Automate 2017

Robots so advanced, when they dance, they “do the human” 

Who are we kidding…machines have already taken over. Any ‘human’ who attended Automate 2017 this week can vouch: the lines have never been more indistinct between virtual and actual, A.I. and H.I., intuition and cognition.

The biennial conference, held this year at McCormick Place in Chicago and paired with the Promat 2017 material handling expo, is a show in more than just title. Walking the floors felt like a scene from Transformers, with robots asking you questions, offering assistance, even trying to read your mind.

The convention has not skimped on its keynote speakers. Monday saw Andrew Winston, sustainability expert and co-author of Green to Gold: How Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage leading a panel of manufacturing and supply chain sustainability leaders. This panel’s standout was Tamara Barker, Chief Sustainability Officer at United Parcel Service (UPS). We’ve all probably noticed UPS’ marketing and visual transition over the past decade, and seen those “logistics” commercials. What we haven’t seen—and what Mrs. Barker dissected—is a company that has utilized synchronized automation and data analytics to facilitate its public makeover and save itself millions in operations costs. Baker’s personal story is an enthralling one; she went from a true-blue (and brown) UPS truck driver to her current position over a ten-year span. The hands-on worker, it seems, does often have the best scope of how to improve the overall operation.

Tuesday saw Markus Lorenz dive into the behemoth that is “Industry 4.0”. “The fourth industrial revolution is upon us: machines infused with intelligence.” Lorenz explored how manufacturing and supply chains work today, and will progress, with their new “employees”, and also addressed how automation will affect the economy and what kinds of new jobs it will create.

What’s the only thing robots can’t do? Win championship rings. Maybe that’s why the convention’s Hump Day speaker was none other than Magic himself—NBA Hall of Famer and successful entrepreneur Earvin Johnson. Magic talked to a starstruck audience about how he dedicated himself to bringing jobs and high quality products and services to under-served communities. He did this by developing unprecedented partnerships with major corporations as he wrote the corporate blueprint for engagement and success with urban consumers across America.

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