Skynet Is Not the One You Should Be Fearing - Fear Your Favourite Car Manufacturer Instead

26 Apr 2024

When James Cameron first teased Terminator 2 back in the day, it was through a 90-second teaser that showed an automated robot factory pumping out endless rows of robots, ending with a shot of Arnold as the build process completed. Pure pulp fiction.

Or was it?

Fast forward to 2024, and we are now entering the era of the hyperfactory, where the main body of cars is autonomously assembled every 76 seconds.

No, that’s not a mistype because Xaoimi, the smartphone OEM, has entered the electric vehicle arena with the SU7 and with it, a factory setup that is 91% automated with 400 robots armed with HD cameras and can operate in the dark.

It reminds me of the time I spent on stage at the Big Data Expo in China with the chairman of Foxconn, and we debated the merits of running a smartphone factory with the lights off — because who needs lights when it’s just the robots running the show?

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

— Warren Bennis

Watching the keynote reveal is an eye-opening vision of the future of manufacturing but not in the way you think.

“We have 269 welding machines to achieve 100% automated production and have the 36 robots to achieve 0.5 millimeters of assembly precision”

“…industry leading seven axis coating robots with 70,000 RPM, it can make the paint coverage extremely fine balanced. This produces a natural flat and smooth finish..”

“AMR robots that can replace forklifts/internal transport around the factory…”

The best part is that the cars can then drive themselves off the factory line with the autopilot software that the company has introduced. In all, it’s a fascinating look at the future of car manufacturing. But there’s something else to consider.

We are looking at the precursor of mass-produced, highly automated robot and drone production, something that I can’t help but compare to that dystopian movie.

Because, let’s face it, everything is starting to point towards it. We have major AI players all rushing to give their hyperbolic algorithms some form of physical embodiment to contextually understand the world around them in a new dimension. The idea that military, DARPA, or even startup funding won’t find its way to a hyperfactory of this kind is ludicrous because they’ll be eyeing this up as a way to mass-produce killer drones and robotic tech in the blink of an eye if it means flooding the market with robotic slaves.

One of the best (read: accurate) dystopian movies of the future to this day is Elysium by Neill Blomkamp, but even then, his vision of a robotic factory is forcing human labor to manufacture the military machines that take the piss on a daily basis. It just won’t be like that.

It’s time to pay close attention to other industries for clues as to how stuff like Terminator or The Matrix could feasibly come true — our hubris in automating the human out of every job role and process will ultimately lead us to a path where automation can be easily retooled and reprogrammed to manufacture something else.

And it won’t be a Roomba.