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    Exploratory Workshop on the Social Impacts of Robotics

22

automation system may result in generating altered definitions of the kinds of

functions to be considered for robotization, and may even integrate some of these functions into other machine or equipment components of the system. It may be relevant to mantion in this connection that progress in programmable automation is often discussed within the context of efforts to develop “automatic factories".(lO)

Although such achievements still seem far off in respect to plants capable of producing limited quantities of a variety of products economically -- as dif- ferentiated from continuous process petroleum refineries and chemical plants --

they exemplify the reverse orientation which is likely to become

important:

designing

the

plant

as

a

whole

and

then

defining

the

increasingly functions and

needed characteristics of programmable controls for plant characteristics.

the component parts, instead of developing robots and a succession of individual operations within existing

What are the policy implications of such observations? There is ample

basis within the basic values of the American” economic system for questioning the advisability of governmental support for efforts by private firms to develop

appropriable commercial improvements in robot capabilities or in other tech-

nologies.

But

there

are

very

cogent

reasons

indeed

for

recognizing

the

govern-

ment’s responsibility for supporting research and development programs seeking to extend and enrich the pre-commercial scientific and engineering foundations of increasingly effective industrial operations.

Most private firms seldom undertake technological development programs which are unlikely to reach commercial fruition in less than 5 to 8 years, including

the time necessary to construct needed production facilities and to begin

marketing their private efforts

products.

would

be

to

One of the most promising means of multiplying

increase

the

array

of

technologies

which

have

such emerged

from the often lengthy, costly and risky processes of intermediate development

between basic research findings and a level of refinement deemed to be within

striking

distance

of

appropriable

forms

of

commercialization.

Moreover,

such

advances represent additions to national to stimulate application efforts in many

resources of knowledge which other sectors of the economy

are and

likely social

services, and rehabilitation activities. including office operations, (11)

construction, household services and health

(10)

As an illustration of current efforts in this direction, see Proceedings of

the Autofact West Conference Nov. 1980) Volumes I and II.

(Dearborn,

MI:

Society

of

Manufacturing

Engineers,

(11) For further discussion, see B. Cold, Productivity, Technology

and Capital:

Economic Analysis, Managerial Strategies and Government Policies

(Lexington,MA:

D. C. Heath - Lexington Books,

1979)

pp. 302-303.

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