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Man and Machine Collaborating on the Factory Floor: A Nightmare or a Match Made in Heaven?

Whenever mankind works together with machinery, new methods are needed to cater to human unpredictability—and to ensure that robots can anticipate it.
By Pieter Simoens

Should we make digital twins of the factory in the cloud to realize reliable communication between humans and machines? Although this dictator model seems an ideal solution to deal with complex situations on the factory floor, there are two caveats. The first is that competitors working in the same factory don't want to share data, and a human employee needs to be able to intervene.

The second caveat? Human unpredictability. Even if we could operate a factory in which the commercial interests of only one party were involved, the centrally controlled scenario would fall to pieces as soon as one person walked around the factory—a person with his or her own autonomy and authority.

Imagine, for example, that the human employee (the creative architect, as we labeled that individual earlier) notices that a robot is doing something wrong and gets involved to rectify the fault. At that moment, the whole system would come to a standstill, as the virtual brain would have lost all control. Hence, this model might only be valid for industrial facilities that focus on the production of bulk goods, and where the role of humans is minimal—or, in the long run, perhaps even non-existent.

A New Form of Artificial Intelligence: Complex Reasoning
In other words, whenever man and machine have to work together, we will need to use different methods to cater to human unpredictability, and to ensure that robots can anticipate it.

One particularly promising principle is complex reasoning, a new form of artificial intelligence (AI) that can be used to teach machines how to reason autonomously and anticipate the actions of something or someone else. However, there is still a long way to go before we can put the principle of complex reasoning into practice. After all, AI as we know it today is based on deep learning, a powerful technology designed to recognize patterns in huge amounts of data. In the meantime, we have mastered this technology, so now the goal is to take the next step and have machines ask themselves, "How do my actions affect the actions of people around me?"

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