (robot football “Soccer” in the USA) on my engineering blog website. The progress being made on this efforts is amazing. I doubt these efforts will reduce jobs for professional football players. But it is one of many wonderfully obvious examples of how quickly robotics is advancing.
They have numerous leagues including a humanoid versions together with robots that don’t have to get a humanoid form. Their aim is to have a humanoid robot workforce that can beat the human universe cup championship squad by 2050 (using “good and reasonable” rules). As you can see in the training video they have a long way to go. But for many tasks that we humans perform now the time when robots (or application…) can do the task for us (at a reasonable value and as reliably as we perform) is fast approaching. I think we will be shocked at how big the changes to our lives and market will end up being over the next 20 to 30 years.