The story of our relationship with tools was written over a 100 years ago, when we first encountered factories, assembly lines and other industrialist marvels.

It started off as true inventiveness and human ingenuity. Machines could suddenly extend our arms, legs and brains. We could travel faster, communicate further and extended our efficiency to levels before unimagined.

How ironic is it then that the more we continued innovating the more stale and standardized we forced ourselves to be. Once we built a factory, to whatever magnificent level of excellence, it was done. It was finite. Now it was a question of making it as efficient as possible.

If I were a carpenter–say in 1912–and somehow managed to design, build and pay for a a chair–making factory I would start by planing. I would consider all of the smart ideas one might have about to make chair–making better. What is the most durable material I could use? what shape should make packing easiest? What rubber should I use for my assembly line?

This step will involve thinking, experimenting and trialing. The process will conditionally end in a taxonomic reality. A schema of how my instance of a chair-making factory could and should work.

Once I start making chairs — that is, the moment I open the doors and start my conveyor — the inventiveness would have ended. At that point I will not be able to afford new (big) ideas. It is all done and cemented. I would need to focus on making.

I start hiring workers, and managers — make sure they know how to use the equipment and they the whole system operates correctly. However, I soon realize that the humans components of my system are less predictable. They go out to smoke a cigarette, operate the machinery in different pace, and fluctuate in their moods and enthusiasm.

when I seek advice on how to standardize this situation I am told of a book by Frederick Winslow Taylor:

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first. This in no sense, however, implies that great men are not needed. On the contrary, the first object of any good system must be that of developing first-class men; and under systematic management the best man rises to the top more certainly and more rapidly than ever before.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management

Using this framework I start using timers and logs for every move and step in my factory. Each piece in the assembly line, the duration of lunch breaks and how long does a shift change take. All computed to maximize output and organize my system.


Looking back at this with the benefit of knowing about machine learning, autonomous vehicles and programmable computers I hope that the concept of human–robots has explained itself.

A human–robot is a human programmed to do something a machine can do better. Moreover a human–robot is more often than not waiting to be automated.

The tension between human–robots and human–humans is fascinating and it is where ideas come from.

We [human] are really good at things that are inefficient. Science is inherently inefficient. It runs on that fact that you have one failure after another. […] Innovation by definition is inefficient, because you make prototypes, because you try stuff that fails, that doesn’t work. Exploration is inherently inefficiency. Art is not efficient. Human relationships are not efficient. These are all the kinds of things we’re going to gravitate to, because they’re not efficient. Efficiency is for robots

Kevin Kelly: How AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution


We are arriving at new times. And while we better not start an AI religion they will fundamentally change our relationship with tools, our relationship with ourselves and the world that surrounds both.