By Chris Yorkowitz, IT Director, R.S. Hanline & Co. Inc.
I must admit that I have been putting off writing an editorial for the magazine for some time due to my hectic work schedule (I’m sure many of you can relate). Yet, recently as I was working on a complete overview of information technology within my organization to present to the executive board and the owner, I had something of a revelation. We as a company need to stop thinking short term as do all of you. The world has changed and will continue to change until in a very short space of time it will become unrecognizable to all of us. I suppose you are wondering, just what does this guy have up his sleeve? The answer can be distilled down to just two words: Technology Proliferation.
We are all familiar with technology, in fact it sustains us, pays our bills and allows us to have families and houses and cars and lives in general. But, perhaps you are guilty of looking too narrowly at technology, as I have been. We have all been living in the moment, and all too soon, that moment will end.No, this isn’t a doom and gloom article, but it also isn’t an overly positive one. It is an article designed as a wakeup call for those of us stuck in the fog of day to day profitability. A fog that has pulled the world over your eyes to blind you from the truth (Matrix reference–you caught me). If we don’t make real changes to the strategies and tactics we employ to achieve our missions, and decide to invest heavily in IT and overall technology, our companies and jobs may cease to exist. So,I invite you to take a bit of a journey with me.
Our expedition begins 5 years out in 2021. Plant wide automation equipment has made a quantum leap forward. It is now possible to eliminate 90 percent of the labor workforce and use machines to perform the majority of processing and packaging tasks, even in labor intensive processes. Did you plan for this? Did you see this coming and make real substantive changes to the way in which your company integrates automation technology into its environment?
If you did, congratulations, your company still exists and you still have a job!
Over the next decade and a half, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will advance so dramatically that we will feel as though we live in the age of “I, Robot” or “Terminator
In fact you are most likely prospering. For those of you that didn’t plan ahead, profitability is heading downward and you are struggling just to keep the company afloat. Don’t despair! Rougher seas are ahead!
The next stop in our voyage is 10 years afield, the year 2026. Factories are now 100percent automated across many industries; they operate in near total darkness, and are monitored only by the odd human “supervisor”. In addition to the factory automation, self-driving cars and in fact all modes of transportation are becoming widespread. Further, automated farm machinery tends to million acre farms increasing yields and eliminating the need for 100 percent of the labor force. Shipments of purchased commodities to facilities come by self-driving trucks, trains and ships and they leave in the same manner. Since they are driverless, the means of transportation have become much easier to procure and costs have plummeted.
At the click of a button a truck can be arranged to pick up or drop off whatever is needed. In many cases people don’t even need to click a button, the computer system does it automatically based on supply or demand trends, pricing or availability. On top of all that, BI and IoT have enhanced the process so dramatically that you barely need any sort of purchasing or sales staff. Think complex analytics on point of sale transaction data from every company in the country in just minutes, or smart pallets, cases, items, farm fields, and even plants. Software makes 90 percent of the decisions; relegating humans to only the most advanced and highest placed roles in the company.
Did you develop profound new strategies and tactics to support your mission statement? Did you hire the right people and invest deeply in technology even though it seemed like lunacy at the time because you were way beyond the average spend for the industry?
If you did, you survived and are thriving. If not, I suppose you might be looking for work with the other folks.
The last stop on our trek is 15 years from now in the year 2031. No, that isn’t the end of time, but it’s about as far as I can see.
This is where it starts to get pretty scary or exciting depending on what you believe. Let me tell you what I believe and you can tell me how strongly you agree or disagree. Psst…If you disagree, you might be the same people that said personal computing wouldn’t take off or things like the iPhone or total worldwide connectivity and the streaming of, well, everything would never exist.
Over the next decade and a half, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics will advance so dramatically that we will feel as though we live in the age of “I, Robot” or “Terminator”. Our best hope is that we “get it right” as suggested by Steven Hawking, so that it doesn’t destroy us. For the purposes of our discussion today, I believe we will get it right and it will become enormously beneficial to humanity at large and more specifically to businesses like ours. At that point any sort of remaining manual labor that exists in your company has vanished. Additionally, BI and IoT is now handled completely by an AI and efficiency and accuracy are off the charts.
If you are reading this portion and are not totally flabbergasted about how or why I arrived at this conclusion, congratulations, you are on the right track! For the rest of you, technology proliferation is much like the subway train bearing down on Neo and I’m your own personal Mr. Smith saying, “That is the sound of inevitability, it is the sound of your death”.
Again, I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s preparedness, vision of the future or even their current roadmap because frankly, I’m in that group myself. Instead I hope that I have started a vigorous discussion within your mind, department, business segment or company. A discussion that will lead you to make real, long term plans that allow you to follow the rising trajectory of technology and prevents you from falling into the abyss of history like Rambus (bonus points if you get that reference–you don’t want to end up like them).
These views are solely those of Chris Yorkowitz and do not reflect the views of R.S. Hanline & Co. Inc.