Why We Need the Robots

These trends point not only to the problem of who will fund social security as the ratio of older and largely retired people to younger working people increases, but worse, the social security will be competing for the service labor of relatively fewer people. Other country will be competing for immigrants to fill labor pools. Robots will be a key technology to greatly increase the productivity of individual humans.

Despite the impression from popular press, US manufacturing remains strong, is the largest manufacturing sector in the world, and has had sustained productivity increases over the last fifty years at the rate even higher than that of the IT industry. Labor-intensive manufacturing would seem to be a high impact target for robotics, but it has not been due to the sort of successes robotic had early on, casting the die for a direction it would take, effectively restricting manufacturing robots to structured environments. Robotic high-value areas such as automobile manufacturing had a fifty year history in the US.

Today’s industrial robots follow the practices set out in the 1950s, though they are cheaper and more accurate. But they have not fully embraced the IT revolution and have very little in the way of flexible computation, perception, or real-time planning. This makes systems integration overhead of setting up robotic lines, turning factories into structured environments.

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