Biomimetic file 205: Rise of the Machines

Why business automation is both an opportunity and a risk

Male robot thinking about something.

*Cybernetics is a trans-disciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.”

Highlight:The evolution of the paradigm of modern biomechatronics and robotics can be seen in two main directions, standing as two extremities of a range of future biomechatronics systems: increasing the performance and miniaturization of the hardware platform and increasing the intelligence of the integrated system. Regarding the first direction, the current challenge is to develop sophisticated machines with a higher level of miniaturization and performance, as they can be inspired by insects…a recent paper highlight the current state of achievements in the merging fields of biomimetics and cybernetics*…”

Insight: There are functions in living organisms for which we are conscious and have control over, and others we have no knowledge and little or no control. Examples would include digestive systems, respiratory reflects and inner body vital functions in general. In a way many of these processes are on “auto-mode” like a fine tuned machine. Similarly in business there are functions which we do ourselves consciously and a few processes which have become assisted by machines. However, while to date the assistance has been mild all this is about to change fast.

The hard truth is that the vast majority of jobs out there can, now or soon, be replaced by machines. These do not only include labor intensive blue-collar jobs which require repetitive tasks but increasingly even tasks which have been considered very skilled such as head-hunting, trading or even various medical professions which are progressively threatened of being outperformed by newly developed “smart” systems and algorithms backed by rapidly increasing computer processing power. To put things into perspective the below graphic highlights clearly the trend of the development of artificial intelligence:

power_075

Source: Journal of evolution and technology. At the current rate of increase we are only decades away from computer processing power outperforming the human brain.

It is obvious that the main reasons for corporations to embark on automation are to reduce manpower costs and to boost productivity which in an increasingly unsecured global economic landscape makes a lot of business sense. Replacement of people with machines removes instantly a range of human related burdens for businesses such as poor productivity, various leaves, strikes, accidents…In fact the benefits seem too good to be true. For instance in some cases, like in manufacturing chains, the productivity can be increased by a factor of 100 or more…

Optimists on the issue often refer to a transition period which will be followed by stabilization. They claim that many jobs will be lost (perhaps underestimated) but that the replacements by machines will create many new roles. There is no doubt about this but perhaps the real question to be asked is how many? If one machine can replace 100 jobs but that only a few technicians/engineers may be required to maintain and monitor that machine, all in all it seems completely out of balance…

The very thought of massive jobs loss globally from automation alone (there are other factors which will add-on to these losses) raises very serious societal and ethical questions. If governments allow corporations to take on this path, what is the replacement solution? Are governments ready to pay people to do nothing through a minimal wage system?

It seems that overall large scale automation would be greatly beneficial to businesses but extremely harmful to societies, at least in the current political and economic settings. Like many other mega trends unfolding it is obvious that no one or entities really seem to have a clear solution and that the mind-set is a “wait and see” approach, which is not really pragmatic…

Are you thinking of automating your business? What are your thoughts on the topic?

More information here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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Biomimetic file 120: harvesting energy from body artery pressure!

How to capture inner-corporate power

iPSBwCdPhoto credit: Naomi Kizhner. As blood is pumped out of the left ventricle into the aorta and distributing arteries, pressure is generated.  The mean arterial pressure (MAP) is determined by the cardiac output (CO), systemic vascular resistance (SVR), and central venous pressure (CVP) according to the following relationship, which is based upon the relationship between flow, pressure and resistance: Eq. 1: MAP = (CO × SVR) + CVP

highlight: “Naomi Kizhner, an industrial designer and graduate student from Hadassah College in Jerusalem, has designed jewelry that theoretically extracts energy from the wearers own body. The ‘speculative’ jewelry is embedded into the person’s veins and uses their blood to turn small wheels inside the device… ”

Insight: I wouldn’t actually categorize this as a good example of biomimicry as it is more a combination of technology with biological systems, however the idea is very interesting and could be developed to utilize bio-mimicry principles for instance by studying artery patterns of selected species in order to maximize the efficiency.

The idea to produce energy using our own body is a fantastic one; Indeed our body generates non-negligible amounts of energy should it be through normal motion (e.g. walking or simple regular body movements) or internal organ systems. This energy is simply wasted when in fact it could be re-captured and utilized to power small devices like smart phones or even bigger machines. Sufficient energy could be produced using efficient and well designed micro-turbines connected to our arteries. Perhaps adapting the technology to make it smaller and hidden below the skin as an implant like a heart control battery could be the start of a revolution of human body powered systems?

The above point of exploiting inner body power is inspirational as a business philosophy. We often hear that employees are a corporations most valuable asset but few company’s actually seem to understand that. Indeed, employees are not only an asset to individually deliver the tasks they were employed to do but as a team, the workforce within corporation is a powerful source of innovation in itself should the direction know how to get the best out of it.

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: a Tech company is faced with an important problem, they are trying to reach out to a younger market for one of their latest products which translates a piece of text into an emotion (e.g. “the writer of this text is happy”) based on the analysis of punctuation, text structures and other indicators. While well received by the business sector, so far the initiative has failed to reach the youngster considered a big market. After failing to gain much insight from outsourcing strategies, the management decides to turn back to their own company and capture ideas from their many talents. The problem is thrown to the workforce as a challenge inciting employees to act as small teams (no ore than 5 people) and to provide practical solutions on how to reach the market. The response is overwhelming and over 15 teams are created. After three months the company starts judging the entries through a first round of selection based on documents submissions followed by a second round of presentations for the finalists. One of the team comes up with a great App idea that brings the system to the hands of youngsters using an appropriate display that can also be used with instant messaging applications. The team is well rewarded and the company takes the opportunity to remind the workforce of their value to the company….

Are you faced with a problem you don’t feel has reached a satisfactory solution through outsourcing? If so, perhaps consider tapping onto your own workforce as well, even if the scope does not fall within the normal operational tasks, you may be surprised of the outcome and it is a great way to connect and motivate…

More information: here 

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

bluestrike logo

www.bluestrike-group.com