[OPE-L:8303] Re: Electronics and Value

From: OPE-L Administrator (ope-admin@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Fri Jan 10 2003 - 15:41:42 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Davis" <jdav@gocatgo.com>
Sent: Friday, January 10, 2003 10:38 AM
Subject: Re: Electronics and Value (for OPE-L list)

 [Please consider posting this to the OPE-L list, in response to 8278.
Thanks, jd]

 In response to clyder@gn.apc.org [8278]:

> The revolutionary quality of the mule was just that it replaced
> the command and control function of the spinner with an automated
> sequence of actions. All of this was done with gears and cams.

> Again look at Fords mechanically automated factories of the
> 30s

I think that there is a qualitative difference between a human-operated
or even human-tended machinery and robotics.

 The notion of a machine that replicates a relatively limited set of
human functions (as in the case of any piece of machinery, even as
complicated or sophisticated as modern spinning mules) is a different
from systems of machinery w/ self-activating processors, feedback
systems and a
 decision-making ability that can act on that feedback to adjust
processes. When  networking or communications capability is
incorporated in the machinery and a digital infrastructure is
installed, then a whole system of labor-less production becomes

The Ford River Rouge plant at it's peak in the 1930s employed some
100,000 workers; today UAW Local 600, which represents the Rouge plus
additional areas, has 14,000 some members. Granted this is something of
apples and oranges, but obviously whatever process was begun in the
1930s in the area of automation had a long-way to go in squeezing out
labor from the production process. The Rouge plant is now being re-cast
as a showcase for modern "green" manufacturing:

 "The new assembly plant is designed to be flexible, allowing up to
three different platforms to be made on a single assembly line. This
flexibility will allow Ford to respond to market conditions by
switching rapidly and economically between products. Synchronous
material flow provides the right parts and materials when needed to
produce vehicles that incorporate a wide variety of options and

 "Inside the assembly plant, workers will be separated from machinery by
overhead walkways. Web-enabled computer terminals will be located on
the assembly line floor to allow workers to contact suppliers in real
time about quality or supply issues. Skilled trades and production
workers are involved in the _simultaneous engineering_ of the
production equipment for the assembly line."


I agree that miniaturization is one of the key things that makes
electronics revolutionary -- as Asimov has said, practical robotics was
not possible without a small, cheap, light, relatively energy-efficient
microprocessor. Those properties enabled electronics (in this case,
microprocessors) to be quickly and widely deployed. Charles Babbage, in
the early 1800s, could envision the basic components of modern
computers -- e.g., a "mill" to process numbers, a "store" to hold
interim calculations; but practical machines were not possible until
modern electronics.


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