Does Artificial Intelligence mean that mankind’s goal is to create human intelligence? Depends on who you ask. If that is the assumption, it is not likely to happen any time soon. Does AI mean that we have the ability to create control systems with more complex behavior? Yes, absolutely. And indeed, that is what Manufacturing 4.0 is all about.
What that means in practical terms, and what it will look like exactly are yet to be seen. These are new tools and capabilities that are still emerging. Whatever Industry 4.0 is going to be is what we are presently engaged in creating now.
Perhaps one unstated aspect of the Manufacturing 4.0 movement is the engineering of integrated sensing and monitoring systems to create new and more autonomous control systems. Autonomy in this context does not imply the presence of will or desire, merely that the systems are able to operate with minimal human intervention. Sufficient data is available and algorithms of control are written so that all the normal and most of the abnormal operating conditions are anticipated in the programming.
Defining what problems need to be solved is a key component of the emerging “next generation of manufacturing”. As with most things, it will likely be based on where the most money can be made. For companies that manufacture control system hardrware, the future might be kind of scary. The convergence of IT and manufacturing systems may result in control vendors being displaced by inexpensive processor platforms like cellphones. For component vendors, it is likely to be a party. We may find inexpensive ways of instrumenting devices like bearings, seals, actuators and sensors, and re-inventing all of our current devices as intelligent internet devices.
The driving force that makes all of this possible is the progressively decreasing cost of electronics and network infrastructure. What happens when smart silicon devices are $1 and Internet communications are practically free? These underlying trends are how we will apply technology to the next stage of control system evolution. Since everything in the real world can be represented as 0’s and 1’s, digitally, there appears to be no limit to our ability to gather data. Our genius as innovators will be finding out how to create the data, and filtering it out to find the meaningful information that can acted upon.
Does any of this constitute big, scary AI like Skynet?
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