The Technological Changes And The Baxter
Every human used to have to hunt or gather to survive, but humans are smartly lazy so they made tools to make their work easier. From sticks, to plows and to tractors, they have gone too far in developing technology. Modern agriculture with almost no one needing to make food, and yet we still have abundance. Of course, it’s not just farming, it’s about everything.
Humans have spent several thousand years building tools to reduce physical labor of all kinds. These are mechanical muscles stronger, more reliable and more tireless than human muscles could ever be. That is the good thing, replacing human labor with mechanical muscles frees people to specialize and then leave everyone better off even though still doing physical labor.
This is how economies grow and standards of living rise. Some people have specialized to be programmer and engineers whose job is to build mechanical minds. Just as mechanical muscles have human labor less in demand so are mechanical minds making human brain labor less in demand. This is an economic revolution. You may think, you have been here before, but you haven’t. This time is different.
When you think of automation you probably think giant, costume built efficient but really dumb robot blind to world and their own work. There were a scary kind of automation but they haven’t taken over the world because they are only cost effective in narrow situations. But they are the old kind of automation.
Baxter is the new kind of automation. Unlike these things which require skilled operators and technicians and millions of dollars, Baxter has a vision and can learn what you want him to do by watching you do it. And he is cost less than the average annual salary of a human worker. Unlike his older brothers he is not preprogrammed for one specific job, he can do whatever work within the reach of his arms.
Baxter is what might be thought of as a general purpose robot and general purpose is a big deal. Think computers, they too started out as highly expensive, but when cheapish general purpose computers appeared they quickly became vital to everything. A general purpose computer can just as easily calculate change or assign seats on an airplane or play game or do anything by just swapping its software. And this huge demand for computers of all kinds is what makes them both more powerful and cheaper every year.
Baxter today is the computer in the 1980s. He is not the apex but the beginning. Even if Baxter is slow his hourly cost is pennies worth of electricity while his meet based competition costs minimum wage. A tenth the speed is still cost effective when it’s a hundred times cheaper. While Baxter is not smart as some of other things, he is just smart enough to take over many low skill jobs.
The technological change as the fancy new expensive stuff, but the real change comes from the last decade stuff getting cheaper and faster.