Posts Tagged ‘automation’

Manna, by Marshall Brain

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Welcome to the automated future. Marshall Brain wrote about it in a novella called Manna in which a cynical future automates work, and then does away with work, and promptly has difficulty figuring out what to do with itself as its population blooms:

Manna was connected to the cash registers, so it knew how many people were flowing through the restaurant. The software could therefore predict with uncanny accuracy when the trash cans would fill up, the toilets would get dirty and the tables needed wiping down. The software was also attached to the time clock, so it knew who was working in the restaurant. Manna also had “help buttons” throughout the restaurant. Small signs on the buttons told customers to push them if they needed help or saw a problem. There was a button in the restroom that a customer could press if the restroom had a problem. There was a button on each trashcan. There was a button near each cash register, one in the kiddie area and so on. These buttons let customers give Manna a heads up when something went wrong.

At any given moment Manna had a list of things that it needed to do. There were orders coming in from the cash registers, so Manna directed employees to prepare those meals. There were also toilets to be scrubbed on a regular basis, floors to mop, tables to wipe, sidewalks to sweep, buns to defrost, inventory to rotate, windows to wash and so on. Manna kept track of the hundreds of tasks that needed to get done, and assigned each task to an employee one at a time.

Manna told employees what to do simply by talking to them. Employees each put on a headset when they punched in. Manna had a voice synthesizer, and with its synthesized voice Manna told everyone exactly what to do through their headsets. Constantly. Manna micro-managed minimum wage employees to create perfect performance.

The story is a fun parable of unintended consequences: humans see imperfection, improve on imperfection, and then realize they have made themselves obsolete. The only flaw in this story is that some people remain gainfully employed when the society in this quasi-realistic fantasy world has enough technology to delegate everything lower than Emperor to the machines.

Another view of the future is this: we return to the past. Namely, we need a time where people serve roles instead of being employed to do tasks. That means people are in curatorship positions, or stewardship positions, over various places and parts of life. These things might be able to be done by machines, but the real question is how society separates the useful from the non-useful, and that question is addressed not by employment, but by seeing who can be responsible, intelligent and wise enough to maintain aspects of civilization. Those must survive, and the rest must fall by the wayside; this is currently a task fulfilled (poorly) by our Communist worker’s society combined with a Gordon Gekko consumerist insanity.

This type of society will necessarily be ruled by culture which mandates certain roles which are more important than their measurement in terms of efficiency and economic necessity. They are things which should always be there, and always have been there, barring the modern interruption. Under this system, every piece of land has a caretaker, especially the wild land, and every social function has someone delegated to do it, in exchange for which they receive payment that allows them to survive. It is like capitalism, but with economic goals replace by cultural, moral and philosophical ones.

Either that, or we can wait around for the automated soulless future and machine existence posited by Manna.

Why Automation Has Failed In The Past

Thursday, September 15th, 2016


Automation is a vexing subject because it costs money and results in less profit. It should improve profits, but somehow in the past, it has always ended up costing more.

Any system or structure requires control. In the case of the US Democratic Party control is achieved by fear i.e. Hillary’s tantrums lasting longer than her speeches.  Screaming at your own employees is a routinely applied technique and some CEOs even disconnect electronic monitoring of their boardrooms to hide that fact. Hillary does not have “control” over independent media journalists but will apparently not hesitate to scream at the major shareholders who “control” that media, which in turn “control” those silly journalists.

It would be fair to say that Hillary has very effective “control” measures in place. The interesting part of her technique is that it does not cost her money. The reason is that it is part of her natural personality and therefore inherent in her “system” design.

An industrial comparison to Hillary’s control “mechanism” is bi-metal actuators. These are little metal strips that consist of two plates of dissimilar metals i.e. soft steel and copper joined together. This allows the strip to bend due an increase in ambient temperature. The natural bending motion allows the strip to activate a switch, which in turn activates a cooling fan.

In the first instance the temperature is controlled by the fan, but the fan itself requires no additional control and finally, the bi-metal strip itself, requires no control either. One can imagine that the temperature inside such a facility would fluctuate within an acceptable range of 10 degrees.

This is different to temperature control inside an industrial oven where a smaller “range” is specified e.g. one degree. In such a case a temperature probe, controller, energy actuator and an exhaust actuator is required. However, additional control elements are required to “check” on the “control loop”, such as an exhaust flue temperature detector and indicator, actuator alarm detector with alarm activation and finally a human operator backed-up by an automation technician for maintenance.

Clearly, the smaller the range of operations, the more control is required which in turn requires a bigger investment.  It can happen that operational control gets so important, that the control requirement exceeds the priority (and the cost) of the operation.

Control really gets important when one designs a missile. It has very strict limitations but also very specific operational range requirements. For example, Hollywood thinks that missiles move in straight lines while they (in most cases) do not. One reason is that wing control is not always proportional and that it is more effective for the entire missile to move in a spiral towards a point ahead of its target. One example of such a wing control mechanism is a binary approach where the wing is either kept open or shut i.e. not proportional. The “control” in this case is cheaper because the wing is literally opened and shut thousands of times where just the open periodic timeframe is changed as required.

So, what is the point of control, really?

Control is required to improve the operation. But operations itself is an activity or only one function of a system, that requires its own control at a higher level.  Therefore, taken the entire industrial requirements for control together, the point would be to improve industry (as an operation). However, if Industry is an operation, then the civilization must decide on control of industry. If there is more than one production activity in a civilization, then controls must be described for all those as well.

The best method of control as described above is natural control. But it appears as if the opposite is happening today. Unnatural control is blooming, for example, artificial intelligence because it is unclear what production this will benefit. Drone warfare is another example where it is obviously cheaper than fighter aircraft, but what production does (having this control) really improve? Medical Aid is becoming a control measure in search of a service, paying tax is a control measure in search of an investment, property ownership is a control measure iso a wealth creator and education is a control measure in search of a knowledge expander.

It is not clear what production is required by civilization anymore, but what is transparent is this absolute drive to expand centralization and control i.e. Big government and Big metropolitan areas where government does not have borders, Cities do not have borders and humans have “trans”-borders nowadays.

They say population control has become necessary, why? Natural control is better. They say economics control require migrant labor, why? Natural control is better.

Technically, when controls starts to control, control, then failures increase, because maintenance requirements increase, which increase centralization, which increase failures even more. Production becomes control and control prophesies itself as God even after production came to a stop. Since technology fads improve control, politicians increase spending on this wrong technology in search of production.

The ironic part of all the control spending is that the “range” of production increased which is the opposite of good governance expected. As controls fail, it simply demands even more spending and bigger controls.

Spending money on control for the sake of control is wrong; it is not economic and will increase fatalities, decrease production, destroy competitiveness and end civilization. Leadership has been captured by dark organization when it idealizes control for its own sake, and recovers when it recognizes that every control mechanism needs a purpose other than itself.

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