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?

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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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http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

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Biomimetic file 204: Feedbacks

Why the implementation of feedback loops is important to manage project risks

earth-05Image NASA. “Anthropic response as a positive feedback to the global change phenomenon is one to worry about” …Feedback*: in biology, a response within a system (molecule, cell, organism, or population) that influences the continued activity or productivity of that system. In essence, it is the control of a biological reaction by the end products of that reaction.

Highlight: “Researchers at MIT have introduced a novel Balance Feedback *Interface (BFI) that addresses the problem of bilateral feedback for tele-operation of humanoid robots…by studying various feedback response processes found in natural systems including in the human body, the team was able to model complex bilateral communications between machine and operator…the result is a humanoid robot with precision and sensitivity beyond anything achieved to date…applications include distance tele-operated surgery”

Insight: Many natural processes are not as static as they seem but are in fact dynamic systems which have reached equilibrium that require continuous adjustments to surrounding conditions. Basically there are two types of feedbacks: positive ones would improve a given process while negative feedbacks would alter it. A good example of that is the climate system (I have previously posted specifically on this aspect here).

Doing business is no different than certain natural cycle functions in that it needs constant adjustments to adapt to ongoing changes. When implementing processes or change strategies, it is of primary importance to concurrently develop effective feedback mechanisms in order to monitor the evolution of the changes.

While it may seem common sense, too often projects are successfully implemented but fail overtime because no adequate feedback mechanisms have been put in place. A process without its adequate control tools is not easily manageable. For instance it is not conceivable to develop a website these days without a proper associated Content Management System (CMS), and similarly the same system/system control approach should apply to any sizable project. Obvious direct benefits include:

  • Being able to monitor the evolution;
  • Being able to react in time based on those information;
  • Keeping performance records;
  • Due diligence.

Are you planning to implement change in the form of a new project? If so remember to concurrently develop a feedback monitoring platform which will allow to keep track and adjust…

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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http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 201: Blossom

How to manage nonlinear productivity

Cherry BlossomsImage: creative commons. Blossom*: In botany, blossoms are the flowers of stone fruit trees (genus Prunus) and of some other plants with a similar appearance that flower profusely for a period of time in spring.

Highlight:“The giant Arum (Amorphoohallus titanum) reaches 3m in height and has the largest blossom in the plant kingdom. The giant pleated “petal” (spathe) weighs almost 4kg: the largest light-weight construction among plants or even in organisms…researchers have used the fabric as inspirations for new generation construction materials…”

Insight: In temperate climates spring is synonymous with a significant increase in wildlife activity; after the long months of winter when life is in a dormant state everything suddenly speeds-up tremendously to make the most of a narrow window preparing for the summer months; productivity is at its utmost stage.

It is not an unknown fact that human productivity is nonlinear, on a daily basis we are typically only productive for a few hours at most. Companies that claim that long working hours are synonymous with productivity are in the wrong. As a matter of fact some countries like Sweden get away with a ridiculously low day working hours while sustaining a productive economy (and a happy lifestyle). This is supported by psychological tests that demonstrate that our attention span cannot be sustained at its optimum level and that there will inevitably be peaks and downs of productivity.

Learning to know ones limits and productive states can be a great asset in being more productive as  individuals and within teams. That can be done by managing energy levels, knowing ones physiology or simply experimenting with daily routines that make the most of potential productivity stages which can vary greatly between individuals.

Some typical aspects that can influence productivity in people may include:

  • A specific time of the day (or night);
  • Specific food sources/nutrition;
  • Lifestyle (remaining in good physical shape and keeping a happy state of mind);
  • Sleep management;
  • Time management (work and personal).

Do you know your productivity profile? If not, think about it and ask yourself what and when makes you more productive. This simple exercise can lead to overall significant performance and time management improvement …

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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http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 200: Entropy

Why maintaining order is key to business integrity

smoke_texture2788Picture source: creative commons. *In physical terms, entropy is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system. ..In other words entropy measures the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder…

Highlight:”Researchers from the Universidad de Guanajuato have developed new types of fuel cells partly inspired from processes found in species…One of the key findings shows the best flow field to minimize the entropy* production…”

Insight: Entropy is omnipresent in nature, it is a general observation rule that natural systems tend to stabilize overtime at the lowest energy levels. For instance plants would grow where they get the most exposure to sunlight, birds would adopt flight patterns that are most efficient. It is also a general observation that in nature entropy always tends to increase overtime: disorder is a more energy stable state than order because it requires less energy…

In business however, disorder (high entropy) is often synonymous with poor performance. Once a business operations become in a state of disorder, chaotic outcomes can quickly escalate leading the business in a state of crisis. In order to keep a business in order a lot of energy (human efforts and energy literally) must be constantly put in!

A personal case I came across was the visit of a Japanese car parts manufacturing plant in Cambodia, I was amazed by the level of order in the manufacturing chains, everything seemed to be perfectly in place and following very precise procedures. On the other hand, not long after I visited a steel processing plant in Indonesia and was struck by the level of disorder in all aspects of the company. After a bit of background study on these two companies it turned out that the first had seen record breaking profits while the second was in financial difficulties. while they may be other factors involved, order in operations (and overall management) was certainly a key contributor to the success of the first company …

The below indicators are key to assessing the state of disorder and should act as red flags that a company is in a “high entropy state”:

  • Escalating systems failure rates;
  • Poor safety records;
  • high employees turnover.

Do you operate a business that involves complex chains and processes? If so perhaps do not overlook the need to keep operations in order as it will reflect positively on outputs and safety records…There are various external certification that can facilitate (but not replace good governance) the maintenance of order such as certain ISO standards (e.g. 9001, quality control) which in today’s competitive market are no longer an option but a must to remain trustworthy, attractive and competitive…

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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http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 198: Lords of War

Why setting appropriate business defenses is increasingly becoming a priority

sea-battlePicture: Sea Battle scene, Sheet from the album of Adrian van der Salm, 1707

Highlight: “One of the parade examples of agent coordination through a shared environment is the use of chemical markers, or pheromones, for path planning in insect colonies…Researchers have developed a digital analog of this mechanism that is well suited to problems such as the control of unmanned robotic vehicles…several promising mechanisms have been developed for general agent coordination and air combat missions…”

Insight: Social insects can teach us a great deal about defense strategies that can be applied to business. In order to defend their elaborate nests and colonies, certain species of ants have developed remarkable behaviors that are marvels of logistical adaptation.

In today’s world, businesses are increasingly facing harsh competition and threats from multiple angles which can at any time jeopardize the entire organization and its future to operate. Threats can be in the form of digital breach (hacking), physical (e.g. terrorist) or most often ethical wars (stealing of information and copyright infringements).

A  key strategic framework can be summarized in three phases:

a) Prepare: Be aware of the potential threats. This is a constant effort that needs to be flexible and adaptable to the dynamic conditions of the world. Like in a war situation room, major businesses should always be on their guards and on the look-out for potential developing threats;

b) Sense: It is not enough to be aware that a threat is out there, one must also be able to sense a potential attack. Setting-up defenses is key to the business integrity, whether it is firewalls for IT infrastructures, facilities check points or trackers to identify legal breach;

c) React: In times of crisis, if caught by surprise, one does not have time to prepare an appropriate defense and is likely to react the wrong way, causing major and lasting damages to the business (this is often underestimated and realized too late). That is why it is so crucial to anticipate and have a defense ready in case;

In the end, running a business is not much different then fighting a war in that strategic planning and readiness are key to success. Are you fighting a business war? If so, perhaps remember the “PSR approach” and that readiness is key to sustainable success…

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 197: Quantum motion

How Probability Charts can be Powerful Business Tools

566_image

Image source: Lithium atom electronic wave, CNRS. *Note: The Schrodinger equation is used to find the allowed energy levels of quantum mechanical systems (such as atoms, or transistors). The associated wavefunction gives the probability of finding the particle at a certain position.

Highlight: “Researchers have studied natural photosynthesis processes in a range of species from terrestrial plants to aquatic algae in order to specifically better understand the micro processes involved and to apply the findings to fields such as Photonics using quantum theories…”

Insight: In the field of Quantum Physics scientists have to deal with happenings that are impossible to see without high tech instruments. However, the field has managed to develop robust mathematical tools to predict the behaviors of these systems with a remarkable high level of confidence.

For instance, the Schrodinger equation* (personally my favorite of all equations), allows to predict the position of a subatomic particle at a given point in time. It is not possible to know exactly where it is but what this tool provides is a powerful prediction of its position range illustrated as a probability of occurrence within a narrow space and following specific patterns given the dynamic conditions.

This ideology is applicable to businesses especially large corporations which have to deal with complex prediction models. There are a range of factors which cannot be seen or known for sure but using the right tools and assumptions can give a good idea.

As an illustration, lets say a large agribusiness is facing production losses from insect invasions on its fields and would like to apply an Eco-friendly spray (that is just me being optimist) to control it. Since insects migrations are non static and have a high degree of unpredictability in their patterns, it is not possible to know for sure where exactly the impacts will be. However, models based on a number of realistic assumptions such as previous events or weather conditions can help to chart a probable path of these events to prepare a meaningful action plan which would be more economically viable.

Are you facing situations which require mapping an invisible complex happening? If so, perhaps consider mapping the outcome on a probability chart as this will set a strong basis for strategic decision making and risk management.

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

shrodinger

Biomimetic file 196: Exponential Disruptions

How an Understanding of Exponential Behaviors Can Benefit Businesses

main-qimg-7c47724e131d532d5b6986453f82b291

Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate of the value of a mathematical function is proportional to the function’s current value, resulting in its growth with time being an exponential function. Exponential decay occurs in the same way when the growth rate is negative

Highlight: “Population growth or decay tend to follow exponential curves…Researchers at the University of Michigan have explored reproduction patterns in micro-organisms to further understand this remarkable outcome…One of the research finding is that  in a population the effective intrinsic rate of increase actually changes as the density of the population changes… a new biological concept was used in developing this theory — the carrying capacity…”

Insight: In nature it is not uncommon to encounter systems behaviors which follow exponential growth patterns. Examples would include certain populations growth or decline. The point is that what starts as a small insignificant trend can sometimes escalate tremendously fast to become a major dominant outcome.

This behavior is important in the business world as well for instance when anticipating changes, managing risks or making strategic decisions. While most tend to plan based on linear  uninterrupted flow assumptions, anticipating such possible patterns and incorporating them in planning is crucial because they have the potential to completely alter all other plans.

There are complex mathematical models which can incorporate, to some extent, this type of behaviors in planning strategies but perhaps an easier way around it is simply to accept that it is a possible outcome and to have a plan B ready in case. Plan B would typically drastically differ from plan A in that the exponential outcome would have completely reshuffled priorities.

For instance lets say that a new product is being tested on the market and it turns out that its sales significantly grow following exponential curves. Thereafter, this new product  suddenly becomes the company’s main sales strategy and requires full attention over other aspects which were until then prioritized. This type of situation, while seemingly a great news for the company, can in fact turn out disastrous if unplanned and managed inappropriately because the new focus could turn out to be destructive to other operations…

Are you already established and planning for new releases or changes? If so perhaps anticipate potential exponential outcomes and prepare yourself accordingly in order to prevent this disruption from creating an hazardous unbalance in your business…

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 195: The Great Migrations

How Mobility and Flexibility will Define Future Leading Businesses

2209582828_123c913f37_oImage Source: BirdLife International

Highlight: “Nowadays, stress has become an integral part of our day-to-day life and hence everyone of us has to face it in one way or another. The stress is created by various factors known as stressors… They may be, environmental, physiological, social or cognitive…A critical study of the behaviors of some long-migrating birds provides some basic principles involved in the successful management of stress… Researchers have identified the basic principles as: 1. Principle of avoidance, 2. Principle of adaptation and 3. Principle of acceptance…”

Insight: Many species live a nomadic lifestyle constantly adapting to changing environments and moving with resources availability. In a similar way, businesses will increasingly be required to be mobile and adaptable in order to keep-up with the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the global economic landscape.

The traditional business settings which have prevailed most of the 20th century are becoming obsolete. That is the type of businesses with well established and preset employee behaviors as well as expensive fixed facilities and office spaces. Instead, the new leaders are quickly arising as enterprises with a mobile workforce and open mindset on employees geography and work arrangements.

There are many roles out there (especially anything to do with some type of consulting) which only require employees to hold a laptop computer and be constantly on the move and available. After all we live in the era of long distance communications where many new options have become possible and efficient. All is required is strong self discipline and trust between employers and employees.

A simple yet robust framework can be set:

  1. Set up a client work plan involving clear deliverables and deadlines;
  2. Always submit work on time and within the expected standards (or else be subject to disciplinary actions: a) a verbal warning, b) a written warning c) dismissal from the company);
  3. Make yourself available for face to face meetings when required and given a reasonable notice;
  4. Keep people you need in the loop (e.g. your employer/clients) on communications such as email exchanges ;
  5. all others, up to you and following a “that is not my problem” mindset, whether the work is done in a library, at the beach, at a cafe or from home, as long as rule 2 is stringently met…

Too many companies (including large corporations) have gotten their priorities wrong still strongly stuck with hold fashion concepts such as the belief that staying in an office from 8am to 6pm daily is synonymous with productivity (this is especially apparent in Asia) ! A number of successful startups are already applying “new age”  frameworks but few if any have really applied the concept to its full potential. An obvious limitation is that many people still require the comfort of an office or are in desperate need of social interactions; so offering a choice to talented employees between a small smart office setting or a fully flexible work plan is still advised.

Are you planning to set up a business? If so perhaps consider a next generation business model described above, you may be surprised of the outcome. However in the end, regardless of new or old business models, success comes down to the trust (it can only be confirmed with time) you put in the people you hire and their ability to deliver; make smart choices..

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 194: Gauss Curves

How an understanding of Gaussian distribution can benefit business strategies

main-qimg-2fe1a237ae44004c798bc4c004793c8d-c

Picture: a typical normal distribution: A normal distribution is an arrangement of a data set in which most values cluster in the middle of the range and the rest taper off symmetrically toward either extreme.

Highlight: “Researchers have recently taken visual solutions present in nature to incorporate them in a computer algorithm that radically improves the quality of sequences collected in dim light…This was made possible by studying nocturnal insects which are uniquely adapted to a life in dim light..these adaptations were discovered by recording the responses of photo-receptors to Gaussian-distributed white noise light stimuli in nocturnal insects…”

Insight: In nature many systems follow Gaussian distributions. It is one of the best mathematical representations (along perhaps with exponential growth) to describe the behaviors of natural systems. Factors such as populations dynamics, follow such patterns.

Gaussian distributions go beyond natural systems and are also a good assumption to many phenomenons which involve large amounts of data. In business for instance, the behavior of consumers towards a particular product or marketing campaigns outcomes would typically follow Gaussian distributions.

While there are many statistical tools that can be used to make assumptions with various degrees of certitude, keeping in mind the easy to visualize bell shaped curve can really help to forge robust business strategies through realistic risk management in anticipation of failure rates.

Basically what it hints is that in an outcome involving large numbers, the  majority would be spread around the mean while a narrow few would go towards the extremes which in this case would be defined as failure or success; In other words the probability of a very successful/unsuccessful outcome will be small while average outcomes would be largely predominant…

Are you working on a plan that involves large numbers? If so, perhaps verify if the distribution would be favorable for Gaussian outcomes (there are statistical tools to help making this assumption) and anticipate accordingly. Keeping in mind the Gaussian distribution, one success strategy is to aim for the largest possible numbers (e.g potential customers) in order to maximize the chances of successful outcomes…

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 193: Leapfrogging

How innovation increments management is crucial to keeping a competitive edge

0ce4fd4d779cadcb75369a350b538d20Image source: pinterest.com

Highlight: “To improve the maneuverability and agility of jumping robots, several researchers have studied steerable jumping mechanisms…This steering ability enables robots to reach a particular target by controlling their jumping direction… The key design principles were adopted from the frog-hopper’s power-producing hind legs and the moment cancellation accomplished by synchronized leg operation…”

Insight: Frogs are known for their ability to move by making significant jumps. Unlike many species which would use a more energy saving linear type of motion, frogs focus their energy on a few but distance covering moves to secure their escape from preys.

This type of leaping motion is inspirational and can be applied to business innovation strategies. Indeed, the need to innovate is a constant battle for corporations that need to keep themselves ahead of the competition. There are three possible options: to make regular small improvements to their existing products (the most commonly seen), to make very significant improvements (or even provide a completely new approach) but at less regular intervals or sometimes a mix of the two.

The reality is that true innovations can only come from significant leapfrogging improvements which in terms push others to top-up their games. Game changers are less common and industrial wars through practices such as reverse engineering are all too common leading to the small increments (low innovation) model that we observe in the market place.

Are you planning to release an upgrade? If so, perhaps think of your strategic objective; if the idea is only to keep yourself competitive and follow the flow, than choose the small increments strategy. However, if you intend to be a game changer go towards the leapfrogging alternative. Noteworthy is that revolutionary improvements are also associated with a significantly higher risk factor as they will disrupt and possibly confuse the consumers as opposed to the much safer small increments strategy which appeals to an already convinced customer pool…

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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/