Sunday, February 2, 2014

On The Future Of Manufacturing: From Scientific American

“A Boeing 747 or an iPhone are made mostly out of fairly common materials that are worth at most just a few dollars a pound. However, they both go for over $1,000 per pound. The bulk of the value is in the information content, not the raw materials. And that is where the jobs and the livelihoods are going.

We want to create products that satisfy our needs because nature does not provide them in the shape, quantities and locations we want them in. So we have to reorder the world. But order is not what the world tends to move into on its own—quite the contrary. So to create order, we need information about what that order is supposed to look like and knowledge about how to get there. But to create order you need to do work, you need to use energy. That is why so much of the technological revolutions of times past have been related to mastering energy. But knowledge about how to reorder matter—from chemistry, biology and solid-state physics—and about encoding and manipulating information allows us to use even less matter and energy in achieving our goals.

More and more information is getting packed into less matter. As a consequence, more of the work goes into manipulating information rather than matter.

As this happens, the nature of work changes causing job losses for some while opportunities open up for others. The future is always some combination between the promise of new possibilities and the threat to existing ones. Today, ….. fears about outsourcing generate much anxiety in advanced countries.

The truth is that new jobs are not “coming back” but forward. The world is changing as technology advances and diffuses throughout the globe. This is also not new. But for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the last decade has seen growth in the so-called advanced countries account for less than 50 percent of world growth, down from over 80 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. They will be down to less than 30 percent through 2014. The rest of the world is simply catching up faster than before. So the world is becoming less unequal. More importantly, the fast growers will need more machines, materials and knowhow and these have to come from somewhere.

The opportunity for advanced countries lies in building advanced tools needed to make more tools, and supplying the programming, finance, logistics and marketing required to intelligently manipulate matter. In this way, manufacturing will continue to pack more information and knowledge into less matter using less energy, making the world to order.

Jobs are constantly shifting and not always out of manufacturing. Today, fertilizers, tractors and fuel are made with manufacturing jobs that have displaced agricultural work. Even service jobs have moved into manufacturing. Penicillin destroyed thousands of jobs in Alpine sanatoria, to the delight of the sick. Accountants used to work with paper and pencil. And only yesterday, airline staff printed boarding passes at airport counters. Machines are eliminating these jobs. And these machines have to be made and programed by people too.

Just as before, manufacturing will make more with less. It will pack more information and knowledge into less matter using less energy while making more effective products. Jobs will keep moving from manipulating matter to playing with information and ideas, as tasks will keep moving towards design, programming, finance, logistics, marketing, commerce and repairs and into making sure that this much deeper division of labor and tasks works smoothly. And as always, the future of manufacturing will just get better.”

No comments:

Post a Comment