Thursday, July 2, 2015

Robot crushes man in Germany


Hopefully, after investigators do due diligence in making sure there was no criminal negligence in the setting up, or maintenance of this machine, we'll be able to see this incident as just the tragic anomaly it was.

Analysts and commentators, such as myself, who have an overtly expressed agenda, tend to seize on such events as grand metaphors for larger ills. Certainly here there is great temptation to see this as a kind of exclamation point to what machines have been doing for some time to the economic prospects of so many middle class workers for the last several decades. This isn't, however what I want to emphasize now.

The fact that you have to put in a disclaimer at the get go about the possibility of criminal negligence in such a circumstance is, I think, quite legitimate grounds to ask big picture questions about technology and our current economic operating system.

And in this it is not just robots that are of concern; it is any form of automation. As the many critical systems we have become dependant on become vastly more complex, and thus beg for control approaches that do not require participants subject to the frailties resplendent in humans, we convince ourselves that software, and whatever hardware it might directly control, is the only way to go. That these are also systems that have to exist within the realities of cost in the abstract terms of counters that have to come from one accumulation or another, we get into a quite contentious atmosphere very quickly.

Capitalism is nothing if not conducive to creating the mindset that you don't get to keep, much less increase, your accumulation of counters by being overly generous with paying for things. As I have said many times, the whole point of net gain is to get more back than you put in at the instigation of one enterprise or another. In the early to mid point of Capitalism's development, this could certainly still be quite tragic, but hardly ever as catastrophic as the kinds of system failures we are now, and will be, facing. Electrical power distribution systems. The ever more integrated stock, bond, and commodities trading systems. And then the activities we will be quite tempted to hand over to what will seem like the more cost effective, automated alternative; as in, for example, active surveillance and protection, both at the civic level, as well as more general areas of the national level.

Even a person of limited imagination could go on. The point here is really two fold. One: it is Capitalism's own competitive rush for more, faster, that pushes us to hand off more to software few, if any, will ever understand. And two: It is Capitalism's own penchant for cutting corners on costs that always has us going to not only the lowest bidder, but the supplier who seems to deliver, at least on the surface, the best cost benefit ratio. We make enough mistakes as it is just because we are human, and we will continue to do so. Staying with an economic operating system that is ingrained to amplify the generation of mistakes is insanity of epic proportions.

IMAGE: Volkswagen production facility in Kassel

Robot Crushes Contractor to Death at VW Motor Plant in Germany