Raise your hand if you’ve ever played a game of telephone. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the game starts with a number of players sitting in a circle; one player whispers a word or phrase to the person next to them. That player, in turn, whispers the word or phrase to the next adjacent player, until the word or phrase has cycled back to the original player, who tells everyone else what the original word or phrase was. Usually, players find that the phrase has morphed into something else entirely over a series of mis-hearings and miscommunications—which is the entire point of the game.
When you play chess, you’re supposed to think several moves ahead. This means that whenever you move one of your pieces, you should be anticipating the possible moves that your opponent will make in response, and what you’ll do in response to your opponent’s next moves. Since at each stage there are multiple possibilities, the possible scenarios you need to keep in your head at any given time begin to multiply pretty quickly. And yet, for each scenario it’s imperative to be able to look at the entire board in your mind and consider all of the hazards and opportunities that present themselves. In this way, it’s a little bit like logistics planning.
If you sat down to compare the experience of taking a cross country road trip now vs. thirty years ago, what might come to mind? Probably, your first thought would be about how the rise of GPS systems (and, relatedly, smartphones) had made navigation much easier. Gone are the days when drivers need to purchase physical maps and chart their courses by hand. You might also think about the ways in which modern cars are better suited to this kind of journey, often featuring built-in GPS systems, Bluetooth hookups for playing music or receiving navigational instructions from your iPhone, and improved safety features like alerts if you're drifting out of your lane. All of this is undoubtedly true, but do all of these convenience-adding features also make traveling cheaper?
Over the course of human history, many of our most critical technological advances have been put to use in helping people and goods get from Point A to Point B more effectively. Take air travel, for instance: only a few years ago, most travelers needed travel agents in order to cut through the complexity involved in bundling together connections and return flights in the most sensible manner. Cut to the modern day, and a simple Google search can give you the times, connections, and prices for your various options based on your desired travel dates and destinations. Not only that, but once you’ve booked your travel itinerary, you can check in online (rather than at the airport), receive your boarding passes via e-mail, and receive alerts about your flight on your phone. All of sudden, life as a traveler is about connectivity and convenient digital workflows.
As the era of Industry 4.0 continues to ramp up, new corners throughout the world of industry will continue to see rapid growth and changes—for which they may or may not be prepared! Certainly, the general trend of increasing cyber-physical systems, big data and analytics integration, autonomous machine decision-making, and increased product customization will be apparent to some degree in every Industry 4.0-enabled factory, but the particulars of the Fourth Industry Revolution’s effect will vary widely from industry to industry based on products, product lifecycles, and customer expectations. This means that the picture of Industry 4.0 readiness will look very different in different fields. In furniture manufacturing, for instance, production planners and IT staff may encounter a very different set of challenges than, say, automotive manufacturers.
Let’s say your manufacturing outfit is looking to hire a new employee, and you’re tasked with creating the job listing. What are you likely to ask for in your potential new hires? Depending on what type of IT environment your business runs on, you might require that they be familiar with a certain software or suite of software products, so that they can easily assimilate into your existing workflows. You might also ask for references from previous employers, so that you can be sure that they don’t present any obvious red flags. Going a little bit deeper, you might make a point of searching for employees who exhibit the potential to learn and grow, i.e. people who can potentially take on more responsibility as they go forward, helping your business to grow and adapt over time.
Let's say you've got big event coming up—maybe an awards ceremony, or an important anniversary. You and some of your friends are going to the event together, and to make the whole affair a little more special you decide to rent a limousine take you there and back. Though the venue is only an hour’s drive away, your friends’ homes are spread throughout your town in ways that make planning the optimal order in which to pick them up (and drop them off after the party’s over) a challenge. On top of that, not everyone will be ready at exactly the same time, and those who would be picked up later in the process would like to know in advance so that they can spend more time preparing. Where do you begin when it comes to planning out a tour that works for you?
In theoretical computer science, the traveling salesman problem asks the following question: "Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?" Anyone who has worked in transport logistics or transportation management knows that in most cases there is no easy answer to this question, and that finding the optimal route between different cities or even different stops along the same tour can be a serious logistical challenge—one that requires planners to manage customer delivery windows, anticipate traffic patterns, and optimize time and distance.
Reports of your job’s impending obsolescence have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, as Industry 4.0 systems continue to gain traction the nature of work, not just in the automotive and industrial spheres but across the entire global economy, is likely to be affected in tangible ways by the rise of connected, cyber-physical systems and the increased use of internet of things (IoT) devices. But despite what you might have heard, this doesn’t mean that people’s jobs are going to vanish at an unprecedented rate. After all, the first three industrial revolutions (steam power, electricity, and computers, respectively) helped to expand the labor force rather than contract it—why should the fourth industrial revolution be any different?
These days, when most people think of automation, one of their first thoughts is of self-driving cars. What many people don’t realize, as they picture themselves magically napping away their morning commutes, is that when it comes to autonomous vehicles there are actually six levels of autonomy. At level zero, you have a standard automobile, which requires the driver to make every decision and maneuver. At level five, the car itself makes and carries out all of the decisions without any human intervention. In between, we find cars that can maintain speed and avoid other cars on the highway, cars that can change lanes and make turns unassisted, and cars that can perform automated interventions in crisis situations like potential spin-outs.