From the editor’s desk: The future is just
Brett van den Bosch, editor.
I think abstraction is one of the greatest gifts science and engineering have given us. Before you start thinking about abstract art (you’re allowed, not now), I’m referring to the act of thinking in terms of ideas, rather than concrete events or “things.” In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is one of the greatest gifts humanity has given.
Kids strip all the time, often without being taught to do so. If you want proof, just give the child a smartphone or tablet and watch them play on it. Getting them to stop, that’s a problem now. Abstraction is so easy that even bosses can do it – they are required to do it in order to do their job effectively, I would argue. Otherwise, how are they expected to balance the lives of people at risk of dying from the pandemic with the necessity of keeping the economy floundering? Or the needs of a large, yet low-skilled and largely unemployed workforce, versus the right to advance technology through automation, digitization, etc.? And all while dealing with nagging questions about a ridiculous $4 million burglary on their farm.
One example that most readers are familiar with is the ISO-OSI seven-layer model for electronic communications. When you’re working in Layer 7 (as most of us do), you don’t really need to know the physical mechanism by which a part (which is itself, an abstract) changes state between 0 and 1, along the way. At Layer 1. Unless you’re designing down to the circuit board/IC/firmware level or troubleshooting a particularly difficult issue, you don’t need to go beyond Layer 4, and even then there are testers that can do more than that. of work for you.
Without directly referring to this broader topic of the summary, some of the touching points are raised in the articles for this issue by our contributing editors, Gavin Halse and Lance Turner. In his article (http://www.instrumentation.co.za/17336r), Gavin makes the right point that hardware and automation engineers are trained to be comfortable with physical systems, but not so much with systems that include people. Although it makes sense to get people out of our mind because they are so unpredictable and unreliable (compared to a machine), one does so at their own peril, or rather at the expense of people whose safety is at stake as a result.
Lance, (http://www.instrumentation.co.za/17326r), explores the convergence (collision may be a more appropriate description) of the world of IT and technology. Although these two areas operate at the same level of abstraction and often use the same skills, their goals are divergent. The result is that what one might think of as complementary functions conflict with each other – it turns out that in addition to being unpredictable and unreliable, people also have “feelings” and don’t want to share them.
The automation industry is exceptionally good at most things, but not so good at dealing with disruptive change – after all, it’s called a ‘disruption’ for a reason. The articles above are just two examples of how this rapid rate of technological progress is testing the limits of our resilience and adaptability. So, being innovators, the next logical step is to create technologies that can do flexibility and adaptability for us.
Enter Artificial Intelligence, the next stage in our journey towards ‘Knowledge Manufacturing’. In a recent white paper, ResearchGate identified the most critical areas where AI can enhance manufacturing processes, as well as eight challenges that must be overcome to increase manufacturing companies’ long-term resilience: complementing employee skills in manufacturing processes; increasing the speed of companies and reducing bottlenecks in purchasing; reduce the time required for marketing; Enhance factory flexibility and durability; reduce complexity in data-driven decision making; intelligent risk assessment and mitigation; reduce cybersecurity risks; Addressing ethics when using AI in manufacturing; and artificial intelligence in product design.
In all honesty, I’m torn between amazement and awe of what such an AI-powered future might hold. I wonder, because just imagine what we could achieve if we could make machines that could think like us; And the horror, because you only imagine the worst case scenario if we could make machines that could think like us.
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