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  • Robots Emeritus

    Posted by David Foster on August 3rd, 2017 (All posts by )

    An interesting video from 1955 on manufacturing automation.

    How many of the people who are today projecting a technology-driven employment apocalypse have any idea that the industrial automation technology of 62 years ago was as capable as that shown in this video?



    10 Responses to “Robots Emeritus”

    1. Bill Brandt Says:

      A thought provoking post:

    2. Mike K Says:

      Bill, that’s an interesting post. Kodak invented the digital camera.

      I read a book about 20 years ago called something like “The Second Wave.” I can’t find it on Amazon so I may not have the title correct,

      The theme of the book was that any business which is at a peak in its profitability should be planning the next product.

      IBM was lucky with the PC and was smart enough to set up the PC group at another location with a group that was totally independent.

      Xerox had the whole thing at Xerox PARC and missed the whole revolution.

      I’ve read every book Peter Drucker wrote. His famous question was “What business are you in ?”

    3. David Foster Says:

      Re the Kodak article, as I noted over at The Lexicans a truly comparable number would have to take into account some portion of the people making/selling iPhones, etc, since Kodak made cameras as well as film.

      “f you don’t own capital and the only thing you can sell is the 8-10 hours of work you yourself can do, you have less worth than you used to. Not because of that damn Obama or that lunatic Trump. Because we need less of it.”

      If the logic of that passage were correct, then the standard of living of the American worker would have *declined substantially* from say, 1870 to 1970, given the vast array of labor-replacing technological innovations that took place during that time period. It was, sepcifically, the labor reduction driven by the assembly line and other then-new manufacturing techniques that allowed Henry Ford to pay his workers $5/day. (The fact that he *had* to pay his workers $5/day to keep them was a reflection of labor supply and demand)

    4. David Foster Says:

      The article quotes a ratio of 149:1 between the number of people employed by Kodak at its peak and the number now employed by FB/Instagrame…as I noted above, the ratio needs to be adjusted. It will still be a big ratio, though.

      BUT…is it any greater than the ratios of labor replacement associated with many earlier technologies?

      Circa 1900, the GE scientist Charles Steinmetz calculated that ONE turbine-generator just sold by the company generated as much energy as the entire US slave population at the time of the Civil War.

    5. TMLutas Says:

      David Foster – The statement is correct, but only for mature businesses. If you create enough new products/services, the idea breaks down. If you create new product/service categories, it breaks down even faster.

    6. David Foster Says:

      TML…please explicate further

    7. PenGun Says:

      We have been automating processes for thousands of years. The industrial automation in the video well depicts the state of the art of the middle of last century.

      What we do with CNC and CADCAM is certainly automation but at a level of control that allows factories to run themselves, with little human interference. With sensors and computer based feedback all manner of things are possible, and humans just set em’ up. They do the rest.

    8. Bill Brandt Says:

      @Mike – having been a programmer since the early 80s I have been astounded that the companies that grew exponentially – were at the top of the industry – then disappeared simply because they couldn’t adjust to change.

      Digital Equipment, inventor of the mini computer, was 2nd to IBM in the 1980s (although admittedly a distant second) and because founder Ken Olson couldn’t adapt, are gone.

      Remember Lotus 1-2-3?


      There are literally dozens of these…

      @David – you make a valid point about how trying to compare Kodak – a vertical company that controlled all of the processes, with Facebook isn’t quite apt.

      I think the rule for business or workers is “adapt of die”.

    9. Mike K Says:

      “Kodak made cameras as well as film.”

      The cash cow was film development and the digital camera killed that

      Bill, I was a programmer in 1959. Before hexadecimal because our maximum memory was 2 kilobytes. It was addressable with ten digits.

      I got interested in astronomy about 20 years ago. A CCD camera for a telescope was $25,000. I forget how many pixels.

      Digital cameras, like RAM chips, are now commodities.

      People are talking about Zuckerberg running for president. His fortune is supposed to be $60 billion.

      I wonder what he invests in ? The Chinese are smart enough to invest in US and Canadian real estate.

      In the 1980s, the Japanese invested in US real estate but they used borrowed money from their inflated real estate market in Japan.

      I wonder where the Chinese money is coming from ? The “Ghost Cities” and malls in China are worthless. I remember when the Japanese tycoon bought Pebble Beach golf course. A few yars later, after the Japan real estate collapse, Peter Uberroth and Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer bought it back for 25 cents on the dollar.

    10. PenGun Says:

      “I got interested in astronomy about 20 years ago. A CCD camera for a telescope was $25,000. I forget how many pixels.”

      They were in the 2 to 4 megapixel range back then.

      My Fuji XE1 from 2013 with the 16 MP X Trans sensor, pointed at Vega with my 60mm Fuji Macro, a 90 mm full frame equivalent, about a 6 sec exposure.

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