In recent years we’ve become accustomed to regular predictions that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will soon replace everything from factory workers to lawyers and even doctors. Only last month, influential economic think tank Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned a revolution in automation will leave 66 million jobs worldwide at risk of being replaced by machines in the near future.
However, in a rare win for humans, electric car trailblazer Tesla Motors — which operates what is believed to be the most automated production line of any carmaker on the planet — last month admitted they had installed too many robots on the company’s Model 3 assembly line. These were blamed for slowing down production and causing severe delays. Production targets were slashed from an initial 5,000 cars per week to 2,500 and then 2,000.
During an interview last month with US television network CBS, billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk described the manufacturing line at Tesla as “production hell” and posted the following mea culpa on Twitter: “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.” The company was forced to pull the plug on some of its robots and employ more humans.
The problem centers around Tesla’s newest product, the Model 3, a mid-range sedan with a base price of US$35,000 that forms the backbone of the electric carmaker’s long-term strategy to bring electric car driving to the masses.
It is a marked turnaround from the euphoria of the Model 3’s unveiling back in 2016 when Tesla received over 400,000 pre-orders for the new model in just 10 days after the announcement. Back then, Musk confidently predicted the Tesla factory, a sprawling complex in California’s Silicon Valley, would be turned into an “alien dreadnought” with a small army of robotic arms churning out cars at breakneck speed.
There is currently little detail in the public domain about the precise cause of the production bottlenecks aside from the interview Musk gave to CBS, during which he said too much new technology was put into the Model 3 at once and should have been staggered. Musk also alluded to a problem of over-automization, referring to a “crazy, complex network of conveyor belts” which failed to work and had to be completely abandoned.
According to analysts at Wall Street firm Bernstein, quoted by Business Insider, “Tesla has tried to hyper-automate final assembly. We believe Tesla has been too ambitious with automation on the Model 3 line.” Bernstein adds that Japanese carmakers try to limit automation because it “is expensive and is statistically inversely correlated to quality.” According to Bernstein, Japanese automakers get the process right first, then introduce the robots: the opposite of Musk’s approach.
Does this mean predictions of robo-droids programmed with AI sending humans to the scrapheap are premature?
It is not the first time Tesla has encountered production hiccups. The company had to overcome similar bumps in the road with its Model X SUV, but production now appears to be back on track.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
As for the Model 3, the latest signs are positive. Musk recently said Tesla has managed to stabilize Model 3 production at 2,000 units a week, while delivery times have shortened. Musk also recently tweeted that he expects Tesla will be profitable and cash flow positive by the third and fourth quarters of this year.
Sales of the Model 3 are looking good, too, with the car accelerating past competition from BMW and Mercedes-Benz earlier this month to become the best-selling mid-size sedan in the state of California, according to news Web site Electrek. Tesla — and Musk — certainly have a track record of proving naysayers wrong and turning difficult situations around. Perhaps we should still fear the robot revolution after all.
(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
不過，人類最近也難得扳回一城：電動車領域的先驅特斯拉汽車公司的營運著被視為地球上所有汽車製造業者中最為自動化的生產線，該公司在上個月坦承，他們在公司Model 3 車款的組裝線上安裝了太多機器人，這被認為是拖累製造速度並導致嚴重延誤的元凶。車輛製造的目標數量從最初的一週五千輛大砍為兩千五百輛，而後又降為兩千輛。
這並不是特斯拉第一次遭遇小規模的生產延誤。該公司在生產運動型休旅車Model X 時早已順利克服類似的顛簸，現在該車款的製造看起來已回到正軌。
最新跡象顯示，Model 3 仍然大有可為。馬斯克近日指出，特斯拉已成功把Model 3 的生產量穩定在一週兩千輛，也已縮短交貨時間。馬斯克最近也發布推文，表示他預期特斯拉會在今年的第三季與第四季轉為有盈利的公司，並產生正現金流。
根據Electrek新聞網報導，Mode 3 銷售持續看好，在這個月稍早還加速擺脫了與BMW和賓士之間的競爭，成為加州最暢銷的中型轎車。特斯拉以及馬斯克在證明唱衰者預測錯誤並且扭轉困局等方面，確實擁有良好的記錄。或許，人類仍然應該對機器人革命抱持著戒慎恐懼的態度。
The birth of modern car production: the Ford Model T
The Ford Model T, produced between 1908 and 1927 by the Ford Motor Company, was the world’s first affordable motor car and made the automobile accessible to the middle classes for the first time. A major factor in the Model T’s success was the way it was manufactured: It was the first car to be mass-produced on a moving assembly line, which enabled the company to sell its product at a price significantly lower than its competitors.
The moving assembly line, developed by the company’s founder Henry Ford, streamlined the production process by breaking it down into 84 distinct steps performed by work groups. Workers assembled the cars as they moved along the production line, pulled by a rope.
Instead of moving teams of workers around the cars, the moving assembly line brought the car to the workers. The system revolutionized car production and reduced the assembly time for a vehicle from 12 hours to about 90 minutes. This enabled Ford to reduce the price of the Model T from US$850 to under US$300.
As the production process became ever-more refined, a Ford Model T eventually rolled off the production line every 24 seconds and by 1927 the company had sold more than 15 million Model Ts worldwide, accounting for half of all automobile sales at the time.
(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
1. robot n.
機器人 (ji1 qi4 ren2)
2. artificial intelligence phr.
人工智慧 (ren2 gong1 zhi4 hui4)
3. automated adj.
自動化的 (zi4 dong4 hua4 de5)
4. production line phr.
生產線 (sheng1 chan3 xian4)
5. bottleneck n.
瓶頸 (ping2 jing3)
6. profitable adj.
有盈利的 (you3 ying2 li4 de5)
7. cash flow positive phr.
正現金流 (zheng4 xian4 jin1 liu2)
Pets are an inseparable part of people’s lives in the modern world. About 65 percent of US households have at least one pet. On a psychological level, pet companionship can bring better psychological wellbeing; on a biological level, our furry friends can boost human immunity. According to a report in Psychology Today, a review carried out by researchers from the UK’s University of Manchester found that the companionship of pets can result in better psychological wellbeing for people with mental health conditions. The diabetes research center of the University of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital analyzed data from over 3 million people,
Let’s dine out tonight (3/5) 今晚我們去餐廳吃飯吧（三） A: Hmm. . . I can’t decide what to order. I’m hesitating between a lamb rogan josh or a beef vindaloo. B: Well, let’s order both and share the dishes. We can also order the tandoori king prawns that I was just eyeing up. A: The prawn dish will perfectly complement the bottle of Australian Chardonnay that I’ve brought along. It’s a great wine, with notes of peaches and lemongrass. B: Cool! Let’s also order some butter naan bread and pilau rice for two. A: 嗯……我無法決定要點哪一道菜。我正在猶豫要點喀什米爾羊肉咖哩，還是辛辣香料牛肉咖哩。 B: 啊，那我們兩個都點，然後分著吃吧。我們還可以點一份坦都里香料烤明蝦，我剛剛一直在看這道菜。 A: 這道明蝦應該能完美搭配我帶來的這瓶澳洲夏多內白葡萄酒。這瓶酒真的很棒哦，帶有桃子和檸檬草的香氣。 B: 酷！那我們也點一些奶油烤餅，和兩人份的香料米飯吧。 （Edward Jones, Taipei Times／台北時報章厚明譯） WARNING: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage
Literary circles have been celebrating the legacy of late writer Eileen Chang, who would have turned 100 on Wednesday next week. Born in Shanghai, the legendary writer shot to fame in her 20s, and continued to write after moving to Hong Kong, and then the US, in the 1950s. Chang is one of the greatest female Chinese writers, and her classic works include Love in a Fallen City, The Golden Cangue, and The Red Rose and the White Rose. Many of her novels, such as Lust, Caution, were adapted into films and TV drama series. Based on Chang’s novel Aloeswood Incense
A: Hello, I’d like to book a table for two please. For 7 o’clock, if possible. B: Certainly, sir. Let me see if I can fit you in. I’m afraid we’re fully booked at that time, but we do have a space at 8pm. A: No problem, 8pm will be fine. B: Thank you. I‘ve reserved you a table for two for 8pm. Just to let you know, we operate a “bring your own” policy for wine, and corkage is NT$50 per bottle. A: OK. See you later on. A: 你好，我想要訂位，兩個人，方便的話晚上七點。 B: 好的，先生。讓我看看能不能幫您安排座位。不好意思，我們那段時間的訂位滿了，不過晚上八點還有空位。 A: 沒問題，晚上八點可以。 B: 謝謝您。我幫您預約晚上八點，兩個人的座位。另外，提醒您本餐廳關於「自行帶酒」的規定，每瓶酒酌收新台幣五十元開瓶費。 A: 好的。我們晚點見。 （Edward Jones,