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Automation, China, and U. S. Prosperity
James Adrian

      While politicians in the United States are tetanized by their efforts to incentivize big companies to employ more and more people, China is attending to productivity by means of unrestrained and unashamed use of robots. See this link. This follows the theory that prosperity is linked to productivity. What a new idea!

      Meanwhile, these very huge and very-well-incentivised companies are doing everything they legally can to limit new competition in robotics. This adversely affects the economy, progress, and upward mobility in any country - even the United States of America.

      Automation has been under the control of large companies at least since 1970.

      Useful robots cost more that a typical suburbanite can afford (about $50,00 to $100,000). This cost is maintained through the slanted education of graduate students and by large companies refusing to buy sensibly-designed, low-cost robots for fear of inspiring mass sales to ordinary people. They are not about to inspire new competition from people of ordinary means.

      There is one seemingly technical point which makes a lot of voters' eyes glass over in the firm conviction that the subject is beyond their understanding. It is the difference between closed-loop control and open-loop control. The use of open-loop control promotes very high cost because it requires parts to be made with great precision (often machined, hardened, and ground). Closed-loop control is the method used by living animals. The brain controls the muscles, the action of the muscles affects the senses, and the senses report to the brain. The informational circle corrects deviations from the intended motion. This is closed-loop control. It is a lot cheaper. Angle sensors can cost under a dollar instead of $160.00. Skeletal members can often be made of wood or PVC tubing. Warpage and bending is made up for by the feedback in the closed loop.

      There is hardly an effort anywhere to keep the working lifetime of robotic machine economically short. After all, robots can replace parts on other robots.

      Wouldn't it be a great surprise if China stops buying (or copying) our off-the-shelf and custom-contract robots in favor of more economically productive designs?

      In the early 1970's big business beseeched congress to publicly ask all companies to go slow on robotics until retraining could become widespread. Such retraining never came, but robots are making cars in the dark without human participation - at prices that save on labor costs but not so much as to prompt small business and entrepreneurs to enthusiastically employ robots.

      I have watched this happen since 1970. Stupid collision games are played with open-loop toys as phony examples of education about robots. Multi-million dollar robots that perform unnecessary stunts are shown on TV to create the impression that progress is being made, and that cost-effective robots are a thing of the future.

      Graduate courses are kept challenging while the basics are dismissed. These students have told me that "The choice between closed-loop and open-loop control is a matter of engineering judgement." I suspect that their professors get grants from large companies.

      Control of the market by economic and political means is matched by the mind control effected on TV. Despite the television hype, it is not necessary for a robot to keep its balance on two legs or throw a baseball across a baseball home plate. Even robots that make cars don't do that. It's time for business robots to get economical enough to support an economy from the ground up instead of from the top down.

      If robots were as inexpensive as they fairly could be, hobbyist and entrepreneurs would be making jewelry and card tables in their garages and the centralization of power over automation would be history.

      Who is making policy? Do they want a world filled with small shops? Might they rather have one company employ everybody?

      If the United States were to remember what small business is good for, it would take China a long time to understand it.

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