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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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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 203: Transporters

How the choice of information delivery is crucial to business performance

maxresdefaultImage: Cell Membrane Transport Proteins. A membrane transport protein* (or simply transporter) is a membrane protein involved in the movement of ions, small molecules, or macromolecules, such as another protein, across a biological membrane.

Highlight:“Biological membranes constitute the set of membranes defining boundaries and organelles in living cells–the structural and functional building blocks of all known living organisms… The integrity of the cell depends on its ability to separate inside from outside and yet at the same time allow massive transport of matter in and out the cell… Nature has elegantly met this challenge by developing membranes in the form of lipid bilayers in which specialized and highly efficient transport proteins are incorporated…based on these observations, researchers have developed high performance semi-permeable membranes …the applications for the bio pharmaceutical industry are tremendous…”

Insight: There are many examples in nature that use transporters to carry a signal. For instance cell functions use Membrane Transport Proteins* to allow information to transit through the cellular walls.

Applications in areas as far as telecommunications can be found. We all use mobile phones but few have a clue of the technology behind it. As a matter of fact the principles at the very core of these devices use sophisticated mathematics to encrypt and receive information. One of these is known as Wave Carriers whereby a weak information containing signal is carried by a more powerful one in order to cover the required distances, a bit like a car hoping onto a high speed train. The principle is basically using a three phase approach: encoding-transport-decoding.

amplitude-modulation1

The use of carrier signals is common in modern telecommunications to transport information

A point to make here is that it is crucial to choose the right transportation mode for a given information… For instance If you require information to flow to your employees internally, the use of a speaker (human) which will dispatch the message small groups at a time is probably the most effective; on the other hand, if you require to inform stakeholders throughout the world on an important update, social media may be the best choice; if you require classified information to reach specific people an encrypted message or in person delivery may be used…

While it seems common sense, the misuse of communication means in businesses is surprisingly common which often leads to problems affecting not only performance but in most serious cases even  corporate or individuals reputation. Recent political messages leaks during  the US election campaign is a good example of such…

Are you facing difficulties to communicate information across? If so always consider your options before jumping to the first or easiest communication means as the implications can be far greater than thought. A set of simple questions can be used to quickly decide on the choice of the transporter:

  • What is the nature of the information?
  • Who is the information intended to?
  • Where does the information need to go?
  • When does the information need to reach?

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/