This week Chrysler announced that it will start building cars for American market in China [1, 2]. By this move it hopes to tap into the cheap Chinese labor and save itself from bankruptcy. But there is a downside: the move requires transferring the newest technology to the potential rival.
Despite the big noise TRIZ consultants make in America, none of them has noticed that it is a typical technical contradiction: gains in one group of parameters (cheap labor and bright prospects for the immediate future) result in loss in the other group of parameters (evaporating technological edge and undermining the own future). None of them offered a way to avoid the dangerous path.
Meanwhile the contemporary technology allows to resolve this contradiction. There is no need to have workers and manufacturing at the same place anymore. All works can be performed remotely via the internet.
Humans need not be present at manufacturing plants nowadays. They can be substituted by mobile manipulators operated by remote tele-workers. If a manipulator has enough cameras and sensors and his arms are controlled by computers, a remote "driver" of the manipulator could be completely in control of the scene and would be able to perform any action required in manufacturing.
It is not about robotization of manufacturing. Robotization is still unachievable with the current state of the art. Robots's artificial intelligence is still not a match to human intelligence. But dumb computerized mobile manipulators operated by tele-workers can easily squeeze on-site workers out of the plants. Such human driven manipulators can do anything. Even service and repair of manipulators themselves could be performed by other manipulators.
So, instead of building plants in countries with cheap labor American companies could build huge operators rooms over there. Technology and plants would remain in America. But all manufacturing operations would be performed by cheap remote tele-workers.
There is one problem with this plan, though. There are no such manipulators commercially available yet. Not that they cannot be built but simply there was no demand for them so far. The cries of the expensive American labor befallen American economy suddenly. It was impossible to get prepared to it by launching the new industry of the universal mobile remotely controlled manipulators in advance. Nobody foresaw the need in them beforehand. And now when they are needed, they would turn out to be much more expensive than American workers, should their design and production commence. They would not become an alternative to moving plants overseas. The manipulators have had to be long in development before they would have become economically attractive.
So what needs to be done now ? There is no alternative to moving plants overseas if we want to reduce the labor cost. The unavoidable side-effect of the latest technology falling into the hands of the potential adversaries should not worry us. It is because we have the vision of the even better technology: plants with no humans filled with manipulators remotely controlled by operators working from home (or operators' rooms at worst).
While shipping the latest technology overseas we should start designing and manufacturing the future technology based on manipulators which we will keep for ourselves. The whole assembly lines will have to be re-designed and adjusted to accommodate them. There will be many challenges ahead: how to make a manipulator as small and as versatile and as powerful as the human body. All these parameters may turn out to be contradictory. The human body may turn out to be quite a perfect machine in this respect.
And when it is achieved, we will simply shut down the plants in China, build huge operators' rooms there, and will enjoy shipping manufacturing jobs abroad without the need of shipping manufacturing itself (and our technological secrets) too.