DailyDirt: Semi-Automatic Jobs

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Lots of jobs these days couldn’t be done as efficiently or as well (or at all) without a little computer help. Computerized assistants (eg. Siri/Cortana/Alexa/GoogleNow) are even helping us with more and more everyday tasks. Increasingly skilled machines are able to perform jobs — and may be destroying some tedious segments of the labor market. But it’s not just manual labor that might be replaced by robots. Automation can help almost anyone become more productive in their work, and as the costs of machines come down with time, we might want to prepare for semi-automated jobs to become fully automated.

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Brick Will Go The Way of Wood and Electric Wiring Before It.

Brick (and masonry in general) is in the process of becoming a kind of “veneer-material,” applied to concrete or wood-frame construction. If you live in a house constructed in the last thirty years or so, go around and look at the “wood” critically. Do the same for your furniture. Veneer used to mean that you took plywood and glued a thin slice (say, 1/16 in) of Walnut or Oak on top. More recently, they use particleboard, and they use an embossing printing press, similar to that used to print greeting cards or book covers, and they print on oak grain. Very well, in the near future, in a factory, “brickwork” will be printed onto a thin slab of concrete, maybe an inch thick, and four by eight feet wide. It will be just like wall paneling and sheet-rock. MIT’s robot may be very clever, and all, but it will succumb to the inexorable logic of the printing press.

Parenthetically, about 1950, there were some proposals, from places like MIT and Caltech, for robots to assemble the “connections-layers” of electronic circuits, but these were made irrelevant by the advent of the printed-circuit board. We take for granted that you can print copper traces on a piece of plastic, and cause it to function as both interconnect and mounting chassis, but in 1950, this was an unconventional idea. “The Best and the Brightest” were still fixated on finding a means to get a machine to position a physical wire. I think the MIT-Caltech mind is systematically blind to the “quick and dirty” solution.

I have a desk which I bought, used, from my landlady in Oregon, in 1986, for thirty dollars, which included a couple of strong young men to carry it up to my apartment. I suppose the desk must have been manufactured about 1960 or thereabouts, because it really is made out of plywood. I was traveling light at the time. I had put nearly all of my books in storage, going off to graduate school as if to boot camp, and I rented a furnished apartment. The furniture included a bed, a kitchen table and chairs, a sofa and an easy-chair, and a side table, but it did not include a desk, a bookcase, or a typing chair. So I had to buy those separately. I bought some mail-order bookcases from J.C.Penny, plain particleboard, with dado slots, and didn’t pretend to be anything better. I bought a used swivel chair from the local junk store, and got it home by wheeling it along the sidewalk for six blocks. At any rate, I have a sense of the ongoing decline of the workmanship of furniture. Newer stuff has glossier surfaces, but it is fundamentally cheaper, and more dishonest in its construction.

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