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No Humans, Just Robots – Amazing Videos of the Modern Factory

bread robots

From cars to bread, robots dominate modern production.

Modern manufacturing isn’t based on human labor, it’s based on the robot. Still, most people cannot grasp the breadth of automation in factories. We still picture plants full of human workers toiling to make our cars and furniture, just as we imagine our meat comes from animals in a barn. The truth is much more awe-inspiring, perhaps even frightening. The factories of today have some human workers, but huge portions of assembly lines are 100% mechanized. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects automotive jobs to decline 18% by 2018 despite expected increases in production. Robots eliminate the need for more workers. Before you lament the loss of jobs, take a moment and watch how robots earn their role every day in the workplace. Incredible!

You probably know that most cars are made with less than 24 hours worth of human labor. The rest is all done by automation. Machines building machines. It sounds simple, but you have to watch it to really understand what it means.

It goes way beyond cars, though. Pick an industry with a repetitive task, and you’ll find  a robot. Here are some stacking wood:

Sorting and packaging is almost completely mechanized:

And you can’t discuss sorting and stacking without mentioning the Flexpicker. Look at this thing fly. No humans needed, just raw robotic speed and accuracy.

Even those who understand the scope of the robotic workforce may not understand its versatility. Here we see a FANUC machine with a huge array of embedded tools used for a complex assembly process.

Automation isn’t a far off possibility any more than it’s a disastrous end to human labor. It is a natural part of our industrial world, and without it we would be unable to support our modern lifestyle. As robots continue to step in and increase factory productivity, new and cheaper goods will become available. If we plan it right, that will mean we can spend more time being creative, relaxing, and enjoying the fruits of our mechanized labor. In order to realize that potential, we’ll have to plan for the future, and that means accepting the present. If it helps, you can always imagine that factory robots are more human than they appear:

[photo credit: WikiCommons]

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26 comments

  • Kierre says:

    Automation is awesome; i think that in the long run it will give us more free time to pursue the more important things in life! These robots represent more freedom to me!

    http://www.kierrereeg.com

  • Randy says:

    Here's an alternate view point about the future with robots. It doesn't paint a rosey utopian picture; it implicates automation with increasing job loss. http://marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm

  • Jan Wedekind says:

    People don't need a job. What people really need is a stable income. In a highly automated society people could be supplied with a basic income.

  • Alexander says:

    Just like how agricultural machines that do the work of 20 men led to job loss?

    Yes, robots will eliminate jobs in factories. But jobs will be created in other areas. As robots take on more and more low-skill positions, all people will be able to work in higher paying, higher creativity occupations.

  • adsaenz says:

    Everyone should read Singularity Hub's earlier discussion on the topic:
    http://singularityhub.com/2009/12/15/martin-for

  • J. Peterson says:

    Hi Marshall,

    Ironically, in China, where many consumer goods are made, a shocking number of repetitive tasks are still done by hand. (Check out the whole “Made in China” series for an interesting perspective on modern manufacturing.

  • Randy says:

    Great article. Definitely a subject worth discussing.

    The article brings up a very important point — the government's role in this automation and the disappearance of a sustainable middle class. (Apologies for pushing the populist button). An entity like the government will have to balance the needs of a populace that's becoming increasingly irrelevant with the growth of hyper-efficient economy — the balance of a hungry machine that can consume raw resources at unsustainable rates and “green” thinking. Without this balance, we could easily end up in some dystopian scenario — on one extreme, a Frank Herbert-esque jihad against the thinking machines or worse, something more akin to the Matrix.

    Personally, I don't trust governments to make the best decisions when a lot of money is involved. </rant> </populist>

  • Stuart says:

    In the future, money will be obsolete because of precisely this situation. The economy and having an income will no longer matter. What will be important will be the continued advancement of technology. This will be our job.

  • HansS says:

    Hmm,

    What I would like to know is if so much is done by robots, why has China, with much less automation, a growing center of manufacturing?

    One factor might be that humans as they exist now are cheaper than robots – humans automatically manufacture other humans (as process known as reproduction). Robots can't yet reproduce other robots unaided).

    Curious…

  • HansS says:

    The question whether people *will* be supplied with a basic income.

    Our society remains productive with an effective 20% unemployment rate as well as many counter-productive careers (from health insurance executive to salesman). Yet the government is not moving in the direction of guaranteeing income (except in various precarious basis through extended unemployment benefits).

  • hmusseau says:

    Actually this represents a problem for China. Their current model is not sustainable. That's why China invests heavily in new technologies (notably nanotech, but also green tech or biotech; robotics not so much, indeed).

  • David says:

    There will not be enough positions in these higher paying, creative positions to replace all those 'low-skill' positions. And what about the money it takes to get re-educated to take on these jobs, what about the intelligence it takes? It's not just factories, it will be millions of retail jobs, warehouse jobs, mining and agriculture jobs, construction jobs, and low level office jobs that will be eliminated in the very near future (10 years or so). What are these wonderful positions that will be created to make up for these millions and millions of lost jobs? Who will pay for the massive amount of re-education needed? Who's going to pay for their health care, rent and everything else while they are getting this re-education? I think there are quite a few people on this site who think they won't be caught up with this because of their educations and intelligence and so have a easy going, unrealistic attitude about the outcome of all of this.

    Are only real hope in the long run is to establish a system where we all receive a basic income, public healthcare and access to free post-secondary education paid for by taxes for all the corporations that benefit from this increased automation. Call it socialism if you like, but the alternative is a pretty hellish reality for way too many people.

  • David says:

    “If we plan it right” is a key point. The plan would be to 1) raise minimum wage continually to make sure it is a living wage, 2) create a basic income, along with free public healthcare and post-secondary education, 3) pay for this by raising taxes on corporations benefiting from this automation. The last part is tricky, if these guys have all the lobbyists and money, and voters continue to be easily manipulated and politics continues to require large sums of money, it seems unlikely that taxes will be raised on corporations effectively in order to bring about the “plan” necessary to keep a very bad situation from emerging. If it is going to turn out alright, I'm afraid things might needing to get very bad before enough people get angry enough at their situation to get the necessary changes pushed through.

  • Jan Wedekind says:

    Last year I watched the Swiss movie Grundeinkommen (engl.: basic income). Unfortunately there is no English translation as far as I know.
    They basically advocated taxing exclusively using VAT. I.e. you get taxed for consumption but you don't get taxed for doing work. I'm not sure whether it's the best solution but at least it would deter companies from exporting manufacturing jobs to countries where labour is cheap because of a lack of health support.

  • demiurgedawn says:

    There does need to some thought given to what happens to the vast majority of people who will not be able to meaningfully contribute in such a highly automated economy.

    Alas, I fear that you solution of handing out money and making services available for free will exacerbate the problem in the longer term. I don't believe it is possible for a society to survive such moral hazards on a long term basis.

    On the other hand, if the majority of the people are simply going to be out of work, who's going to buy all the stuff from the automation?

    In the end, I only see a dysfunctional world where companies are capable of producing extraordinary things in extraordinary quantities, but have very few actual customers. This will be the challenge of future companies — where all profitable goods will have low volumes of production because the consumer base will be more like today's luxury or near lux markets.

    The challenge for societies will be to hold together in the fact of enormous inequity and widespread suffering.

  • Branden Silva says:

    Eventually automation will replace most jobs. This wouldn't be so bad if us humans weren't in direct competition with machines in the labor force. Really when it comes down to it your going to have to either eliminate money and work with society to build a sustainable future that does not run based on a linear consumption cycle (rape the planet, sell, repeat to increase sales) or you can continue to increase poverty by either producing more machines in a monetary based system, or by deliberately slowing down technology so humans can continue to slave away at work.

    In the future I think people will find it a crime against humanity to force anyone to work just to live. But that's a hard concept for people to understand right now. People will be rely on machines and build them in such a way that they help out society and not any single individual. Anyways, that's just my two cents in how I think it will be.

  • Jan Wedekind says:

    It is already the case with software, music, and books: The cost of producing a copy is zero. And most companies only will pay you if you surrender your right to share your work with others. So I think it will be the same with energy and robotics. A small group of people in a company, a bank, or in the government will end up controlling infinitely reproducible resources. That is, unless people will counter this development.

  • Snake Oil Baron says:

    Re some of the suggested solutions:

    When I follow them through to their seemingly inevitable consequences I find it hard to see them working. For instance:

    Minimum wage increases – every product and service which uses low skilled labour, directly or indirectly (which is most of them) will see costs increase. This means prices increase which means the “higher” wages don’t go as far. It also makes an incentive to persue more automation at a faster rate since replacing labour yeilds a better return on investment. Or companies can just amp up the pressure on employees to be more productive without investing in productivity to help them which will lead to more burnout and worse quality of service not to mention pushing more jobs out of the region being discussed.

    Raise taxes on corporations to provide basic income – They now have less money to invest in new economic activity and are given an insentive to cut jobs and raise prices. The pension funds and venture capitalists recieve less revenue from their investments and have less incentive to invest further. They also start tightening their belts and spend less which reduces the market for everything. Companies lose revenue and are given more incentive to cut jobs and automate. Yet with basic income being thrown around for free the worth of it declines and prices go up. The cycle repeats until the system collapses.

    But then, if the current system of running society via an ever expanding state fueled by an ever expanding debt is continued (it now seems impossible to stop) the whole system may come down well before unemployment grows to crisis level.

  • Snake Oil Baron says:

    Re some of the suggested solutions:

    When I follow them through to their seemingly inevitable consequences I find it hard to see them working. For instance:

    Minimum wage increases – every product and service which uses low skilled labour, directly or indirectly (which is most of them) will see costs increase. This means prices increase which means the “higher” wages don’t go as far. It also makes an incentive to persue more automation at a faster rate since replacing labour yeilds a better return on investment. Or companies can just amp up the pressure on employees to be more productive without investing in productivity to help them which will lead to more burnout and worse quality of service not to mention pushing more jobs out of the region being discussed.

    Raise taxes on corporations to provide basic income – They now have less money to invest in new economic activity and are given an insentive to cut jobs and raise prices. The pension funds and venture capitalists recieve less revenue from their investments and have less incentive to invest further. They also start tightening their belts and spend less which reduces the market for everything. Companies lose revenue and are given more incentive to cut jobs and automate. Yet with basic income being thrown around for free the worth of it declines and prices go up. The cycle repeats until the system collapses.

    But then, if the current system of running society via an ever expanding state fueled by an ever expanding debt is continued (it now seems impossible to stop) the whole system may come down well before unemployment grows to crisis level.

  • Snake Oil Baron says:

    Re some of the suggested solutions:

    When I follow them through to their seemingly inevitable consequences I find it hard to see them working. For instance:

    Minimum wage increases – every product and service which uses low skilled labour, directly or indirectly (which is most of them) will see costs increase. This means prices increase which means the “higher” wages don’t go as far. It also makes an incentive to persue more automation at a faster rate since replacing labour yeilds a better return on investment. Or companies can just amp up the pressure on employees to be more productive without investing in productivity to help them which will lead to more burnout and worse quality of service not to mention pushing more jobs out of the region being discussed.

    Raise taxes on corporations to provide basic income – They now have less money to invest in new economic activity and are given an insentive to cut jobs and raise prices. The pension funds and venture capitalists recieve less revenue from their investments and have less incentive to invest further. They also start tightening their belts and spend less which reduces the market for everything. Companies lose revenue and are given more incentive to cut jobs and automate. Yet with basic income being thrown around for free the worth of it declines and prices go up. The cycle repeats until the system collapses.

    But then, if the current system of running society via an ever expanding state fueled by an ever expanding debt is continued (it now seems impossible to stop) the whole system may come down well before unemployment grows to crisis level.

  • Joey Cosi says:

    Automation really boosts productivity a lot. It has made many corporations produce faster hence, sell more. But what happens to the people replaced by these machines? They lose their jobs.

    I believe that there should be a limit to automation so that we can still give way to people who need jobs. Other than that, just like what the others say, I think governments should strategically raise taxes to boost income just like cigarettes and alcohol.

  • Joey Cosi says:

    Automation really boosts productivity a lot. It has made many corporations produce faster hence, sell more. But what happens to the people replaced by these machines? They lose their jobs.

    I believe that there should be a limit to automation so that we can still give way to people who need jobs. Other than that, just like what the others say, I think governments should strategically raise taxes to boost income just like cigarettes and alcohol.

  • Joey Cosi says:

    Automation really boosts productivity a lot. It has made many corporations produce faster hence, sell more. But what happens to the people replaced by these machines? They lose their jobs.

    I believe that there should be a limit to automation so that we can still give way to people who need jobs. Other than that, just like what the others say, I think governments should strategically raise taxes to boost income just like cigarettes and alcohol.

  • Modern Furniture says:

    Robots can be more convenient in reducing labor costs and concerns. But using this robots may give lesser jobs to people especially to the countries that are still on the effect of recession.

  • Philiq18 says:

    Let’s all be practical here… the industrial world will continue to evolve and technology will therefore only advance. But let us be clear that as we become industrialised, the job market will change and it is my hope that all Governments will ensure that as human jobs are lost in manufacturing, alternative employment opportunities will be created. What’s the point of creating new technology to increase food production and modern conveniences if no one will have any income to pay for those services/products.

  • youyou says:

    The majority of people used to at one time be employed in agriculture. Now in the states just 1-2% of people are employed in it. There will always be new industries forming, just look at how many career paths exist today just because of the internet that we had no idea would exist just 15 years ago. It’s not just things being produced that will need less work to be made, it will also be the factories that become easy to make too. Meaning more competition. These automated factories will not gain any kind of a monopoly (provided a free market remains), so prices will just go down and down. We are starting to see this today. The amount of money to be made in most industries will go down this is true. But this also means prices will dramatically go down. When It costs $500 to create a 3D printed house, and $10 to buy an automated factory produced smart phone, who cares if people can only find a small amount of work? The future is lower and lower prices & smaller and smaller work hours.

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