More Robots, Fewers Humans on the Factory Floor


Photo: Getty

Today’s Top Stories
 — A Shift to Robots in Manufacturing Accelerates: A Foxconn factory gives up more than half of its 110,000 workers.
 — Not Everywhere Yet, Though: AI is growing spectacularly, but it’s not ready to challenge humans.
 — Greentown Labs Incubates Next-Generation Clean Technologies: Watch the latest NewCo Spotlight.
 — Coke’s Sweet Future With Less Sugar: Market and political forces are helping the company make tough changes.
 — Big Bird Is a Venture Capitalist: Sesame Street’s parent company is investing in a way that doubles down on its mission.
 — Microsoft Did a Bad Thing. Now It’s Doing an Annoying Thing: The company resorts to malware tactics and then backs off.
 — This Week on NewCo Shift

A Shift to Robots in Manufacturing Accelerates
 In China, robots are replacing human workers in a big way. A Foxconn factory in Kunshan, the manufacturing hub in Jiangsu province, is cutting 60,000 factory workers from its 110,000 (South China Morning Post). Part of this is due to a reduction in factory output, but the company says the primary reason for the cut is that most of the former employees’ work will now be done by automated devices. Key quote from a Kunshan official Xu Yulian: “More companies are likely to follow suit.”

Not Everywhere Yet, Though
 News like that out of Kunshan shows how the shift to new forms of manufacturing is accelerating, but it’s worth remembering that artificial intelligence is still generated by human intelligence. At a panel convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (New York Times), experts noted the tremendous improvements in machine vision and speech recognition, but asserted that current-generation AI “is still far from matching the flexibility and learning capability of the human mind.” That may be true, but today’s Foxconn news shows that AI doesn’t need to hit Skynet levels of autonomy to cause tremendous impact on the job market.

Greentown Labs Incubates Next-Generation Clean Technologies
 In our latest video spotlight, Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert shares how it helps startups developing hardware-based clean technologies to solve the world’s largest energy and environmental challenges.

Coke’s Sweet Future With Less Sugar
 Companies like Coca-Cola are widely excoriated for peddling sugar, and there are plenty of reasons why sugar isn’t such a great business right now (Wired). Sugar drinks may become more expensive due to a series of taxes on them currently in various stages of implementation, and the price of the commodity itself is volatile but rising. Coca-Cola, responding to the severe sugar shortage in leading supplier Venezuela, has suspended production there. The company has been diversifying from its all-sugar diet for a long time (Diet Coke was introduced in 1982). With so much regulatory and consumer concern, there’s never been a better time for the company to move forward by keeping the promises it’s making, like reducing the calories in half its beverages in the UK to low or none by 2020, mostly by losing the sugar.

Big Bird Is a Venture Capitalist
 Earlier this year Sesame Workshop, the parent company of Sesame Street, launched Sesame Ventures, a fund that works with VC firms to invest in education-technology startups. The New Yorker checks in to see how it’s doing. Sesame Ventures is not primarily an attempt to generate revenue (that’s what the HBO deal was for). Instead, the idea is to do a very Sesame Street thing: nurture developing projects that could make a difference. It’s not a large fund, but it’s heartening to see a company fund in a way that’s consistent with its broader mission.

Microsoft Did a Bad Thing. Now It’s Doing an Annoying Thing
 When you’re designing software, it’s a fine line between promoting good user behavior and manipulating the user. Microsoft wants PC users to upgrade to Windows 10, a more secure and reliable version of its flagship operating system, but it was doing so using malware techniques (BBC), by starting an upgrade even if users explicitly indicated they didn’t want one. The outcry to this “nasty trick” was swift and loud, so Microsoft added an extra step letting people cancel automated upgrades. The company will still nag those using earlier versions of Windows in perpetuity until they upgrade, which no one will enjoy, but it’s a step on the moral continuum farther away from altering a system even when there are explicit instructions not to.

This Week on NewCo Shift
 It’s a short week here at The Daily as we get ahead of the long holiday weekend in the US. While you’re waiting for us to return on Tuesday, read some of the best work we published this week: editor in chief John Battelle’s The World’s Biggest Industry Just Got Served, which examines how the FDA’s new food labels catch up to reality — and will drive the biggest shift the industry has seen in recent history. I interview Foundry Group Managing Director Seth Levine about his venture capital firm’s decision to register as a B Corp. And we read The Achievement Habit so you don’t have to. See you next week!

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