Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Credit to http://blogs.dunyanews.tv/
Can China reboot its manufacturing industry—and the global economy—by replacing millions of workers with machines?
Above: A robot arm moves circuit boards around for testing inside CIG’s factory in Shanghai. Previously the work was done by hand.
Inside a large, windowless room in an electronics factory in south Shanghai, about 15 workers are eyeing a small robot arm with frustration. Near the end of the production line where optical networking equipment is being packed into boxes for shipping, the robot sits motionless.
“The system is down,” explains Nie Juan, a woman in her early 20s who is responsible for quality control. Her team has been testing the robot for the past week. The machine is meant to place stickers on the boxes containing new routers, and it seemed to have mastered the task quite nicely. But then it suddenly stopped working. “The robot does save labor,” Nie tells me, her brow furrowed, “but it is difficult to maintain.”
The hitch reflects a much bigger technological challenge facing China’s manufacturers today. Wages in Shanghai have more than doubled in the past seven years, and the company that owns the factory, Cambridge Industries Group, faces fierce competition from increasingly high-tech operations in Germany, Japan, and the United States. To address both of these problems, CIG wants to replace two-thirds of its 3,000 workers with machines this year. Within a few more years, it wants the operation to be almost entirely automated, creating a so-called “dark factory.” The idea is that with so few people around, you could switch the lights off and leave the place to the machines.
But as the idle robot arm on CIG’s packaging line suggests, replacing humans with machines is not an easy task. Most industrial robots have to be extensively programmed, and they will perform a job properly only if everything is positioned just so. Much of the production work done in Chinese factories requires dexterity, flexibility, and common sense. If a box comes down the line at an odd angle, for instance, a worker has to adjust his or her hand before affixing the label. A few hours later, the same worker might be tasked with affixing a new label to a different kind of box. And the following day he or she might be moved to another part of the line entirely.
Despite the huge challenges, countless manufacturers in China are planning to transform their production processes using robotics and automation at an unprecedented scale. In some ways, they don’t really have a choice. Human labor in China is no longer as cheap as it once was, especially compared with labor in rival manufacturing hubs growing quickly in Asia. In Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, factory wages can be less than a third of what they are in the urban centers of China. One solution, many manufacturers—and government officials—believe, is to replace human workers with machines.
Credit to technologyreview.com
While it has amounted to nothing more than mere populist posturing and jawboning, with the occasional entertaining (fabricated) clip of a submarine missile launch thrown in for good measure, North Korea's launches of ballistic missiles have succeeded in provoking anger among the international community, which has so far been unable (or unwilling) to provide an adequate response to Kim Jong Il's periodic "shows of strength", mostly for domestic consumption.
However, Obama now appears ready to respond. In an interview with CBS' Charlie Rose, Obama described the regime as "a massive challenge."
"Our first priority is to protect the American people and our allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, that are vulnerable to the provocative actions that North Korea is engaging in," Mr. Obama said.
He said North Korea is "erratic enough" and the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, is "irresponsible enough that we don't want them getting close."
"But it's not something that lends itself to an easy solution," Mr. Obama said. "We could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea."
So how is Obama preparing to fend off threats from North Korea? It appears that the US will set up a missile defense system to surround North Korea and shoot down any future flying nuisances.
"One of the things that we have been doing is spending a lot more time positioning our missile defense systems, so that even as we try to resolve the underlying problem of nuclear development inside of North Korea, we're also setting up a shield that can at least block the relatively low-level threats that they're posing right now," Obama said.
Credit to Zero Hedge