Predicting the future

For the past twenty years, The U.S has outsourced most manufacturing jobs to China for lower costs and less pollution issues. Things will change as new technologies such as Artificial intelligence and Robotics are being applied throughout the manufacturing industry and make it less expensive, higher quality, and faster time to the market. Now it raises a huge concern in China and other lower cost countries.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is software that makes computers do things similar to humans. It means that a machine can learn from mistakes and make some decisions. AI is not new, it has been around for at least fifty years but mostly in research labs. Now it is being applied into the industry and it works well. In 1997, an AI computer named “Deep Blue” defeated the World Chess master Garry Kasparov by thinking ahead all the chess moves that the best Chess player in the world can think of. The technology has been improved and last year, another AI computer named “Watson” defeated two champions of the Jeopardy games on TV. It correctly answered all questions asked. Another AI computer installed in a self-driving car has traveled from Los Angeles to Las Vegas throughout all the traffic jam without causing any accident. All of these technologies are now being applied in factory to change the design process and make it better, faster and cheaper. Another AI computer designed and draw a 50 stories-high building in details with rooms, elevators in five days when it took a team of twenty architects to do the same thing in four weeks. Another AI computer has been used to manage the logistics of a manufacturing company, from take order of customers; design the products; manage the building of the products; ship the product to customers; calculate finance cost; and collect payment automatically.

Robots have been used since the late 1970s in some heavy industry. They are very expensive and difficult to control since they broke down often. The technology has been improving steadily in the past several years. Today, there are over several thousand robots available. Some are controlled by complex computer systems; others can be controlled via simple apps using smart-phones. Today robots are being designed to do many things, from moving heavy things to perform surgery. Basically robots are much cheaper than human labor. They do not sleep, asking for vacation, demand raise in salary and they work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week without stopping. According to a new study, robots will soon compete directly with low cost labor from other countries. Currently about half of the factories in the U.S are equipped with robots. When this transformation complete, most of manufacturing jobs will move back to the U.S as it is much cheaper to build locally.

Even China’s largest hi-tech manufacturer Foxconn (Who build Apple’s Products- iPhone, iPads etc.) has announced plans to buy one million robots from the U.S within three years to do the work that its workers presently do. These robots will perform repetitive, mechanical tasks to produce circuit boards that go in many popular consumer gadgets. Foxconn refused to answer the question about the future of its current workers.

What happen next will change the balance of economic power as technology will determine who is going to benefit most? What will happen if the economy that depends mostly on low labor costs is no longer feasible? What will happen to the unemployed labor workers? Can a country deals with hundred million unemployed workers at the same time? There are many questions that economists and politicians will have to deal with. However, one thing is for sure: All of these technologies need technical people to manage them, to design them, to build them. The best jobs of the future: The engineers, the software developers, the information system managers. Currently there are significant shortage of these people all over the world.

Sources

  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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