In general, the workers are not given enough information to replicate the product. They are shown how to attach a specific sprocket to a widget. The tasks are kept so simple (nothing to do with pleasantness) that no one can learn how the whole device is created or suggest improvements. This model lends to people being replaced by robots because human capital is one of the most expensive parts of running a factory.
In the case of Toyota, it sounds like these are high skilled engineers who are watching, understanding and making improvements to how the robots behave.
While the article itself is good, the title feels like link bait to me because the engineer's job is not to replace the robot but to enhance the robot. The dynamic isn't human vs robot as in the first scenario, instead it is human & robot cooperating.
With these types of factories, I think we'll likely see a resurgence of factories in rich countries as the most expensive component of the factory shifts from human capital to transportation of completed goods.
[edited for grammer, sic]
First, there is a specific role in Toyota group companies with the title "Production Engineering", which is tasked with creating/improving/redesigning/etc. the production process of particular products, new and old. They are the most important category of engineers hired as undergrad and masters engineering graduates, and everyone knows that they are the group best positioned for career advancement through the engineering side of the company. The exact title is "Seisan Gijyutsu 生産技術". If you see a Toyota group company CEO with an engineering background, chances are he came up through this division.
Second are the "craftsmen" who are typically HS grads from the Aichi area, sometimes from Toyota branded schools. They are the ones with the deft touch and individual skill that are often lauded in these western oriented articles.
It's only when you have both sides working together that you will have scalable, transferrable progress.
disclosure: I worked at a Toyota group company as a new grad in Aichi and spent 3 months in the factory as part of my training.
Here in silicon valley, the best performing companies are rarely the ones who have only engineering talent. A good engineer often lacks domain experience in the space they are trying to innovate in. It is important to find and work with those who have domain experience in order to progress quickly.
Thanks for pointing this out. :)
Without those two areas working together and understanding each other, you end up with a broken system. This is precisely the sitaution that you face in mechanical design + mechanical manufacture.
I am a mech engineer by profession and it's critical for me to engage early and often with the tradestaff who manufacture my items, so that they can guide me. I'll understand the design fundamentals far better than they will, but equally they'll understand the tooling and production processes that it's necessary to respect.
I can propose a design that will work, but they're the ones hwo can make it result in half the material wasteage with a few tweaks. If I can ensure that such aspects are successfully incorporated into the design then the part is better than either of us could achieve individually.
In reality, the programming/IT side of things tends to blur and you tend to have quite significant experience in both areas, so the problem is less pronounced. It's far more distinct in the mechanical world.
You've done a pretty detailed analysis of the company process.
So is the Production Engineer "Seisan Gijyutsu" focused on finding improvements for the Craftsmen to develop or does the Production Engineer "Seisan Gijyutsu" develop the improvements and teach them to the craftsmen?
eg if i replace this machine tool with x% scrap/rework rate with a new one that has y% and the new machine costs Z$ million - how long does it take to payback.
There are two kinds of jobs that robots will have a hard time replacing: these sorts of high-skill, creative, intution-and-experience heavy tasks; and low-skill but mechancially awkward tasks.
In both cases, the key to job survival will be that it's something of a niche. Anything remotely generic will be taken over by machines. So for example we'll still see certain kinds of literature generated by humans, but 100% of financial reporting, political reporting and sports reporting will be automated. More sophisticated commentary of the kind that Nate Silver does might last, but the Paul Krugmans and David Brooks of the world will be engineered out in the next decade or so by bots that troll the web for stories and generate canned ideologically-loaded commentary based on a smattering of data sources.
At the other end, jobs like fruit picking will be completely automated because it's a common task that can be implemented with a relatively generic machine, but cleaning houses will remain the domain of humans because houses are such awkward, complex spaces. Once we have a humanoid robot with very good AI that'll change, but I'm a little doubtful about seeing that in the next few decades.
Three - add anything which is primarily social.
I think hairdressing will be one of the most resilient jobs. Not only is there a huge market for it, but it requires a certain basic level of dexterity, and it's primarily social. The talking is at least as important as the hair cutting, and it's going to be a while before robots can replace it.
And these places are busy - my guess is there will be an automated haircut place in <10 years, and they will pick up 90% of the business within 5 years.
People will always go to custom hair cut places, but I bet there are a lot of people who will be keen to pay a small amount of money to get a reasonable hair cut.
Beauty is not an industry that a bit of tech pixie dust will magically transform. Haircuts aren't just a utility, they're a personal statement and a piece of one's identity. And as a previous poster indicated, it's also social and cultural. Plus the variety of people's hair and variety of desired cuts make it an incredibly complex and fine motor skill, one that robots will suck at for a very long time. And people rarely know exactly what they want when they go into a hair salon, so there's a service component there too. Beauty just isn't ripe for disruption because people and culture are so involved.
I think this is similar to the soylent discussions. Food-as-utility people think its great, but food has cultural value far beyond calorie intake. So its found its niche among products that already existed (sans tech pixie dust) - the nutritional shake market.
90% is an order of magnitude off in my opinion. But I agree that a place that offers reasonable hair cut for cheap is what many people would want, so I do look forward to your future where that is offered!
 http://www.flowbee.com/ http://www.haircut.com/ http://www.aircut.com/
Definitely agree that there will be some people who absolutely will want to go to a hair salon - and, honestly, my 90% was just a thumb-in-the-wind estimate. You're probably right that it's high, but, never underestimate the desire for people to get a good deal.
I think your Soylent comparison is excellent - and is exactly the one I would make. People who see food in a utilitarian perspective see the value offered from soylent. Likewise, people who consider haircuts as the process required to rid themselves of the excess hair, will get a lot of value out of an automated hair cut establishment.
Characterising a Nobel-winning economist as a content troll says more about you than him.
I wouldn't call him a troll. I would call him a shill. And no, that's not not saying more about me. It really is about him.
Yeah, that post seems kind of bizarre to me. Is Krugman partisan? Absolutely, and he admits it. Can he be - compared to most of the professional commentariat - abrasive and rude? Yes, and he admits it.  At the same time he is a cheerleader for Nate Silver and data-driven analysis. This is definitely reflected in his blog posts though somewhat less so in his columns (which do tend to be fluffier for a popular audience.) Half of his writing since the beginning of the recession has been deriding narrative-based analysis and demonstrating that the data contradicts it.
He does of course sometimes write about subjects outside his expertise - he wrote a lot about the Iraq War, for example - and he sometimes shades his economics with political analysis, but I wouldn't go so far as calling him a shill. Krugman is obviously derisive of most Republicans, but he has been decidedly unhappy about most post-2008 Democratic policies.
Krugman is basically the only mainstream political pundit I read at all, because you can actually learn a lot from what he writes.
I can see machines replacing David Brooks, but it will be a tragic day when we lose such a fitting (though well-intentioned) subject for mockery.
 He gives his reasons here:
It may take some time, but many of these 'awkward' jobs too will disappear. Once the house is the machine, the problem of maintaining it becomes a lot simpler. In fact, these environments may look nothing like a house (I would expect the first iteration to focus on low-cost functionality over form). Such machines could eliminate the need for independent robots or human labour.
The explanation that I get from article for the shift to training more metal workers is that a highly skilled metal worker winds-up being more akin to an engineer - that aspects of metal work are too complex to be understood by just theoretical knowledge of the engineers. Thus the robots in the factories duplicate the processes which both metal workers and engineers create. But if you get rid of the metal workers, you are left not able to change your processes or create new, effective processes.
Recognising and upskilling the best tradestaff into these roles is one of the most important aspects of a successful mechanical design organisation, as far as I'm concerned. They deliver a critical insight that your degree-educated, never-worked-away-from-a-desk engineers simply lack, because those engineers haven't spent years bending and cutting steel to understand exactly how far you can push the processes.
Example: I've just finished redesigning a proposed lifting device where some idiot engineer had specified steel bent in a radius of half its thickness. Any manufacturing tradestaff will tell you this is complete insanity as the rule of thumb is ~1.5-2* thickness as a minimum radius - any tighter and you rapidly start tearing the material apart along its grains. It's just not done. Yet there's clearly an engineer out there who didn't even consider it and sure enough, as soon as we crack tested the bent area, about 1/3 of the items had cracks.
This is the critical stress area of a proposed lifting device so that's basically a cardinal rule broken, because the manufacturing defect (the tear in the metal) will propagate into a crack over successive lifting cycles until the whole thing breaks in half and the several tonnes of load it's supporting falls back down. Had the engineer talked to literally any tradesperson they would've known to avoid this, yet here we are.
Trade Apprentice -> Technician (associate professional) -> Engineer -> Ceng (PE)
Some Cultures make it harder to actually progress all the way Germany used to be realy bad.
"Profession" by Asimov (1957)
[Edit: Looks like it was "Devil On My Back" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_on_My_Back Hope that is the one you are looking for]
But an economic plan that revisits the idea of what an apex is, I think would accomplish that 'for everyone else'.
That's why the idea of micro farming is so interesting: in an agrarian system where people grow their own food, as a pastime and 'art', then you can afford many, many apexes - at least one per farm/garden.
Why do so many people think that times have never been so bad when, in all honesty, times have never been so good?
I'm joking a little but I'm also serious. I kind of think that humans are somewhat hardwired to think this way given that so many people believe some version of this story.
Nor are all alternatives to capitalism socialism. Socialism is also known to have very severe problems in application, particularly how to incentivize socialist managers to behave like capitalist ones in most circumstances, driving innovation and maximizing productivity. Socialist managers have somewhat different contstraints on them from capitalist managers, and nominally different long-term goals, but they are more similar than you might think.
The thing is: we know how to make capitalism work in a range of varieties, from the Scandanavian social democracies to the mess that's Texas. We have never seen a successful system of public ownership of the means of production (which is what socialism is, and nothing else). It has been tried in a variety of places and times, and it has always run up against fundamental problems of managerial incentives and political corruption at levels that make most capitalist political economies look pretty good (which is saying something!)
So looking for non-socialist means of distributing wealth in a society that is unequally post-scarce is a good idea. Today wealth is distributed almost exclusively through paid work, but that is a relatively recent invention. I'm not suggesting a return to feudalism or anything like it, but think we should be willing to consider variations in social order that are at least that large-scale, because the difference between what is coming and industrial capitalism is going to be at least as big as the difference between industrial capitalism and the semi-feudal societies that preceded it in many places.
If post-scarcity is brought about by automation, then there will be no need for most people to work, and socialism won't be the appropriate economic model (since people will not be directly involved in production). At this point we'll probably need to return to a gift-like economy.
The majority of production in Sweden is not state owned.
Actually, socialism is the ownership by the workers of the means of production.
A system of co-operatives would also be socialist.
Free markets and trade have lifted the most people out of poverty and improved the living standards of the largest number of people in history.
It is an imperfect way of organising the needs of people, but it is superior to everything else that has been tried, by an order of magnitude.
This is extremely important to remember. The fear of the unknown should not stop us from trying new economic systems that may be superior to capitalism.
Forward thinking will only happen when everyone walks away for the wreckage of socialism and realises it is a dead fork in the road that must be rejected utterly.
- Solar photo-voltaic is or is about to be the cheapest form of electricity, we will solve the storage problem
- Electric cars are getting closer to the tipping point, and they are going to drive themselves
- Biotech is making incredible gains, see cancer immunotherapy or NSI-189
- The pace of technological innovation has accelerated and continues
- The intellectual capital of the human race has never been anywhere near this large, free, accessible
- Robots/a lot of weak AI is or is about to get to a point to change the game
"We eat in restaurants, buy branded toiletries, build
skyscrapers, create legislative institutions, travel in
flying machines, write poetry, and search for meaning in
relationships, temples, and scientific books. Humans have
discovered antibiotics, sent probes into space, decimated
rainforests, shared a billion views of clips of kitten
behaviour, and decoded their own genomes.
But there is one thing that humans have singularly failed
to do, and that is to properly understand their own behaviour. "
— Robert Aunger and Valerie Curtis:
Gaining Control: How human behavior evolved
If "they" can fix economics ( big if ) that alone would make a big difference. But the US only got off the gold standard in my lifetime.
There's a Churchill quote about Americans; I think it generalizes to humans - "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities."
Locally, we're close to achieving sensible cities/communities with renewable energy, easier access to rapid prototyping, and worker co-op business models.
Do what you can with what you have to make your city and friends have access to healthy enjoyable lives.
I like your vision of the future, but I don't see much evidence that we're headed there.
Previously farming was done by hand, now a single machine replaces a hundred workers.
Previously coal was mined by hand, now a single machine replaces thousands of workers.
Previously trees were axed by hand and sluiced by river, now you can clear a forest with a couple machines and a couple skilled operators.
Previously producing cloth required massive numbers of skilled workers, then the loom was invented.
I often see this argument that we're in some unprecedented state of replacing labor with automation. I don't see any proof of that. I think we replaced labor with automation at a much faster pace during the industrial revolution and made it out just fine.
I'd love to see some stats on the differences if anyone has them.
What do you suggest we have to do to the "surplus" of manpower now?
Please no retraining nonsense as jobs will dwindle too and mirror the trend elsewhere.
Please show some political sense in your reply.
That is an awesome quote.
Thanks for posting the article it was an interesting read.
It concerns me that in the rush to build abstraction upon abstraction, we're neglecting the tools and practices that make it possible to work on and improve the fundamental layers.
One thing I admire from the Japanese culture, is that they take `craftsmanship` very seriously in all aspects of work.
I gain this appreciation after working part-time as a kitchen-hand in a number of Japanese restaurants throughout my uni days.
Those that are `authentic` Japanese (ran by Japanese owners) has a very methodical process and obsess over every single detail.
Even a simple task such cooking rice has an elaborate process and specific technique that I must always follow through. Just two examples:
* the amount of water to put into the rice depends on the season (i.e. dry vs wet season at harvest), must be exact to the millilitres.
* the specific motion of washing (or more appropriately `grinding`, as the water has been sieved out).
The chef always check the rice after it cooks and gave me feedback, every single time.
No matter how hard a human tries to "obsess over every single detail" they will simply be unable to compete with a machine intelligence in this regard. All the things you listed are so obviously suited to be tasks that intelligent machines can excel and surpass humans at. Even unintelligent machines would fare quite well against a human at all the tasks you listed.
You may argue that there's an art to craftsmanship that machines "will never duplicate the creativity of humans." I hear that like 20 times a week and it's not true. This falsehood lies in a flawed premise. The premise that the machines doing art/crafstmaship will seek to "replicate" human creativity is simply false. Human creativity doesn't necessarily replicate the creativity of other humans; why would a machine creativity need to replicate? Many intelligent machines are already making art online. Machines do not need to replicate. Intelligent machines can create on their own, independently. People are doing this with twitter bots now.
Notice I use the word "machine intelligence" and not just machine. A machine is process that has been animated in the physical world. A machine intelligence is fundamentally different. It learns and is better than we are at most (if not all) things. I understand that this eventuality is terrifying to people. Being scared of the inevitable doesn't stop it. We need to be thinking about this now so we can make plans to figure out what do with humans once these machines proliferate through our society.
As an aside I also love Japanese culture. I had the opportunity to travel to Japan after high school. It was great.
One of the biggest hurdles to automation in general - especially where replacing skilled workers is concerned - is in teaching (algorithmically or otherwise) the machine to replicate what the skilled worker is doing.
If there really is the existential crisis of "machines taking our jobs" then why are the robot trainers not pushing back? Isn't is immediately clear what they are doing?
I personally think everything should be automated with no mandatory human inputs for the majority of tasks - but that is hundreds of years away if ever. The key sticking point though is whether people will be willing to be "the last human to hold this job."
Also, gods of engineering are probably different from other gods. Like passionate programmers, they're having too much fun making machines perform new and exciting tasks.
...Until profits are in danger and you have a conservative board. Then you might see the last human, shortly followed by corporate irrelevancy.
probably will end the same way.
Toyota was one of the(or probably the) first company to totally replace humans with computers in their production lines.
So, as a result, they are the first to say: "Well, it looks like some things computers do very badly compared to humans".
Today little things quality inspection is done by humans but most of the work is done by machines, so take whatever you read with a big grain of salt.
Yeah, there are professionals needed, my company is one of those. But most of the jobs those companies created are forever gone.
> "In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota’s Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line 96 percent from its length three years ago."
I suspect this is a misconception. The Honsha plant was downsized in 2007. They have a lot of space there, and a "Museum of Production". They may have a manual forging setup as a training and demo operation, to give their employees a feel for how heated metal behaves during forging. A 1988-vintage automated forging line probably has too little feedback and too much brute power, and maybe too many die stages. Better employee understanding of the process may lead to a better. It's unlikely that Honda is doing manual forging for volume crankshaft production.
 https://archive.org/details/0555_Master_Hands_18_27_28_00 (start at 00:11:45)
> Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines.
This is also the spirit of the nand2tetris  course, currently running on coursera . The book is a really entertaining read too. Depending on how familiar you are with electronics you may be able to outpace the video course quite a bit.
> “Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,”
not yet... :p
Can't imagine why a computer SCIENCE professor would be expected to know how to make a website any more than my Newtonian mechanics professor would have been expected to know how to build a car.
This seems like a nice reformulation of Turing's Entscheidungsproblem
What Kawai is saying is a more physical thing - even for problems we can build a machine to solve, the machine will eventually stop working under normal use, and it's unlikely even to produce consistently correct results.
Automation with a human touch