By Kevin Meyer
While perusing today's Parade Magazine supplement in the Sunday paper, between a recipe for soup and a weight loss ad, I came across an interview with Stephen Hawking. Always an interesting perspective, and today I was not disappointed, especially when I came across this tidbit:
Q You’re a big proponent of human space exploration. Couldn’t we discover the same things
with less difficulty and risk using robots?
A Similar knowledge might be obtained by robots, but humans are an adventurous
species. We like to explore and are inspired by journeys to the unknown. Science is not only a
disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion. Exploration by real people inspires us.
It made me think a bit, and not just because I was looking for random fodder that could be stretched into a weekend blog post. Regular readers know I'm not exactly a big fan of robots and software when a human could do better.
- The most efficient auto assembly plant in the world happens to be in a high labor cost country and only uses robots for operations that pose potential safety issues. That same auto assembly plant manufactures five or six radically different vehicles, in units of one in any random order, yet has no computers on the shop floor – it's all manual kanban.
- Computerized shop floor control systems often lead to massive expenditures to keep the system up and running, often force conformity to what the software developer believed to be an optimum process without making it easy to implement improvements, and take the human out of the equation. Unlike a white board.
- Some companies actually promote, and then have the gall to disrespect, their shop floor robots. Somehow they thought that robots are an advantage – well we know what happened to one such company.
The reason, as I've said many times, is that there's a valuable brain attached to the supposedly costly pair of hands. Robots don't have brains, robots can't create suggestions for improvement, robots can't ask "why?" over and over to get at the real root cause of an issue and thereby develop a real solution, and robots can't piece together seemingly unrelated sets of data to explore a new direction that may appear illogical.
Robots do processes. People explore and improve processes.