Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Machines: Robots and Humans

This contest got me thinking. Sure - I'm a little late to the game here but I'd still like to try to make my point.


As far back as human history can take us, and likely even farther - we've been looking for ways to off-load some of the work we have to do. The first time some cave man jammed a stick under a rock to lift it off the ground - that's the birth of machines. True - they've evolved a great deal more than we have in the intervening time, but that's where it started. One guy in a million who had just a little more brain than brawn and BAM! The lever was born.

Now you might say "Wait! That's just a tool!" I'd argue that it's a machine - a very simple machine to be sure, but a machine nonetheless. Think about it - there are multiple parts and they must be used in conjunction with one another in order to have the desired effect. A screwdriver is a tool, a ratcheting screwdriver is a machine. A hammer is a tool, a jack-hammer is a machine. See my point?

So that's where it started. Since then machines have evolved into complex networks of pulleys, levers, gears, jigs, ropes, cogs, baffles, billows, mills, livestock, slaves, and on and on through the middle ages, then into the industrial revolution, the birth of the automotive industry, transatlantic flight, the computer, the microprocessor... the telephone... the cell phone... on and on...

Think about how far machines have come in the last 800 years. What's the one consistency?


We are behind every great machine (or robot) that has ever been built or even imagined. Ultimately each step in the evolution of machines can be traced back to a single pair of human hands. That first stick wedged under that rock was held in a pair of hairy human hands.

No machine has ever been able to replicate the quality of hand craftsmanship - I don't care if you're building a wristwatch or a birdhouse - a skilled pair of human hands will beat a factory robot every time. Sure a robot can crank out 30 birdhouses (or cheap wristwatches) in an hour, but how long will they last? A handmade wristwatch could last forever - what's the warranty on that Casio you're sporting?

Human hands. The single continuous thread present in every significant accomplishment in machinery or robotics since the dawn of the human race. An elegant machine indeed. No matter how many attempts we make to render it obsolete - each advance in manufacturing technology, mobile communications, voice command interfaces - we'll never replace the one tool that started it all - The Human Hand.

I'm just syain'...

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