More Leisure Ahead

Afraid of the Big Bad Robot

If we tackle the social problems as the intellectual fathers of automation imagine them - in so far as they think about these problems at all - the consequence of the Electronic Revolution will not be unemployment but greatly reduced hours of work for everyone. An engineer who now has to work a 44-hour week would as an automation specialist, ten years from now, have to spend no more than two hours a day at his machines, standing by and looking on to make sure that all the robots were working harmoniously. Assuming, of course, that the engineer concerned is a bright lad and willing to learn. In any case, slothful and uninterested people will find that there are no jobs for them in an automated factory except second-rate ones.

But of course it is also conceivable that something quite different might fall to our engineer's lot. Instead of having to keep an eye on automatic machines, he could be promoted to supervisor.

Production Checks

You know that the workers in practically all industrial undertakings have to "clock in" and "clock out." They have their time cards stamped by an automatic clock when they enter the factory and when they leave to go home after the day's (or the night's) work. The number of hours they have spent on the job is thus recorded, and the amount of pay due to them is figured out accordingly. Many firms, as we have already mentioned, have introduced the modern system of stamping the cards and punching them at the same time so that a computer can calculate the wages payable to an employee at the end of the month.

We have also told you how production is electronically supervised in a fully automated factory. We can now supplement this information by saying that this kind of production control is already in effect, even in only partly automated plants. In such places an automatic inspector's vigilant eye looks over the shoulder of every worker and counts the parts he is making, checks their quality and makes a note of the fact if the fellow happens to make a mistake. The results of these measurements and counting operations are used for calculating profitability, fixing prices, and so on. Great undertakings can in this way maintain a constant survey of their operations and discover which departments are working well and which are not.

Connecting up the two electronic systems - for calculating pay and for checking production - so that they work together is of course a very simple matter. It can be done, for instance, by having the automatic machines in the workshops give the computers in the accounting office information about any worker who has not been giving his produced pieces the correct treatment, and by telling the computers to make a corresponding deduction from his pay. So one fine day a worker might perhaps receive the following nicely typed letter:

"Dear Mr. Vealswage,
It has come to our notice that your performance last month fell off by 13.6% so that it now lies 2.1% below the company's norm. 23 of the 7,365 soldered joints you made last week are bad contacts. In the case of 167 soldered joints you have exceeded the necessary quantity of solder by more than the tolerated amount of 0.018 oz.

In view of the fact that your average performance over the past twelve months was 6.91? above the company's norm, we propose not to discharge you at once but wish merely to notify you cautionarily of a conditional dismissal at the end of the month. This discharge will take effect if your performance during the coming month does not rise to at least 5% above the company's norm.

Electronic Head"

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© by PhiloPhax & Lauftext & Redaktion Lohberg
Kybernetik - Was ist das?

First printed in Germany: 1963


Cybernetic Computer and Electronic Brain

The fascinating story of how computers work in clear, non-mathematical language