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Tag: Industry 4.0

The gathering storm that is Industry 4.0

Thursday, 9 February, 2017 0 Comments

All our posts about machine learning this week have been prompted by a dramatic shift going on right now called “Industry 4.0.” In essence, this is the end-to-end digitization of all physical assets and their integration into digital ecosystems. Along with machine learning, Industry 4.0 buzzwords include connectivity, supercomputing, artificial intelligence, robots, self-driving cars gene editing and globalization.

The preceding industrial revolutions freed us from animal power, made mass production possible and opened digital doors for billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0, is profoundly different in that its technologies are melding the physical, digital and biological worlds and forcing us to confront uncomfortable questions about work, identity and life itself.

The World Economic Forum, which is “committed to improving the state of the world,” produced this clip about Industry 4.0. It’s a positive view, overall, but it does not address the issue that’s roiling politics today: the conflict between the elites, who stand to gain from early access to the upsides of this transformation, and the precariat, which stands to lose the jobs that glue their communities together. More on this here tomorrow.


Talkin’ Industry 4.0

Saturday, 5 November, 2016 0 Comments

Today, at the 29th IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Munich, I’ll be talking about the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its seven key components: Industry 4.0, IoT, Big Data, cloud computing, robotics, AI and cybersecurity.

As with the three preceding Industrial Revolutions, which were powered, respectively, by steam, electricity and transistors, the cyber-physical systems now driving this fourth upheaval will transform manufacturing and replace William Blake’s vision of dark Satanic sweatshops with that of a better, cleaner, cleverer place — the smart factory.

“And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”

Jerusalem by William Blake (1757 — 1827)


The glorious revolution

Monday, 3 October, 2016 0 Comments

Mobile network coverage and evolving technologies

“Advanced mobile-broadband networks have spread quickly over the last three years and reach almost four billion people today — corresponding to 53% of the global population. Globally, the total number of mobile-broadband subscriptions is expected to reach 3.6 billion by end 2016, compared with 3.2 billion at end 2015” Source: ITU


Chariot of Fire, Cloud of Data

Wednesday, 24 February, 2016 0 Comments

Now that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, one wonders how/if contemporary artists will rise to the challenge of depicting the great changes that are coming. These changes might lead to the ending of drudgery or to the ending of privacy; they might lead to the printing of human organs or to mass production of sexbots… The threats and opportunities are bewildering and what makes the concept of Industry 4.0 so exciting is that where we’re going doesn’t have roads yet.

The First Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century saw the development of new manufacturing techniques, including steam power, and this had a huge impact on employment, output and living standards. But it was hugely disruptive and the English artist William Blake portrayed the downside in his poem Jerusalem:

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

As smoke and ash belched across hill and dale, the Romantic poets railed against what they say as the ruin of Eden, but the same William Blake, who memorably pictured the “dark Satanic mills”, also said: “Nature without man is barren.” In other words, we are responsible for this world and we must embrace change:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

Blake ended his poem on a defiant note. Let’s see if our modern poets can craft anything as inspiring as Jerusalem while the Cloud unfolds:

I will not cease from mental fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Two hundred years ago, William Blake urged people to join the fight to build a better world. To arm himself and his readers for the spiritual revolution within the Industrial Revolution, he called for bow, arrow, spear, chariot of fire, passion and imagination. These were the tools for the task. Despite the smoke and flames from the mills, nature could be preserved, he said, but only if people had the will and the wit to save it. Today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution promises great benefits, but its agents, robotics and artificial intelligence, could trigger mass unemployment and social chaos. Do we have the will and wit to cope with that?


In the year 2025

Sunday, 17 January, 2016 0 Comments

As CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation and Chairman of the Singularity University, Peter Diamandis is ideally placed to make predictions about the future of humanity. In fact, No. 17 on his list of Peter’s Laws states: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” And that’s what he does.

Last year, Peter Diamandis selected eight areas where “we’ll see extraordinary transformation in the coming decade.” His second choice is going to be one of this year’s big stories as it incorporates two hot trends: the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0:

2. A Trillion-Sensor Economy: “The Internet of Everything describes the networked connections between devices, people, processes and data. By 2025, the IoE will exceed 100 billion connected devices, each with a dozen or more sensors collecting data. This will lead to a trillion-sensor economy driving a data revolution beyond our imagination.”

Back in 1969, Denny Zager and Rick Evans from Nebraska had a go at predicting the future, but they went further out on the limb than Peter Diamandis, 500 years in fact, with their song, In The Year 2525. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The future is fascinating and the demand for predictions is insatiable.


What’s the Matter with Owen? With GE?

Thursday, 14 January, 2016 0 Comments

Scene: Two geeky couples are chilling, and one guy (Owen) announces that he’s just got a job coding at General Electric. The other guy responds that he’s working on the app that lets you put fruit hats on animals. Forget about the life-changing projects Owen will be working on at GE. The really cool thing today is putting melon hats on cats.

Industry 4.0: The idea behind the clip is that GE is re-branding itself from old to new, from Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0. Household appliances are in the product portfolio, but GE is also involved in renewable energy and healthcare. “The Digital Company. That’s Also an Industrial Company” is the new mantra.

Boston: Yesterday, GE announced that it will relocate its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston’s hip waterfront. The move signals that it’s serious about the new industrial era that will revolve around software innovation. GE is also saying that its priority now is to attract the kind of workers who prefer to live in cities instead of the suburbs.

Quote: “We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations,” GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said in a statement, quoted by Bloomberg. “Greater Boston is home to 55 colleges and universities. Massachusetts spends more on research and development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world.”

Slogan: That’s good news for Owen. One can imagine him in a meeting discussing how to update the company slogan. “‘The Digital Company. That’s Also an Industrial Company'”? “It’s, like, so 2016. How about this, guys?” ‘The Digital Company. That’s Still an Industrial Company'”! Cool. Then, when Owen is the CEO, it won’t take him long to transform the slogan and GE to a three-word sentence: “The Digital Company.”


Industry four point oh/zero

Sunday, 3 January, 2016 0 Comments

Backgrounder: For people learning English, the pronunciation of the number 0 can be a challenge. Consider: tennis 30–0 (“Thirty love”); phone number 504 7721 (“five oh four double seven two one”; soccer: 3–0 (“Three nil”); temperature 0C (“zero degrees”), and, of course, the number 0.4 (“zero point four” or “nought point four”).

This brings us to what Germany calls “Industrie 4.0,” which is going to be big in 2016, especially in Davos later this month. By the way, Industrie 4.0 can be translated and pronounced as “Industry four point oh” or “Industry four point zero”, depending on one’s preference. Then there are the #hashtag rules: because spaces or punctuation in the words preceding or following a hashtag will break the link, we’re left with “#Industry40,” which looks awfully like “forty”. Oh dear.

So what is this Industry 4.0 that everyone is talking about? The German Academy of Science and Engineering, acatech, offers this definition:

“The first three industrial revolutions came about as a result of mechanisation, electricity and IT. Now, the introduction of the Internet of Things and Services into the manufacturing environment is ushering in a fourth industrial revolution. In the future, businesses will establish global networks that incorporate their machinery, warehousing systems and production facilities in the shape of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). In the manufacturing environment, these Cyber-Physical Systems comprise smart machines, storage systems and production facilities capable of autonomously exchanging information, triggering actions and controlling each other independently. Smart factories that are already beginning to appear employ a completely new approach to production. Smart products are uniquely identifiable, may be located at all times and know their own history, current status and alternative routes to achieving their target state. The embedded manufacturing systems are vertically networked with business processes within factories and enterprises and horizontally connected to dispersed value networks that can be managed in realtime – from the moment an order is placed right through to outbound logistics.”

A shorter definition might go like this: “The next stage in the organization and management of the entire manufacturing value chain process.”


IBM brings Watson to Munich

Tuesday, 15 December, 2015 0 Comments

It would be an exaggeration to say that Germany has bet the farm on the Industry 4.0 concept, but the country certainly is investing a huge amount of credibility along with significant sums of money in its variant of the Internet of Things (IoT). That willingness to take manufacturing into the cloud and beyond got a big vote of confidence today when IBM opened its Watson IoT global headquarters in Munich. The city will also host IBM’s first European Watson innovation centre.

The declared goal is to add the power of cognitive computing to the billions of connected devices, sensors and systems that make up the IoT. The campus environment at the Highlight Towers on Mies-van-der-Rohe-Straße will bring together a thousand IBM developers, consultants, researchers and designers and will also serve as an innovation lab for data scientists, engineers and programmers “building new connected solutions at the intersection of cognitive computing and the IoT,” according to the IBM press release.

Along with the facility in Munich, IBM announced today that it is opening Watson IoT Client Experience Centres across Asia and the Americas. Locations include Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. These will provide clients and partners access to technology, tools and talent needed to develop and create new products and services using the cognitive intelligence delivered via the Watson IoT Cloud Platform.

As Thomas J. Watson Jr. once said: “Wisdom is the power to put our time and our knowledge to the proper use.”

Watson


Own the robots, rule the world

Wednesday, 9 December, 2015 0 Comments

According to Marx, it’s simple. Ownership of the Means of Production is in the wrong hands and this has led to the class differences that bedevil the planet. Individual ability, religious or cultural factors are irrelevant to the Marxists — all that’s needed is to wrest the machines from the capitalists, give them to the proletariat and the world will be as one. The disciples of Karl Marx have been preaching this “gospel” since the mid-19th century with spectacular calamity for the masses, most recently in Venezuela.

Is there a better way? And if so, who should own the modern Means of Production? The question is increasingly urgent in a world where Google is replacing librarians and professors are being eliminated by massive online courses. As computers and robots eat up the tasks being done by humans, workers need to do something or they’ll end up doing nothing. One solution would see governments taxing the Zuckerbergs and the Musks punitively and redistributing the “take” to the workers, but that’s the Venezuela way. Better: workers own shares in tech firms, have stock options in the AI start-ups and be paid in part from the profits generated by the robotics companies.

Who says? Richard B. Freeman, who holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University does. Recently, Germany’s Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH, better known as the Institute for the Study of Labor and abbreviated as IZA, asked Freeman for his thoughts on technology, work and capital. For the Bonn-based non-profit, Freeman wrote “Who owns the robots rules the world” and in it he argues that the best model is an American one in the form of the Employee Stock Ownership Plans introduced in 1974 and which have since energized a sector that now employs some 11 million workers.

“The EU has endorsed such schemes in its various Pepper Reports and encouraged these forms of organization, though with, at best, modest success,” notes Freeman, ruefully. The continent of Marx is not too fond of worker ownership, unless the state is the proprietor, that is. On the other side of the Atlantic, which remains Marx resistant, despite the best efforts of the elites, Freeman points out that “enough firms in the US have extended some form of ownership stake to their workers that on the order of half of American employees get some part of their pay through profit-sharing, options, or stock ownership.” This is the way forward because, “In the US, at least, people with widely different ideological and economic views find attractive the notion of spreading ownership. One can imagine governments giving preferential treatment in procurement to firms that meet some basic ’employee ownership’ financial standard.”

As we enter the age of Industry 4.0, a priority of every developed economy should be encouraging worker ownership of capital to provide income streams from the technologies changing the world of work. Otherwise, Richard B. Freeman warns: “If we don’t succeed in spreading the ownership of capital more widely, many of us will become serfs working on behalf of the owners. Who owns the robots rules the world! Let us own the robots.” Aye!

Robots at work


Printing, not plastics, young person

Tuesday, 8 December, 2015 0 Comments

This is a post about Industry 4.0, the next Industrial Revolution, in which everything from toasters to thermostats will be connected to the internet. But first, The Graduate, a 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols that tells the story of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), an aimless young graduate, who is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), and then falls in love with her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). With its air of rebellion and a soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel, The Graduate captured the counter-culture of the Sixties and is now regarded as a classic. At one point, during a party, this exchange takes place between Benjamin and Mr. McGuire, a businessman, who embodies mainstream society:

Mr. McGuire: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
Benjamin: “Yes, sir.”
Mr. McGuire: “Are you listening?”
Benjamin: “Yes, I am.”
Mr. McGuire: “Plastics.”
Benjamin: “Exactly how do you mean?”
Mr. McGuire: “There’s a great future in plastics.”

Now, back to Industry 4.0. For Jaime Marijuán Castro, a consultant in the electronics industry, printing is the new plastics. More precisely, 3D printing. In a recent post for IBM’s Insights on Business blog, he placed a wager on 3D scanning and printing:

“This is my favorite and the one I am betting on. It is going to radically change the way products are built and marketed. Imagine 3D print vending machines at your nearby convenience store you can use to produce your own designs in a matter of minutes, or the ability to provide remote maintenance services and delivering a replacement part without shipping it. Some factories are already producing plastic parts with 3D printers but I still think this technology is slow and very limited. It will not reach economic viability before the next 10 years. Modularity, interoperability, virtualization and service orientation are brought in by the 3D tech and — like the autonomous vehicle — you don’t want to be the last exploring its potential.”

Is it a bet worth making? Right on cue, Fortune is reporting that a patent application submitted by Apple shows the company is thinking about 3D printing. Make of note of it. It might be the new plastics.