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/

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 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…

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

 

Biomimetic file 202: Torpor

How dormant scheduling can be a powerful business strategy

o-international-space-station-facebookImage: International Space Station. Hibernation* is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in endotherms. Hibernation refers to a season of heterothermy that is characterized by low body temperature, slow breathing and heart rate, and low metabolic rate.

Highlight: “Given the compelling nature of the hibernation* concept, the European Space Agencies’ (ESA) Advanced Concepts Team has studied the technical feasibility of, and possible performance gains from this technology, with the help of biomedical scientists… There are many mammals, of at least six mammalian orders, which exhibit Torpor (the state of hibernation)….despite still being far from practical human applications, the study has identified a range of high potential aspects: inhibiting the shivering mechanism to lower body temperature; variation in the human metabolism; modulation of cell-nucleus activity (DADLE and hydrogen sulphide); regulation of genes expression…”

Insight: Hibernation is practiced by some species as a mean to escape the winter months. It is not a spontaneous decision but on the other end a well-planned and prepared strategy to adapt to a known regular inconvenient outcome.

In business sometimes a spontaneous immediate reaction to a disruptive event is not the best solution and putting the problem “to sleep” is literally a preferred outcome.

As an illustration let’s imagine that a potato chips company comes up with a great marketing tagline “the world’s best hot spicy crispy potatoes” which works extremely well for a few weeks until an unforeseen political event makes this tagline become inappropriate (and unmarketable): in a burst of anger, a politician has referred to a foreign diplomat as a “hot spicy crispy potato” (obviously a purely unlikely fictional scenario!). Thereafter, the company decides to suspend the marketing campaign for a period of 6 months until the situation becomes favorable again and that their tagline is no longer directly associated with this happening, which has become a temporary media sensation.

In today’s world, the speed at which information flows on media channels will increasingly lead to a need for dynamic corporate statements adjustments. For instance, in this scenario, an immediate problem that may occur is through search engines taglines and keywords: “hot spicy crispy potato” may now show-up primarily as an unwanted political event rather than the companies’ beloved tagline, thus affecting sales…

The “hibernation approach” can lead to a few outcomes:

  • The program is simply put on halt to be reinstated at a later stage;
  • The program is put on hold to be re-evaluated and if need be modified;
  • The program is put on hold and cancelled due to unrecoverable conditions.

Are you anticipating/encountering disruptive change that cannot be solved instantly? If so consider a “hibernation approach” and reinstalling the program when/if the external conditions become favorable again. In business as in life, taking a step back and allocating the time to evaluate is a key attribute…

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 199: Metamorphosis

Why undertaking a major business transformation is becoming a necessity

Butterfly Metamorphosis

Picture: Kingofwalpapers. Metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth and differentiation.

Highlight: “Locomotion ability, efficiency and reliability are key targets for a good robot…The linkage mechanism for robot locomotion is a discontinuous-constraint metamorphic mechanism…Inspired by controlling strategy of the motor nervous system in peripheral vertebrae to the locomotion, researchers have developed complex mathematical algorithms to improve robot motor control and drive strategies…”

Insight: Never has the business landscape been so unpredictable as it is now considering the fact that businesses are facing multiple threats ranging from political instabilities, disruptive trends (e.g. the rise of robotics, 3D printing, online based services) or mounting environmental pressures translating to stronger regulations. All these add-up to tremendous pressures put on businesses to drastically change their medium to long term strategies; it is no longer a matter of choice but an absolute necessity if a business is to sustain throughout the century.

Moving forward and drastically changing directions is not an easy decision to be made by companies as the outcome could be ultimately catastrophic if the wrong analysis is made and the transition is not managed adequately. The below are key points to consider:

  • ensuring the analysis and predictions are robust and reflect the reality (there is nothing worst than to base a change strategy on wrong initial assumptions);
  • ensuring the change will benefit the business (and not the other way);
  • ensuring a progressive transition (the sooner implemented the better);
  • ensuring the change strategy actually reflect the threats faced;

Are you concerned about the present and future trends on your business?  If so, be proactive in keeping-up with the rapidly evolving landscape and plan a change strategy for the medium to long term. As with a butterfly hatching from its cocoon, a proper business transformation will reflect three distinct phases:

  • Unchanged phase: the business appears to look good but it is in fact unfit for the changes to come;
  • Changing phase: The business may seem dull or facing difficulties when it fact it is getting a defense ready (apparent chaos is a sign of change, this phase must be closely monitored and managed. It is also wise to inform the stakeholders that the business is undergoing a transformation which is usually quite well received if communicated well);
  • Changed phase: A new business arises which, if successful,  looks much better than the initial one in terms of fitness and market competitiveness.

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/

Biomimetic file 190: Polarized vision

How the way we perceive the world can drastically influence our decisions

634bc15a53c38c3d7807e548390c3b44Image source:  Electron microscopic view of the eye of a fly; pinterest.com

Highlight: “Many organisms have photosensitive sensors which enable them to respond to various light phenomenons…while most insects are sensitive to a particular occurrence of polarization, most primates are not…a team of researchers have gained inspiration from studying these natural sensors to develop a range of simple instruments that make possible to reveal what was previously hidden…”

Insight: Species in the animal kingdom perceive the world very differently than we do. Indeed, almost all the spectrum of light radiations is represented and species have developed very specialized eyes or other reception organs in order to perceive the world in the most favorable way possible (mostly for hunting prays and avoidance).

As a matter of fact our vision of the world is rather restricted since we only have access to a small part of the spectrum in the visible light range. Gaining access to other parts of the spectrum such as the UV, Infrared or Microwaves can reveal very different and useful aspects of the world that surround us; think of the tremendous progresses which have been made in fields such as astronomy or medicine…

em_spectrum

Image: Spectrum of light. The visible light range to which we humans have access is only a very small portion of it…

An applied business point to make here is that most people only see the outside of corporations, what they want you to see. But digging further and looking at them with a “different eye” starts to reveal the true colors of enterprises. Aspects such as their operations, their impacts on the world and society, the way they deal with their finances, all these and more tell a lot about a company and most importantly its fitness in the current and future business landscape.

Do you intend to invest in a business or perhaps just buy a stock? If so perhaps remember to look at it with various pairs of eyes…

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 188: Dormant Processes

How seemingly useless initiatives can be dormant powerful assets

genes-759x415Picture source: University of Washington

Highlight:“Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have used a world-first technique to change a single letter of DNA in human red blood cells, triggering them to produce more oxygen-carrying haemoglobin…The technique could lead to new treatments for sickle cell anaemia and other life-threatening blood disorders…it has been done through an innovative process that activates a naturally occurring gene that’s normally dormant after birth…”

Insight: A large part of the genetic code is apparently useless! At least this is the conclusion that some geneticists come up with considering the fact that most of the genome does not code for anything we have been able to identify yet (e.g. morphological traits, immune response…). The most serious hypothesis on the matter suggest that nothing is in fact useless but that a large part of our DNA is composed of so called dormant genes which would only come into action at a certain point in our lifetime, for emergencies or for very specific tasks that may never come to use…

This concept is rather interesting and inspiring when applied to the business world. Indeed, in war as in business, the best strategists have always been the ones who think out of the box and seemingly do things that don’t make any sense to most until it actually turns out to be a winning formula.

Similar oddities can also be seen in modern business mega-trends, such as some corporate sustainability practices, which raise many questions on whether they are useful at all to a business considering that they may not have clear positive returns. The point to make here is that if everything in a business has a clear purpose as intended by some, than perhaps this entity is not suited enough to anticipate rapid changes that could differ drastically from the norm. Indeed, besides key business objectives, there should always be dormant processes which may become a lifeline in times of need (this is especially true for large organizations).

Anticipation through dormant processes is in fact the best back-up plan a business can have. Considering regular business failures materialized by massive manpower cuts as an easy response, it is obvious that  many businesses do not have adequate dormant processes to cope with change…

Have you ever come across business practices which don’t seem to make any sense? If so beware of jumping to conclusions as in due time you may simply regret not to have done the same…

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 187: Dance of the Honeybee

How communications are crucially important to business health

shutterstock_109065071-cutImage source: emperion.net

Highlight: “The honeybee dance communication system is one of the most intriguing examples of information transfer in the animal kingdom…After returning from a valuable food source honeybee foragers move vigorously, in a highly stereotypical pattern, on the comb surface conveying polar coordinates of the field site…After 60 years of intense research it remains still unknown how the bees decode the dance… To resolve this question a team of researchers have built a robotic honeybee that is able to reproduce all stimuli found to be generated in the dance… By imitating single stimuli or combinations and tracking the bees’ ensuing behavior they were able to identify essential signals in the communication process…”

Insight: What social insects can teach us is that body language and patterns can be greatly effective at communicating even complex issues but that both parties need to clearly understand the language rules.

Miss-communications in business is common and responsible for tremendous income losses through mistakes and resulting poor performance. These miscommunications range from language barriers to inter-department jargon (e.g. engineers communicating with accountants), sign languages misunderstandings or simply overall poor language skills…

Some sectors are rather stringent about their communications skills: for instance an airplane pilot misunderstanding the ground staff is not an option (and vise versa) as is a columnist journalist misspelling some words. However, this is not always the norm and many companies do not put as much emphasis as they should on their employees’ communication skills (even for staff holding key positions) which reflects rather poorly on their performance as a business entity.

Are you planning to hire? Than perhaps do not omit to investigate communication skills. In today’s interconnected world the ability to communicate effectively is definitely one of the most important skills one can have.

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/