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A Humanoid Robot Named "Baxter" Could Revive US Manufacturing 414

fangmcgee writes "Rethink Robotics invented a $22,000 humanoid robot named "Baxter" that could give cheap offshore labor a run for its money and return manufacturing jobs to U.S. soil. Artificial intelligence expert Rodney Brooks is the brain behind Baxter. From the article: 'Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a “renaissance” in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.'"
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A Humanoid Robot Named "Baxter" Could Revive US Manufacturing

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  • by Cryacin ( 657549 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:12PM (#42612781)
    The cost of electricity pales in comparison with transport fidelity. Every day that your goods are being shipped means another day that they aren't available for purchase/use. Also, think of how much it costs to actually ship. The real price is pollution, and it seems as though China's getting on the brink of full up. (See smog cloud over Beijing recently)

    It won't bring jobs for blue collar workers back on shore, but it will bring manufacturing back, the few engineering and operations jobs that it will require to keep the production line going, and of course, the pollution the factory brings.

    Of course, America will want to keep it's stinking rich getting richer, as the spoils from the new robotic slave class go to them, and let the rest of the plebs just stink more as they are left to wallow in their own filth. Cue - get a job, ample opportunity meme's.

    I think the technology of simple robotic automation is fantastic, but the robots should be the servants of humanity, not a significant subset of humanity. Since the government will be losing out on a significant level of tax revenue, (note, robots are currently a complete tax deduction, where a human wage earner pays income tax), it would be the perfect segway to universally tax robotic production, and redistribute that into education.

    Failure to solve this issue could result in the unravelling of capitalism as we know it, to either a super class that will need to kill off any pleborian dissidents, or lead to a revolution similar to what the French had.
  • Silly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:14PM (#42612803)

    The total cost of hiring a 30 cent a day worker is 30 cents day. The maintenance on one of these robots would be more than that. Plus if robots could compete with 30 cent a day workers, then China would be using more robots.

    The companies that compete against the Chinese and win, do it like the Germans do, they use dedicated production automated lines designed to make the article, NOT general purpose robots, DEDICATED kit. Making perfect identical quality components again and again and again. People will pay a premium for a thing they know will work. Buyers pay less if they know the box will contain 10 articles that have defects and will break, resulting in 10 customers complaining later one! Quality has value.

    When China's currency free floats in the coming years, it's people will get richer, as the yuan currency increases in value. This has happened across the rest of Asia. It re-balances the price of labor.

    Do you think that people will work like slaves 14 hours a day with no prospect of a better life? They work because they believe it will improve their lives, if that doesn't happen they revolt.

  • by MangoCats ( 2757129 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:58PM (#42613097)

    I see real potential in giving every high school senior their own Baxter that they need to learn how to maintain... then they send them off to work and people's only remaining job is to fix them when they break down.

    Of course, that's not how capitalism works, instead, we'll have robot maintenance specialists who maintain thousands of these things, specialists in highly specialized types of robots will be the most highly paid, flying all over the country on no notice to fix them when they break. For every working robot maintainer, there will be 99 people unemployed, or working in some sort of "service" industry like wiping the foam off of barrista's frothers, until they figure out how to get a robot to do that too...

    On an emotional level, I can't help feeling that Kurzweil is a cracked loon about the singularity and all, but listening to him talk, it all sounds so rational how we're moving out of an economy of scarcity into one of abundance, just 15-20 more years and solar power will replace fossil fuel, 10 years after that, electricity will be virtually free to generate.... there will be a small problem with overpopulation and obliteration of the natural world, but with unlimited energy, computing power and machines that do everything for us, what can't we overcome?

  • by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:22AM (#42613265)

    And yet everyone (i hope?) agrees that it would be ridiculous to complain that automation kills jobs or that we should eliminate automation....
    (for those who dont, perhaps we should use spoons instead of shovels for ditch digging)

    I have to ask how much sense it makes to complain about where the job gets done, unless the angle is "are the conditions humane". Spending more money to do the same job seems to make more sense, and honestly the guy in China hoping for $100 a month seems to deserve the labor more than the guy in the US coasting off of his (relatively) large unemployment check.

    Not trolling, would be interested if someone could make a case for where Im going wrong here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:23AM (#42613267)

    They used to predict in the 50s that in the future a man would be able to easily support himself while only working two days a week.

    Funny thing is, they were actually correct. It's easy to live on two days of work a week... if you restrict yourself to living at a medium level of prosperity by 1950s standards.

  • by qbitslayer ( 2567421 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:15AM (#42613569)

    The writing is on the wall. Machines will replace everybody, period. And I don't just mean the factory worker, the fry cook, the maid or the gardener. I mean, every effing body. Your PhD won't mean diddly squat. So all this silly talk about preserving jobs is pointless. Both capitalism and communism were wrong from the start because they base the economy on slave labor. Why do I say slave labor? Because unless you own land and the ability to make a living on your land, you are at the mercy of someone else. We, humans, are territorial animals and we should all be living on our own domains. Capitalism gives control of the land to a few and enslaves the rest. Communism takes the land away completely and enslaves everybody. The arrival of intelligent machines will destroy both.

    We need a land based, jobless economy where the land is divided for an inheritance (not for a price) and where only individuals have the right to own intelligent robots, not the corporations. And since robots will make robots, robots will be dirt cheap or, at least, as cheap as the energy supply will allow. Politicians better stop promising us jobs (as if they were doing us a favor) because we don't want no stinking jobs. We, humans, are gods. We want synthetic intelligent servants to do our work for us, all of it. We just want to sit by the pool and enjoy our margaritas and delicacies and rule our own land. We're tired of being slaves to invisible masters.

  • by narcc ( 412956 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:15AM (#42613575) Journal


    Work two days a week and ... raise 2.5 children, own a home in the suburbs and a sensible late-model auto, enjoy an annual family vacation to a popular American tourist destination, and have not one single case of throat irritation (from smoking Camel cigarettes).

    I'm not seeing it.

    Maybe you mean something like ... wages garnished for child support, a home in government subsidized low-income housing and a mini-van (technically, your moms mini-van), selling your food stamps (to take a different sort of trip), and a prescription that you need, but can't afford to fill.

    That makes more sense. Well, more sense than Kurzweil has ever managed...

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:16AM (#42613577)

    I work at a largish US manufacturing plant. We normally generate about half our power on site. The rest is generated by the local municipal power company (which is pretty much in the factory's pocket since it's a HUGE employer). Our suppliers are required to have back up generators so they don't shut us down during a thunderstorm.

    I'm guessing that large backup generators are standard equipment.

    I've worked at factory place in Australia, a backup generator that can produce enough power for production to run isn't that uncommon although at the last place I worked, the backup power requirement was for 8 hours, where as in a similar factory in china had a requirement for 21 days of backup power as they couldn't even rely on regular diesel deliveries if things got bad.

    Also the power delivered to us from the state power company (state gov owned) was in a very good condition, compared to china where it needed to be filtered. At a local aluminium refinery, they generated all of their own power but they get natural gas delivered to them by pipeline from a feild in the north of the state. About 1/3 of the piped gas goes straight to that refinery so at their size, it's more economical to run your own powerplant. I think the size of the operation we were discussing wouldn't be that large.

  • by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @02:37AM (#42614047)

    Everyone can own shares in companies. Work will basically be deciding which companies to invest in. Govt can pay its expenses and even some welfare by taxing the corporation. Everyone can get paid and nobody would have to work. Workers would be super expensive at that point.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @02:45AM (#42614087) Journal

    I have no idea what certivity is, but I'm sure the basic income the parent post mentioned would be in dollars, which certainly would pay your bills (unless your bills are too high), as well as enable you to buy food for you and your cats.

    Which won't work when the people who make human and cat food don't have to do their jobs to get paid.

    The premise was that it will be the robots who make the human and cat food.

  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @07:46AM (#42615167)

    TWo points.

    China and Cuba are doing remarkably well for communism not working.

    Given the current state of the economy and the fact the USA is defaulting on it's obligations and debts right now I would say our current system is also broken.

    Social security isn't an entitlement. it is a mandated 401K at minimal interest. you pay into it. EVERYONE under the age of 40 won't ever be able to collect anything they pay into it because capitalist politicians spent all the money stupidly expecting infinite growth. Capitalism requires infinite growth because if you aren't growing then your dead.

  • by AwesomeMcgee ( 2437070 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:16PM (#42617245)
    Wrong. The accurate statement is that what did come to pass is efficiencies beyond our wildest dreams where each individual employee creates in 2 days the GDP that took his counterpart 2 weeks to create, however the management see's no reason to allow the employee to keep the same portion of that GDP he kept in the 50s, if they did that then the employee would only work 2 days a week and the employer would be out significant profits that can be reaped by keeping the employee there 5 days. This is why the rich now are so much richer than they were in the 50s, they're producing tons more than their 50s counterpart did, while keeping a significantly larger share of the production's revenue than the 50's employers did. The efficiences have gone up causing enormous GDP-per-employee gains, yet employee pay has only kept up with inflation.

    On the other hand, this may be due to the fact that in reality inflation is somewhat controlled by the majority of the population, so if the majority of the population worked 2 days a week, the guy who worked 3 would be *loaded* making 50% more than the average wage at which point the majority would say "hell, one more day a week and I can go from 40k/year to 60k/year!" but then someone works 4 days a week... Economics are nebulous and this is why they're much debated, but simple fact is there's no way a bunch of robots doing all the work ends up with a liesure life for the populace; the singularity is a lie, if we no longer have work to do that just cements 100% the income divide by making the disparity so significant. The efficiencies talks about by the singularity are so large that those who are reaping their benefits will have magnitudes more wealth than others to an extent that if you aren't on the beneficiary side of those efficiencies you won't be able to afford bread. The efficiences of the singularity would effectively make money wholesale without value. I wonder what we would value then... Robots maybe will be the new currency... There's a weird thought.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel