Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Manufacturing 2.0

By Alan Finkel

The motor industry collapse brings urgency to the manufacturing dilemma.

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Traditional manufacturing is declining rapidly in Australia. The recent domino collapse of the automotive manufacturing industry makes it vital that we address the issue now. We have to decide what the manufacturing sector should aspire to – jobs growth or economic growth. Over coming decades, increased revenue from fewer jobs might be the best we can hope for because we are entering an era of extreme automation.

The most advanced example of extreme automation I know of is IBM’s Watson computer, which won the TV game show Jeopardy. Watson is now being retrained as an expert oncology advisor to provide second opinions to senior cancer physicians at specialty cancer centres such as the Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York. If automation is about to transform this high end of human achievement, one can assume that every sector of the economy will be affected – and manufacturing more than most.

In the past, jobs growth stimulated by new technologies has compensated for losses in redundant occupations., but some economists think this might not be repeated this time – we may be looking at permanent unemployment for many. Andrew McAfee and Bjorn Brynjolfsson of Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim that automation already explains, at least in part, the increasing gap between productivity and jobs growth and the hollowing out of middle-class jobs. If...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.