According to the world robotics report 400k industrial robots were sold in the last year, https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/research/world-robotics-report-global-sales-of-robots-hit-16-5b-in-2018/ The amount has increased over the years. Countries which have installed these robots are China, southkorea, US, and European countries. So basically the whole world has bought robots for factory automation.
But is this news the reality? Let us take a closer look how robotics is used in the reality. The interesting situation is, that most companies have two assembly lines. On the first one the real production is done, mostly by human workers, and the second assembly line is equipped with robots and it is located in the research area of the factory. All the 400k robots (if the number if correct) are sold to the research location of the factory and not a single one is used for factory automation.
To understand this sad situation we have to first describe why robots are successful. Robots are presented at tradeshows, are used in youtube videos and are researched by academics. In all these domains, there is a progress available over the years and robots have helped to understand what Intelligence is. On the other hand, robots are never used in the reality for practical applications. In the 1970s Joseph Engelberger struggels with robotics at the workplace and in the 2010s ABB Robotics have failed too.
The gap between a robot in the laboratory and a robot in the reality has increased over the years. That means it is absolutely forbidden for everybody to move an industrial robot from the research facility into the production facility of a company. This kind of explicit law was created to prevent that robots will increase the productity, will steel the jobs of human workers and helps the factory to reduce the costs.
What factories are allowed is to waste a low of money for newly developed robots. The latest innovation are cobots which can work together with humans. These systems are able to fold airplanes of paper and can solve pick&place tasks. Similar to previous attempts in automating the production, a cobot is not allow to be activated outside the research facility. It is ok, if an employee is using the robot to learn something new, and the next employee is encouraged to write a doctoral thesis about the machine, but it is forbidden to use the robot for automating the production.
This kind of law sounds a bit unlogical because by definition a robot is sold to increase the productivity. Or to be more specific, this is the reason why robots are marketed to the public. In the reality, a robot isn’t able to automate anything and it can’t increase the productivity. In the literature the law is known as the productivity paradox. It says basically, that robots are an important tool to teach Artificial Intelligence, but a bad idea if somebody likes to build cars or produce clothing.
To understand why the productivity paradox is not only a hypothesis but a law we have to describe the opposite. Suppose, the paradox isn’t there. Then a factory somewhere in the world is buying an industrial robot, installs the device at the assembly line and one week later, the system is up and running. It helps the factory to save a lot of money and has made the life easier for the employees. The funny thing is, that no a single case in the world is available in which such a case can be observed. If somebody has found such an example, he has falsified the productivity paradox. It would be the first time that robots have used for a practical applications and not a research project.
Let us investigate the law in detail. The consequence of the productivity law is, that the level in automation is fixed and can’t improved in the future. It is froozen on a level which was reached during the industrial revolution and no matter which new robots are invented in the future, they are not allowed to enter the production facility. There are some efforts available which ensure that the law remains active. One of them are marketing efforts to sell industrial robots to the public.
Suppose a human worker at the assembly line is asking their boss for a robot. The human worker likes to automate a pick&place task and he explains to the boss that a new robot can do this job better than a human. The result of this request is, that a larger robotics company will invent a robot dedicated for this purpose. And the robotics company will present such a robot at the next trade show. That means, the marketing effort for the concrete pick&place robots gets started. This marketing effort is a counter strategy which prevents that the robot is build and used in reality.
All the robot presented at trade shows can’t be used in the reality anymore. If a robot is able to pick&place objects from the assembly line, this task will done by humans forever. And if a robot has shown in the presentation, that a burger can be flipped, this ensures, that burger flipping is reserved for human workers forever.
Let me explain the situation in detail. Suppose a human workers has the job to take 6 apples from the conveyor and puts them into a box. There are two options available. Either a robot was invented which can do the task. Or the robot wasn’t invented yet. If the robot wasn’t build yet, the task can’t be automated. Instead its up to the robotics company to start a project for a pick&place robot. In the second case (the pick&place robot is available) the robot isn’t able to do the job, because this would be equal to use a research robot in the production facility.
That means, the single worker at the assembly line knows, that a robot can do the same job with less effort, but the company isn’t buying the machine because of the productivity paradox.
The Productivity paradox explains the missing robots at the workplace with a single reason. The relationship between costs and advantage is too low for robots. A robot will produce high costs but won’t improve the situation. The productivity is not an objective criteria but it is interpreted by humans. Before a robot is used in the reality, a human has to buy and activate the machine. How the human is creating the decisions is unknown, what we can say for sure is, that humans are deciding against robots.
Humans are using robots very often in the research lab. They are fascinated by the possibility to research Artificial Intelligence and they hope that in the future robots will become available widespread. At the same time, humans are rejecting robots in the real world. They are deciding not to buy industrial robots and if they have bought a model it is never used on the assembly line, but in a separate location.
It is well known from other technologies like the electric light and the computer that in the beginning it needs a warm up period in which humans gets familiar with the new technology. Most humans have lost their fear of the Personal computer and using this device every day. In case of robots the situation is different. No human in the world has lost their fear of a robot. And the fear has grown over the years. Media are playing an important role to indoctrinate the humans that robots are evil devices. Most youtube users have seen the biped walking robots and they are convinced that this technology is something which should be rejected.
The interesting situation is, that even robotics experts who have constructed the robots are not using them for practical applications. The reason is, that every human is in fear of a robot upraising and doesn’t see an advantage of using robotics in the reality. The situation can be monitored in detail on the example of vacuum cleaner robots. Some households have bought such a device, but not of them is using the robot as a vacuum cleaner. Instead the machine is used by the cat as a moving vehicle, or it is used to explain a friend who technology will become better in the future.
In theory, the owner of a vaccum cleaner robot is free to decide how to use the machine in reality. The interesting situation is, that from a sociology point of view, the law is very clear. It is not allow to use a vaccum cleaner robot for practical application. It is a research project which allows the human to learn something about AI, but it is not in the reach of humans to use a robot for doing a repetitive task.
At the end it make sense to analyze under which constraint the productivity paradox can be overcome. The only situation for doing so is if human will loose their fear of modern technology. If humans are able to judge about robotics rational they will recognize that robots can be used for practical applications. This won’t be happen in the future, because the robots will become more human like and this will increase the fear of humans before this technology.
In front of a robot from the 1980s nobody is in fear, because the machine can’t even walk. But in front of a robot from the year 2030 everybody is in fear, because the machine walks on two legs and is able to understand English. What robotics experts are doing is to increase the fear of robots. They are developing more advanced technology which will impress the audience more. And this increased fear will prevent that robots gets introduced into the reality.
Fear of robotics
In the past there were some examples available in which researchers have tried to see robots more rational. One idea was to build cute robots which have the shape of a teddy bear. The idea was that humans like animals very much so they will like social robots as well. Ironically the result was the opposite. Cute robots have increased the fear before robots drastically. Especially if the robot will behave natural, the human won’t trust the machine. There is a famous video available at youtube in which the Ferby robot was presented as the devil in person. That means, the robot has made the humans very angry and this prevents that robots are perceived rational.
The interesting situation is, that the relationship of humans to robot depends on the social context. If a robot is put into demonstration situation every human feels comfortable with the device. The inventor is proud, that the robot is able to do the pick&place task. He gets applause from the audience. The audience feels comfortable too, because they see something new which allows them to learn about technology.
If the same robot is put into a working mode, on a real production situation, the situation is changing dramatically. The programmer of the device isn’t sure, if the machine is working correct. And the employees who have do the work with or without the robot are felling unhappy too because they don’t understand it and they don’t trust the programmer. All the humans are in a loose loose situation and this forces them to stop the experiment as soon they can.
In a demonstration mode, the robot works great and the humans are happy with the device. In the working mode, the robot makes many mistakes and the humans are in fear of the machine. This gap can’t be overcome with better robots and not with better training. The assumption is, that the gap is the result of the training. That means, the humans have learned over the years to feel uncomfortable near to a working robot.
The consequence of this paradox situation is easy to predict. Everything remains the same. Humans are needed at the assembly line forever, and it is not possible to replace them with machines. The productivity paradox was confirmed, the society remains stable and the AI revolution never took place.