Time and time again

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 28 September 2010



Loughlin, C. (2010), "Time and time again", Assembly Automation, Vol. 30 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/aa.2010.03330daa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Time and time again

Article Type: Editorial From: Assembly Automation, Volume 30, Issue 4

I was somewhat amused to receive in the post some promotional literature for a well known magazine. The magazine in question was Time and underneath the name it said “do not bend”.

This led me to consider both how we can plan for the future and also whether we should place more emphasis on the lessons of the past.

One of our themes for this issue is “collaborative assembly” by which I mean people and robots working together to achieve objectives that neither one could achieve on their own. Although I can see that this topic has great relevance while there are still tasks that computers cannot successfully handle, does it have a long term future?

If in the future machines are able to do everything that people can do at least as well as people can do them, then what are we going to do? What work will we do? Will we do any work?

These days most of us commute to work where the great majority of us sit in an open plan office and do things on computers. A fair percentage also work on the shop floor actually making things and just 1 percent work in agriculture growing the food we eat and about 0.5 percent work in military occupations.

If we look back just 100 years these percentages would have been very different. Look back 200 or 300 hundred years and it was literally a different planet.

Back then no one was looking forward and planning how to implement the future in 100 years’ time. The future just evolved on a decade by decade basis until, before we knew it, we arrived at the way things are today, with a number of revolutions and a few world wars in the process.

Today’s global financial problems make looking far ahead rather low on everyone’s priority list, but it could of course easily be argued that a bit more long term planning might well have avoided the crisis in the first place.

Is the future something we can plan for or does it just happen anyway, with so many possible permutations that planning offers no more certainty than no planning at all? Or can we do ourselves a favour and smooth out the bumps?

I consider it most unlikely that in 100 years’ time (perhaps just three or four generations) that our occupations will be much as they are now. It is quite easy to anticipate a world where automation has made most manufacturing jobs redundant. Perhaps “being unemployed” will change from being a label that defines the less fortunate and less wealthy minority (albeit quite a large minority), to one where it is a status reserved for the most fortunate in society. The “idle rich” is not a new phenomenon and it is not so long ago that domestic service was a major source of employment.

Here in the UK, the retirement age is currently 65 but it is now planed to be raised to 68 by 2046. This increase is driven simply by the financial necessity to reduce the time that people are paid a pension before they die. Very little thought has been given to the nature of the work that people will be doing.

If we can plan for our future in financial terms would it not also be a good idea to plan for the future makeup of the society in which we would like to live?

Clive Loughlin

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