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Manufacturing: The Revolution Ahead

“It is way harder to make the machine that makes the machine

than it is to make the machine in the first place.” – Elon Musk, 2014

Manufacturing is on the cusp of an exciting new age. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already making deep inroads into how things are built in factories, and buzzwords like AGI, quantum computing, and even nuclear fusion are adding to the enthusiasm.

An extremely AI-optimistic movement called Effective Accelerationism (e/acc) is drawing both acolytes and critics to their vision of a much faster integration of AI into virtually everything, including manufacturing. And they want AI R&D to be boosted to near-unimaginable levels. Sam Altman, who is now among the most recognisable tech leaders in the world, concurs emphatically – the OpenAI CEO is seeking a mind-boggling $7 trillion in investment for the path-breaking company, renowned for ChatGPT. Concomitant advances in quantum computing promise to help achieve this vision, and global consultancies like Accenture have described the potential of these technologies to revolutionise ‘the world of manufacturing optimisation and efficiency, unlocking previously unimaginable possibilities.’

Research firm Avanade has found that an unprecedented 91 percent of manufacturers worldwide have solid plans to be ‘AI-first’ within 12 months.

Manufacturing executives’ intentions. (Source: Avanade)

According to Deloitte, top consultancies rank AI, including generative AI (GenAI), as the leading technology for disrupting manufacturing. Executives expect AI to boost productivity and power the factory of the future with new systems for assistance, recommendation, and autonomy.

And it’s not just companies – entire countries are rolling out national strategies around the changing paradigm. Saudi Arabia, which is frenetically preparing itself for a post-oil future, has just announced a massive $40 billion push into AI that includes manufacturing plants. In China – already the world’s biggest manufacturing economy – top government AI adviser Zhao Xiaoguang has announced a push for far greater integration of AI into China’s vast swathe of factories that supply the world.

Source: Hitachi

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Australia’s economy has largely moved away from manufacturing in recent decades, with Australian companies opting to outsource most manufacturing to China. However, the dawn of the AI age has given new impetus to plans for boosting local manufacturing.

A report entitled ‘Australia’s Generative AI Opportunity,’ released jointly by the Tech Council of Australia and Microsoft, has forecast that Australia’s manufacturing sector stands to gain a whopping $45bn to $115bn in value per year by 2030 through the adoption of GenAI. This rosy picture is, however, marred by the fact that only 20 percent of Australian manufacturers currently use AI in any meaningful way.

Source: Technology Council of Australia

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The predictions discussed above look exciting but still a bit staid compared to what people like James Pethokoukis, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, envision.

Pethokoukis, a well-known economic policy analyst, believes that we may be about to see a ‘combinatorial windfall’ from the convergence of AI, quantum computing, room-temperature superconductors, and thermonuclear fusion. Already, CNN has reported that researchers at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have employed AI to prevent the occurrence of a key problem that has slowed down the path towards fusion. Such AI-enabled advances will almost certainly bring forward the first fully functional fusion reactors.

Because fusion reactors would be able to provide virtually limitless energy, their arrival would further boost energy-hungry AI and quantum computing, creating a virtuous loop. Projects previously only dreamt of, including fusion-powered desalination plants that generate entire new rivers flowing across Australia’s dry interior, would become realistic. With both energy, water, and AI-driven systems in abundance, entirely new forms of manufacturing would begin to arrive.

From our vantage point, the possibilities are indeed beginning to look endless.

Source: The Future of Industrial AI in Manufacturing, The Manufacturing Leadership Council

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