Research Builds America's Future
Arthur D. Little is one of the oldest and most distinguished industrial consultant firms in the country. Its president, RAYMOND STEVENS, who has been studying research problems of American industry since 1920, points to the new directions in which industry will develop in the decades ahead.
BY 2057, the world will have made technical advances far greater than those of the Atlantic’s first hundred years, for science now progresses not in the linear fashion of Arabic numerals but logarithmically. As the steam engine and the electric motor brought about an industrial revolution with economic and social repercussions, so the products of current research promise a new renaissance, with its physical aspects overshadowed by great social change.
The first fruits of the new renaissance have been harvested. Man’s basic needs for food, shelter, and health are met increasingly with the aid of technology. And science makes it easier, each day, to communicate throughout the social world — so much so that Jules Verne’s once radical choice of eighty days seems almost incredibly quaint. Drudgery is under attack, and the next century may become known not as a second Age of Enlightenment, but an Age of Lightening of the burden of repetitive tasks, whether physical or mental.
The effects of research are felt in every corner of the world. Since knowledge is by definition power, the greater spread of scientific knowledge and method should give to all the peoples of the world a growing measure of control over their physical environment and their destinies.
FOOD AND DRINK
The next generation will be better fed than any the world has ever known; this is the statement of a leading nutritional biochemist. By “better fed” he means that man will have a proper balance of proteins and the optimum supply of fats and carbohydrates and of vital organic compounds. No longer will pregnant cattle be privileged over humans in being given the special diets essential to the well-being of their offspring. Dangerous diets will be recognized and presumably avoided as a matter of course, but it is conceivable also that there will be less attention given to diets that will sustain life and more to those that will make life worth living.
Technologists have already made it possible to store food between seasons and to move it safely over long distances to market. South African rock lobster tails are no novelty in New York restaurants or supermarkets. Our present diet, in spite of what some carping critics say, is far more varied, more balanced, flavorful, and attractive than the food “mother used to make.” The commercial and nutritive values of foodstuffs are matters for careful analysis throughout the food industry. Panels of trained students of flavor and odor in many food companies spend months studying a single food product — identifying its components and modifying them if necessary to assist the processors in improving both food value and sales appeal. The wide acceptance of dehydrated coffee and frozen concentrated orange juice shows what can be done.
One of the first objectives in food research was to preserve the flavor and nutritive value of foodstuffs for modern military needs. Dehydrated foods were prepared experimentally in World War I, but they were unappetizing, unattractive, and fairly low in nutritional value. Now, following techniques developed to meet military needs since the Second World War, we preserve foods by irradiation, by dehydration, by freezing, by antibiotic treatment, and by combinations of these methods. By tying these procedures in with more orthodox approaches to processing, storage, and transportation of foodstuffs, the food industry will be able to offer in its products a fullness of flavor and nutritional value not now known.
Concurrently, new extensions of the food supply are being developed, often through a combination of technology and personal inspiration. The production of pineapples in Hawaii increased from cultivation of only 12 acres in 1901 to more than 73,000 acres in 1954. Partly, the increase followed the work of agronomists, who solved the problem of fertilization without hummingbirds, destroyed the ruinous nematodes with synthetic insecticides, and painted the leaves of the plants with iron for nutrition. But, as important as any step, James Dole sustained and directed the promotional effort that has made the pineapple and its juice available and popular in America today.
A few months ago, the research laboratory of a leading manufacturer produced a garment made completely from a liquid raw material. The garment, which had been sprayed on a form, was fibrous, flexible, and economical. It was presented as a potential throwaway item — one cheaper to replace than to launder.
The sheep and the cotton boll have not ceded place entirely to the test tube, but the manufacture of clothing depends less each year on the products of nature. The names of some of the synthetic fabrics are rapidly passing into the popular speech without public appreciation that they are registered trade names. The word rayon is so familiar that most consumers probably fail to realize that it identifies a man-made fabric, the result of the chemist’s work with nature’s cellulose. The products of research combine with natural fibers in fabrics that preserve the good qualities of both types and enhance the usefulness, performance, and appearance of the combinations.
If progress continues, the materials used in clothing will not involve the man-hours of labor traditional in the industry. The machines that make cloth operate today at speeds unheard of when Lowell was in its heyday, and they can produce better, more attractive, and far more diverse fabrics. The mass market for garments in any price range can be accommodated with ease, because engineering development of textile machinery has progressed so far.
Competitive developments in the field —not least of them the non-woven “sprayed-on” garment — imply further drastic change. Presumably the only area science will not have the temerity to attack is that of style!
Ever since the days of Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus, with its acceptance of the machine “as the essentially modern vehicle of form,” there has been much closer association between architects and construction engineers. Technological advances, whether in materials of construction, appliances for comfort, or case of assembly, are designed into homes and offices at the outset.
The modern urban house is still a monstrosity, however — probably less well adapted to the noise, dirt, and commotion of a large city than the homes of the great urban civilizations of the past. The wider use of year-round air conditioning — plus reasonable help from optical and acoustical technologists who have due regard for aesthetic values — presumably will mean the proliferation of homes completely independent of external climatic and noise conditions.
Not only in his home, but also at his place of business, man must operate effectively and in comfort. World War II stimulated new controlled studies of the psychological aspects of manufacturing operations. In all branches of industry, there are now more and more investigations in which physical chemists coöperate with psychologists, biologists with chemists, and physicists with meteorologists, in an integrated attack on the human problems involved in the production of goods. The possibilities are tremendous.
There will be ups and downs in the progress of housing technology, of course. The excesses of prefabrication to the stage of dreary uniformity must be guarded against. Flexibility can be built into the mass-produced house as new, cheap, and easy-to-handle materials change the builder’s art. The present crude conversion of products from the forest and quarry will become obsolete, just as most of our structures even now are technologically obsolete.
What will be the effect of research-based industrial progress on the pattern of life in the next hundred years? It has long been known that technical changes in the basic industries — those providing food, shelter, and the essential amenities — will have a revolutionary effect on other industries. So far, these changes have been physical, with a high barrier between research work in the physical sciences and human activity. But the barrier has broken down, and the significance of the current integrated attack has only recently become apparent.
In the scientific world, you don’t know anything until you can measure it. “Nearly all the grandest discoveries of science are but the rewards of accurate measurement and patient, long-continued labor in the minute sifting of numerical results.” So said Lord Kelvin around 1855.
Kelvin had in mind the physical sciences, and until recently his statement was thought to be applicable principally to them. But in recent years there has come a surge of quantitative analysis, measured experiment, and reconstruction in wide fields of human endeavor formerly considered outside the scope of so sophisticated an approach. The measurement of promotional results, the determination of optimum incentive practices, and the design of airplane controls for the best use of their operators’ abilities are typical. A glimmer of possibilities appeared two generations ago, when Frederick Winslow Taylor, the engineer-father of scientific management, started the precise measurement of the time and motion of industrial workers. This was followed by an army of “efficiency engineers,” who lost face when hosts of relatively incompetent enthusiasts climbed aboard and an efficiency engineer was stigmatized as one who was neither efficient nor an engineer. But then came the development of industrial engineering on a sound basis, and the well-trained industrial engineer is now fully accepted as a significant factor in industry.
During the Second World War operational analysis, or operations research, made an advance comparable only to Taylor’s. It was found that physicists, physical chemists, mathematicians, and specialists from other disciplines previously considered far outside the practical world of commerce and industry were able to make major contributions to complex problem solving. A new sophistication came into the analysis and handling of vast amounts of data in complicated situations, first military, then industrial.
As this trend continues, management will become less and less a matter of simple judgment based on experience and native ability; it will become increasingly professional. And integrated with it will be professionals with advanced education and training in the sciences — physical sciences, engineering, psychology, mathematics, and their many branches. The barrier between the professional engineer or scientist and management has disappeared in many of the most successful growth industries — this may even be one reason they are growing industries — and this type of increased sophistication is spreading.
The pure scientist investigates basic laws and creates generalized concepts. Then follows imaginative application of the new knowledge by applied scientists and engineers through trial, experiment, modification, retrial, and more experiment, to achieve practical results — new sources of comfort, convenience, health, and wellbeing. The methods involved in this pattern of research and development were first applied only in a narrow field of technically oriented industries. But now, as more of the total range of human endeavor is opened to measurement and control, the methods and philosophy find widespread application. We may expect in all industries the same refinement in method and practice that is now taken for granted in many phases of the chemical industry, which first benefited from this newthinking and practice.
Curious and unpredictable reversals can be assumed. One is already apparent: the “laboringman" and the “white collar worker” may exchange their relative social and economic status and community acceptance. Curiously, this is in part the direct result of automation. Instead of hundreds of Charlie Chaplins wielding wrenches on successively numbered nuts and bolts, highly intelligent, highly trained, highly paid “laborers" direct the operations of expensive, complicated, automatic equipment.
An example appears in the chemical industry, where an output worth many thousands of dollars a day is controlled by a few intelligent, thoroughly trained technologists with short hours, little drudgery, and high standing in the community. It is at least possible that the ancient institution of the craftsman will return, and that once again intelligence, long apprenticeship, and intellectual interest in their craft will characterize industrial workers. Drudgery can be left, by more intelligent selection methods, to those more adaptable to it by limited ability, temperament, or actual preference — or to machines. With the continued integration of science and industry, the term industry itself should broaden its scope, with less distinction, for example, between production and services and between agriculture and manufacturing. The pattern of “working for a living” will become more uniform — at least to the extent of raising even the more menial tasks, through automation, to a socially acceptable level.
As the standard of living rises, we can expect a corollary increase in the service industries that cater to the requirements of leisure or help sustain basic production in a variety of ways. There are already more television repairmen than television salesmen; there are more clerical workers for the oil companies than there arc drilling crewmen.
Even the service industries benefit from automation. Much of Bob Cratchit’s work has been given over to the adding machine; in terms of time saved, Scrooge could afford to give him a whole day off for Christmas. But today’s merchants, operating on a scale not even hinted at by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, require masses of figures on almost every conceivable type of operation.
THE CLERICAL REVOLUTION
Transportation, financing, merchandising, and many other industries are increasingly susceptible to automation. Their own brand of renaissance, the clerical revolution, has begun. One of our largest banking institutions treats the money in its branches as an inventory problem; mathematics is invoked to determine the optimum quantity needed to service customers while keeping a minimum of expensively idle cash on hand. A bus company uses mathematicians to determine the most efficient utilization of its fleets. A large advertiser makes a quantitative study of the impact of his promotion of new items. Those and other current projects give earnest of future business practices so sophisticated that by comparison present industry will seem as crude as the cave man’s club.
Much of this development will follow growth in machine size and complexity. The adding machine, which cannot compete with the abacus for speed, is a simple toy compared with the powerful “giant brains” of today. Whether working with actual numbers, as do the digital computers, or representative quantities, as do the analog computers, electronic calculating equipment is now being applied to the most diverse problems of both science and industry. A major aim is to save time — clerical time and drudgery — but also the machine designers look to providing more and better information more accurately than a clerk can. And the application of machine control to complex manufacturing processes, from an incoming order through the scheduling of production, controlling quality, and billing out, is only the beginning.
But of course no machine is smarter than the man who runs it, and it is only the trivial and repetitive, time-consuming operations that are fully relegated to these new brain-supplementers. A high order of intelligence is required of the operators who instruct the machines to perform their appointed tasks and who interpret the results for the benefit of industrial and social growth.
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
Certainly the welding of science to industry and the development of new products and processes through research will continue to shape the industrial pattern. But one of the most satisfying trends is that toward the emphasis on human values and an awareness of their significance to profits. Taking this trend into account, we can look for changes in the pattern of the last century — changes that will affect regional life, educational opportunity, and the chance for the individual to fill up his growing leisure in a positive way.
The body of human knowledge is vast. A civilization based on the proper application of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, psychology, and economics requires a supply of citizens competent to carry out activities in a manner far more sophisticated than was needed in the simpler civilizations that have preceded us. The level of performance required of the nonexistent “average man” is high; that of the genius must obviously be so much the higher.
The best of the “liberal” colleges are giving more adequate attention to disciplines useful in applied research and eventually in commercial and industrial operations. At the same time, the best of the science and engineering schools are giving far more than lip service to a proper balance between science or engineering and the humanities. The common aim is a more suitable education for future living. But the threats are from outside the industrial laboratory, the factory, the store, or the office. Whether advances in the study of human relations and motivations can be integrated with technological progress and whether an educational program can offset inherited or transmitted selfishness, instinct for power, and jealousy, are quite obviously open to question. But it seems unlikely that current advances will give way to another protracted dark age of open antagonism, want, and misery.
Leadership in the new renaissance may be partly the result of planning. For example, at least two large American companies have organized staffs to attack the problem of more efficient utilization of their technical personnel. In its simplest terms, this means the elimination of waste effort, keeping technical men on assignments at their highest level of competence, and relieving them of work that can be done by less able, less brilliant, or less highly trained associates, or by machines. If this work continues, if it grows in scope to match a large increase of population, a better knowledge of nutrition and general health, and a more enthusiastic effort to discover, encourage, and develop brilliant youth, then more than one Einstein may appear in the next century as a direct outgrowth of the present activity in applied science.