Cybernetics Automation Technology On The Threshold Of Workerless Mining

Cybernetics Automation Technology (CAT) is on the threshold of providing workerless mining, railroads, sawmills, ships, steel mills and all sorts of production facilities, even management functions?  The development of complex electronic control systems appears to be combining with mechanical machines to create automation that needs fewer people.

I wonder how many readers of this article are old enough to remember when elevators in department stores, public buildings, hotels and all multi-storied buildings were manned by operators?   How many devices are in your home that have automated your hand labor functions?   We take for granted  the dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer, personal computer, wireless telephone and e-mail.   The clues are all around us to show the alarming changes in our global economy.   Let’s just look at the impact the automatic elevators have made.

No architect who designs skyscrapers designs elevators.  It is outsourced to elevator manufacturers.  No building owner inspects or services elevators as inspection is usually a governmental function and maintenance of elevators is outsourced to qualified licensed contractors.  At time of design, safety is a key issue to ensure for safe access for both installation and for life cycle maintenance to eliminate the hazard of falls in the multi-story elevator shafts.

The development of elevators as they are today created a whole new industry with high-paying employment.  When elevators were first developed, they were rated as the source of the most frequent serious accidents.  Airline passengers who change planes at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport may use the automated sky train to leave one terminal for another terminal.  The passenger waiting lobby has closed doors to prevent access to the tracks.  When the automated train arrives and stops, entry into it is through two automated doors.  One is the door that prevents access to the track, and the other door is on the train car.  Just like elevators, both doors open when the automated train arrives.

Now compare the Dallas-Fort Worth sky train to subway stations where the passenger waiting area is next to an open unguarded platform four or five feet above the subway train tracks which often include a high-voltage third rail.  It is a well-known occurrence for people to fall off the subway waiting platform and be seriously injured.  Subway waiting platforms are not as safe as the Dallas-Fort-Worth Airport sky train’s passenger waiting platforms.  Some will say it’s too costly to update subway stations, and others will conclude that the public will want safer subway waiting space.  The cost of any personal injury litigation filed for any injuries or death due to unsafe subway waiting platforms also will provide an incentive for providing safer subway platforms.

As other functions become automated, people will complain about the loss of jobs. The good news is, as the birth rate declines worldwide, the economy will not suffer for a lack of workers because automation will fill this gap.  However, the perpetual public  resistance to automation will continue.  In 1811 the Luddites, who were identified as organized bands of English weavers, destroyed the new textile machines that were replacing these craft people.  Night-time violence became rampant and soon escalated into destruction of cloth-making factories in Yorkshire, Lancashire and other English communities.

In 1812 a band of Luddites were shot down under the orders of threatened weaving factory owners. By 1813 the Rule of Law resulted in many hangings of Luddites until this activity ended. In the long term, automated mechanization of production has developed a prosperous middle class.  The highly skilled people who designed, manufactured, operated and maintained such automated equipment have enhanced the well-being of the public because of this new technology. Only recently has wealth shifted from the middle class to the one-per-cent of rich investors.  As our civilization becomes more dependent on CAT, a new class of specialists who are knowledgeable in combining engineering with cybernetics will become our highly skilled independent middle class, as are the prosperous people who design, manufacture and maintain elevators.  It is foreseeable, as more specialists in CAT become independent small high-tech business people, we will see wealth shift   from the one per cent  rich investors to an affluent new middle class.

At the local level, another source of interference with CAT has arisen.  The public does not yet accept the benefits of their driving performance being evaluated and enforced by automated camera systems.  The use of camera recordings and automatic mailing of citations to drivers who run red stop lights at busy intersections has brought about a flood of complaints in the “Letters to the Editor” section of newspapers and in TV news interviews.   It just takes time for the public to become aware of the savings brought about by the reduction of deadly intersection collisions.  The resulting lower car insurance and reduced police law enforcement tasks due to automatic cameras compared to having a salaried patrol person in a patrol car watching to cite a careless driver who runs a red light isn’t always apparent to the  public.  This frees the police force to pursue other important crime investigations.

CAT has become a newsworthy topic.  Many publications tell of the changes to come, including those that predict that in the next two decades 45% of the laboring workforce will be replaced by computerized automation.  The only remaining hand- labor workforce will be cleaning maids who work in hotels, those who are restaurant waiters or those who do housework, gardening or maintenance and repair.  A recent issue of “The Economist” magazine tells about the coming ghost ships without crews.  Marine technology will change first, with automated cargo ships that sail with shore-based captains and navigators.  All maintenance will be done when the ship docks.  Already a public distrust has developed because  unreliable and dangerous seamanship on cruise and ferry boats has become apparent due to recent disasters at sea caused by lapses in human performance..  “Engineering News Record” published by McGraw-Hill, in its March 20, 2014 issue, has a special report on “Robots on the Jobsite.”  The article tells of a semi-automatic brick-laying machine that selects bricks and then mortars and sets them in place to build a wall.  This article includes a “

“Glossary of Terms of Robotics” that explains the following terms;

•   AUTONOMOUS is work without outside human intervention.
•   DRONE is an unmanned vehicle.
•   ROBOT is a machine that performs a task.
•   SEMII-AUTONOMOUS is something programed to perform its task in a perceived environment requiring human                intervention in changing circumstances.
•   TELE-OPERATION is remote control by a user. This is presently a major application of partial automation.

Studies by researchers at the University of Oxford are included in the article to show which construction labor functions are close to being replaced by robots.  They are: Reinforcing iron and rebar workers, roofers, crane operators, cement masons and operators of construction equipment.  Recently I visited the Caterpillar Proving Ground eleven miles west of Green Valley in Southern Arizona where they demonstrated testing of huge driverless ore-hauling trucks.  This system can handle 200 trucks simultaneously, night and day, twenty-four hours a day, nonstop using Global Positioning System (GPS) routings with no downtime for shift changes as required by conventional driver-operated trucks.

Opposition to CAT comes from many diverse bedfellows. Some environmentalists who are opposing development engage in an organized hijacking shakedown.  They speculate that automated production facilities are unsafe and dangerous to the environment.  It is known that management groups which made bad decisions that injured or killed people looked for a scapegoat to blame. Now they allege that the automated system was unsafe.  Even some of the professional societies and trade associations that are reducing the number of people on their Boards of Directors are engaging in a self-destruct program which limits the diversity of expertise on their Boards of Directors.  Unfortunately, this type of society governance is completely blind to the emerging CAT.  Years ago the emerging elevator industry expanded their leadership  groups to ensure for diversity of knowledge of technology.  Simply stated, the opposition to CAT is not about protecting the public from unsafe automated equipment, but to gain the power of political leadership.  Those who oppose CAT by limiting their Boards of Directors to a few who are concerned about advancing their power over technology.

What is the future of CAT?    For starters, here in the United States, Google demonstrated the delivery of small packages to your doorstep using small helicopters and notifying receivers by telephone that the package had just arrived at their doorstep.  It I also known that Google is buying firms that manufacture sensors and controls  to develop, market and service new automated systems.  To return our outsourcing of low-priced clothing from Bangladesh to the garment industry in this country, it is CAT that can compete with $9.00 a week salaries in Bangladesh.  Historically, since the 1950’s, the military has established electronic and similar proving grounds to ensure for the reliability of military hardware, systems and components that rely on CAT.  The most startling change will be the demand for system safety design specialists who are in design, testing, manufacturing and maintenance to ensure for reliable performance.  Currently, eighty to ninety percent of those in the practice of safety are involved in worker behavior modification.  When the workplace has no employees, the need for worker behavior modification evaporates.  The safety practitioners who survive will be those highly trained as system safety authorities who can advise corporate leadership on design-based CAT.  The new safety authority will ensure for the integration of reliable and safe CAT performance by assisting engineers whose training and experience is in conventional disciplines., These new safety experts will be able to target and eliminate CAT failure modes at time of design, and be able to inform the public as to how CAT improves their expectations of safe well-being.   Already driverless cars have safely navigated over 10,000miles on city streets in addition to nearly 700,000 miles of being very adept in freeway travel.  It will be possible to reliably automate many function that will overcome known lapses of human performance.  Absolute failure-free automation will no longer support the need for insurance.  Google’s technology can now read stop signs, including those handheld at school crossings, and can predict the actions of jaywalkers.  Our space exploration efforts have been able to identify the contents of soil and rocks on other planets..   They have also provided remotely controlled vehicles to explore Mars and soon Mercury.

The transition to CAT will not be easy. The recent revelation that the new president of General Motors was shocked to learn that an unsafe ignition key switch was the cause of several deaths; that GM knew of the problem for ten years; and that reliance on its internal risk management processes failed to eliminate the hazard.   It is these entrenched people who are most freaked out by what may be waiting for them in the near future.  According to the May2014 issue of “The Smithsonian” magazine in its article “Science Friction,” of the one thousand people interviewed by telephone, 48% would take a ride in a driverless car. Many people are not ready to live in what the future holds and view CAT with a sense of hope.  They consider it to be awesome but feel it’s not for them.  Nearly 60% of the people consider CAT as “mostly better” while 30% consider it to be “mostly worse” and will actively oppose adoption.  As usual, 10% will be fence sitters.  Efforts to oppose specific adaptations will be diversionary in nature, as the well-organized professional and trade groups will not directly oppose progress but will engage in distracting issues.  Often small Boards of Directors without diversity of knowledge in new technology are closed-minded, petty and engulfed in ignorance.  Others will seek to develop conflict between governmental agencies as a process of delaying specific CAT applications. To overcome this foreseeable organized reluctance to accommodate CAT, our system safety experts need to become conversant with CAT. Next, system safety experts need to become messengers spreading the news of the benefits of specific CAT applications in which they have professional experience and of which they have a congruent knowledge and expertise.  What is really needed is to have system safety specialists write articles supporting specific CAT applications that will reach management and public leadership. Already the scope of system safety is experiencing a strikingly new function. To achieve a compatible match of software with hardware, the safety director becomes a primary player in management. Jeff Speer, a long-time member of the System Safety Society, assures for the safe integration of cybernetics with automated network communications for the U. S. Army Net.com.

After over sixty-two years in the safety profession, I am heartened to see that the pendulum of our system safety practice is beginning swing towards more enterprise acceptance of design being the ‘Holy Grail of Safety.”  CAT is the forerunner of a future safer civilization that is Utopian in nature with a high standard of living and leisure. I speculate that the system safety engineer will have a new role as a Certified automation Safety Technologist (CAST).

© Copyright (2015) by David Mac Collum Reprint is permitted only if the credit of authorship is provided and linked back to the source.

1 Comment

  1. Twweeeeeeeeett! Here comes the penalty flag. CAT may leave some technocrats feline warm & fuzzy, but CAST out the slavering adulation of traffic control cameras. They are a scam, designed solely to be an easy albeit unconstitutional source of sleazy revenue for local governments. Their effects on traffic safety are almost nil.

    For left turn lanes, if there is concern about collisions just add one more second to the 4-way red in the signal cycle. That allows the intersection to clear naturally. And the speed radar cameras, notice how they are always parked on the stretches of 4- or 6-lane divided limited-access roadways where the posted speed limits have conveniently been left at 35MPH? Nope, traffic safety has nothing to do with camera systems.

    Even with all of the cameras sprinkled around the city, our sanctuary chief still tells callers “We don’t respond to those calls; go to our website and make a report.” So much for CAT cameras helping out.

    CAT may be the kitty’s meow in a lot of areas, but for traffic enforcement it’s a dog. That’s a fifteen yarder.

    God bless America.

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