Sunday, January 03, 2016

Discipline and Punish, 21st century style

My morning twitter feed brought together two seemingly unrelated articles:

1. The MIT Review: overview of Robotics Trends for 2016.
2. The Economist Economist: article on the disappearance of middle managers in 2016 and beyond.

To get an insight into long-term implications of the trends, first consider a quote from each one of them separately:

The Economist,
Existing systems will be replaced by new ones built on more fashionable qualities: speed and transparency. Companies will stop fussing about inputs (how people do things) and focus only on outputs (what they produce). They will be obsessed with data, losing all interest in anything that can’t be measured. Every employee will be monitored every second; every keystroke and click will be tracked and analysed. Some companies will go further and get white-collar workers to wear sensors that track all movements and measure their tone of voice and the number of steps they take.

The MIT Review,
Another trend to look out for this year is robots sharing the knowledge they have acquired with other robots. This could accelerate the learning process, instantly allowing a robot to benefit from the efforts of others (see “Robots Quickly Teach Each Other to Grasp New Objects”). What’s more, thanks to clever approaches for adapting information to different systems, even two completely different robots could teach each other how to recognize a particular object or perform a new task (see “Robots Can Now Teach Each Other New Tricks”).

The Economist talks about tracking and analysing employee performance data, including its physical aspects; the MIT Review describes a scenario where robots teach robots. Now, consider a case where we mix and match the two scenarios. That is, data obtained from monitoring humans (Economist) is used to teach robots (MIT Review). The combination would enable an easy transition from lab prototypes and small-scale production created by humans to large-scale factory in robotic factories. Ultimately, it'll speed up innovation but will make lots of workers redundant.

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