"Listen. Understand. That Terminator is out there. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with... it doesn't feel pity of remorse or fear... and it absolutely will not stop. Ever." - Kyle Reese (The Terminator, 1984)
How do I sum up why I got involved with co.lab? Well, in a nutshell...
The machines are coming!
Well, not yet - but with the advances in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, an ever increasing number of job sectors are being borne down upon by the prospect of partial or complete automation. Whilst numerous (speculative) solutions have been proposed, it seems clear that major changes are inevitable. In light of this, and in the current "post-truth" political and economic climate, the fostering of broad, interdisciplinary co-operation in the pursuit of technological and creative innovation is better motivated than ever before.
In my opinion, the 'makerspace' model - spaces providing open access to, and training in the use of, fast-prototyping and small-scale manufacturing equipment - provides an excellent opportunity to allow for this innovation; lowering the barrier to entry for inventors and innovators to develop their problems, and automatic mixing of people, ideas, and disciplines.
With the unfortunate closure of MAKlab, Glasgow's only (1) open-access makerspace, the exploration of viable generators of innovation is critical. To this end, co.lab is an excellent opportunity both in terms of showcasing new technologies and in serving as a gauge of interest in a permanent, more comprehensive open-access space.
Manufacturing has, in large part, been moved overseas due to cheaper labour - the exploitation of international "labour arbitrage" opportunities to lower costs has been the driving factor in the flow of manufacturing jobs for the past three decades. This is changing - like any market inefficiency, labour arbitrage is becoming less profitable and "reshoring" is good PR. More important, in my opinion, is that the "spectre" of widespread automation also presents an opportunity for not only private companies, but nation states and their citizens.
The open-access model for space, equipment, and training is an exciting approach which could provide the first step in cultivating an environment of curiosity, innovation, and in increased supply of technologically adept and confident citizens; as such, it may well allow Glasgow, Scotland, and the UK in general to position themselves as world-leaders in the invention and implementation of new products, services, and technologies. An increase in healthy competition in a broad range of future-focussed sectors, as well as a larger pool of talented potential workers, can only be a good thing for our security in the post-work economy (2).
So there we are - the automation train is being assembled and will some day leave the station. We can be run over by it; we can get on board; or we can get involved in building the engine and planning the route!
The opportunities co.lab presents, and the ideals it embodies, are why I'm on board. It's a starting point, possibly allowing us to reach the point where we can make that spectre physical and exclaim:
The machines are going!
1: MAKlab had also expanded, and was continuing to expand, across Scotland.
2: These situations require a broad restructuring of Government policy, which is well outwith the remit of this post! Basic income is one such approach, with pilot programmes planned or underway in Scotland and Finland.