“Ergonomics, Not Productivity”

In a Business 2.0 article from last month entitled “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell — Every Five Seconds” there is a priceless quote by Richard Komm, Dell’s “factory-design guru” regarding the choice of tasks for robots to handle:

“All of our automation is driven by ergonomics, not productivity.”

How convenient that ergonomic solutions of this nature also have the benefit of increasing productivity, lowering overhead, and further decreasing the relevance of human labor.

There are both benefits and serious consequences that result from the accelerating trend to replace human labor. Despite the potential to realize the long-fabled “leisure society”, the transition may very well be a violent one. Regardless, Marshall Brain’s Robotic Nation will arrive, likely sooner rather than later. Pretending that today’s early steps down that road are driven by ergonomic considerations is just one of many explanations companies and governments will eventually give to placate troubled citizens and workers. Others will include:

  • “We are allowing our workers to spend more time with their families.”
  • “The stress of living in today’s cutting edge world requires careful management of time, including time away from work.”
  • “Our workers are safer than ever.”
  • “Our workers can take on more rewarding and high-level tasks that make use of their creativity.”
  • “Our customers demand faster turn around.”
  • “To compete, we must balance our human and technological strengths.”
  • “We are paying for our employee’s to go back to school, because their education should be our focus. That way, our employees can become more empowered and competitive in today’s ever-shifting business landscape.”

People might respond better to these explanations, but the truth is, robots and automation are soon to be cheaper, faster, better, more efficient, quieter, less demanding, and fresher smelling than humans. I personally prefer the more blunt appraisal.

Richard Leis

Richard Leis

Richard Leis (he/him/his) lives in Tucson, Arizona where he writes poetry and fiction, attends and teaches writing workshops at the Writers Studio Tucson, and works for HiRISE, a team in the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona with a camera in orbit around Mars onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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