Simanaitis Says

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WHAT IF ROBOTS UNIONIZE? PART 1

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is making robotic devices smarter every day. The societal implications of this are profound in the near, as well as long, term. Here are two days of my tidbits from sources as varied as Isaac Asimov, Automotive News and, in tomorrow’s Part 2, T. Rowe Price. Indirectly, all of them raise interesting questions.

Isaac Asimov, c. 1920–1992, Russian-born American writer, professor of biochemistry, futurist.

Asimov began writing short stories about robots in 1939, Especially relevant to the discussion here are his Laws of Robotics.

Asimov proposed Laws 1-3 in his 1942 short story “Runaround.” He added a Zeroth Law later, in “Robots and Empire,” 1985. Indeed, it’s this more general protection of humanity, as opposed to personal injury, that prompts a question: Do robots harm humanity by displacing human employment?

Robots have already taken over a lot of repetitive human work. Engineered for their tasks, robots are superbly accurate, dependable—and, thus far, haven’t demanded coffee breaks.

Automotive News, May 29, 2017, offers insights in a pair of articles by David Sedgwick, “A Savvy Plan for the Trump Era” and another specifically on robotic advances that I’ll save for tomorrow.

Both articles involve Gentex Corporation, a Michigan-based manufacturer of self-dimming mirrors, garage door openers and other products sold worldwide. Over the last several years, Gentex has closed plants in Mexico and China and expanded automation at its Zealand, Michigan, facility.

According to Automotive News, “Now, 40 U.S. workers are needed on a line that once required 100. As the company adds automation, workers are reassigned to other tasks.”

Gentex facility in Zeeland, Michigan. Image from Automotive News, May 29, 2017.

In assessing the Mexico situation, Automotive News notes, “The company’s Michigan wages average $14.50 an hour, which it supplements with a quarterly profit-sharing bonus of 13 to 18 percent of wages. By contrast, suppliers in Mexico typically pay just $2.61 an hour, according to a Center for Automotive Research report published last year.”

Despite this wage differential, Gentex closed its Mexico facility in 2013, predominately because of aging equipment.

Tomorrow, we’ll learn about Gentex and its Chinese business, a talented robot named YuMi who likes working with humans, and T. Rowe Price’s assessment of all this. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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