“We believe that if men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.”– John F. Kennedy
Advanced technology and automation have been work partners throughout most of my working life. My time at Hewlett-Packard became more of an observational period. I saw the development of sophisticated instruments and automation systems for medicine and for the military. The equipment was developed and built largely by the use of other automation equipment. Keep in mind that this was happening in the 1970s. I only saw a small slice of this activity. It had begun before my period of employment there and has accelerated and become far more sophisticated afterwards.
As a broadcaster, in addition to conventional studio and on-air tasks, I also worked intimately with automation systems. It usually happened that I took care of a live, real-time radio show on one station and supervised the automation robotics that took care of the programing on a “sister” station broadcasting from the same studio building.
The first sophisticated broadcast automation that I used was built by Harris, Inc. It was a bank of reel to reel tape decks and tape cartridge playback units controlled by a primitive, by today’s standards, internal computer. The user interface was a converted TELEX machine. I typed in commands and the TELEX machine printed out a copy of the planned program of music and commercials.
I next worked at a station with a far less sophisticated system. Outwardly the unit looked similar with its open reel music decks and cartridge tape playback for commercials. The controller was basically a contraption that looked like an old photographic slide projector with stackable “slides”. There were color coded metal squares that were oriented in the stack to control various functions. DJs had to load enough stacks of these squares to last an entire shift. Oh, they did often jam in the reader causing much consternation, too.
That system was eventually replaced with automation very similar to the Harris unit at my previous place of employment. The controlling electronics were more similar to today’s computers. The differences included a different keying-in console but much less memory than we have in our personal computers, these days.
Several years later, the Harris Automation was replaced with a P.C./Server Networked system that is still in use today. It’s much more complex and takes care of all the programming needs for multiple stations. I have likened the operating system to what you’d see on iTunes and iPods with screens. It’s more complicated than an iPod, though.
Of course, broadcasting isn’t the only technology that’s automated.
Industrial assembly lines were among the first robotized features on the business landscape. Anyone who works in a contemporary office setting is familiar with office automation systems. There are countless hospitals, clinics, care centers and more that monitor and manage themselves with a great deal of automated equipment and techniques.
A somewhat unsettling use of automation is in the operation of transportation systems. Railroad track lines have been automated for many years. Switching and traffic are overseen by computers. The world’s air traffic has been aided by automation just as long.
What I found a bit disconcerting was to find out an airliner that flew me to Europe was completely robotized in the cockpit. The crew could take over, of course. The aircraft took off, cruised and landed strictly by automated control. I still get queasy thinking about it.
Even more unsettling, in my view, is the automation of military aircraft. I understand the need for more speed to decide what gets bombed and what doesn’t is behind plans for more sophisticated drone aircraft. I don’t think you can get more robot tech than what’s used in a drone. Eventually, planners expect the drones to make decisions of life and death on their own.
In my mind, I see an apocolyptic sci-fi world in the not too distant future of robots versus humans and organic life forms. If you’ve ever had a virus or spyware infect your home computer, you know that my concerns are not just speculative. I can imagine a drone suffering a glitch. The aircraft either purposely or accidently turns hostile against its owners and original targeters.
Even if there are no obvious glitches in the robot program, do we really want decisions of life and death handled by a computer program? Of course, our lives are already held in the balance by those automation systems used to monitor and control intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile launches. There was a time when mutually assured destruction nearly happened. Automation helped analyze the perceived threats and kept missiles on hair-trigger alert.
What are the risks when autonomous automation of drone aircraft and other military hardware interacts with everything else that monitors them? Do we have automatons?
I guess that’s what goes under the heading of “Risk Assessment”. I think we also have an urgent need for “Ethics Assessment” when considering the ultimate evolution of automation. Be it in industry or military.
The Blue Jay of Happiness only relies upon organic instinct and brain power.