10 Machines Which Exemplify the Human Collective

This post is about 10 of the most productive machines ever created. Nine are in operation. The tenth should be in use next year (2018). All require the constant interaction, management, and maintenance of humans. None are perfect. Each is evolving. And each meets or transcends the definition of the word machine: as a system that “generally consists of a power source and a mechanism for the controlled use of this power” (McCarthy and Soh). I would add, a machine has to have a purpose if its to be used, it has to have a power source, and it has to produce a product.

These are not machines that can yet work without the constant monitoring, attenuating, adjusting, repairing, and input of data from humans. The machines listed might also be amongst the last to be controlled through the use of Artificial Intelligence, as humans still need to adjust the purpose of each as they are in operation. That (or those) purpose(s) will change from time to time.

It is not by any means complete. So I’ll keep the (arbitrary) list short, and the order does not suggest one machine being more important than another. It’s simply how they came to mind.

NASA — is a machine that defies gravity and sends men and women into space. It involves extraordinary use of power, communications, physics, mathematics, chemistry and other so-called STEM disciplines.

It is not the work of one person or a dozen. It’s tens of thousands of people working together during a mission, and hundreds of thousands who have worked together since its formation that allow missions to take place.

The machine essentially moves persons, materials, and satellites, from point A to point B and back again.

SHINKANSEN; The Japanese bullet train system — The train(s) travel at speeds in excess of 300 KPH (200 MPH) and have carried over 7B persons (the population of the world) since it first went into operation.

In the 53 years of its existence, there has only been one fatality. But that occurred when a traveler was struck by a closing door and fell, causing immediate adverse health reactions. In that same time period, US traffic fatalities have exceeded 1.25M persons.

Like NASA, its purpose is the transportation of people and goods, though obviously over much shorter distances.

GLOBAL PORT AUTHORITIES — There are just at 4,936 ports creating a gargantuan web of nodes that include 196 countries around the world. Though many serve passengers and cargo, it’s the major cargo ports that keep the world fed and clothed at least as far as that is the case in 2017.

With visitors, passengers, workers, materials (some hazardous), duties, and tariffs, to be accounted for, managing the 10M plus persons whose livelihood is involved, directly or indirectly, plus tracking and managing of these enterprises, is a Herculean task at best. But so far, each year more information about the state of global commerce can be gleaned from the people and goods that pass through these ports increasing efficiency and decreasing waste.

This sprawling web will only become more efficient as Deep Learning, or Artificial Intelligence, if you will, plays a bigger role in analyzing and planning the movement of goods, and people.

Again, this machine )of disparate parts), moves persons and goods around the globe.

THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH (NIH) — The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency and is made up of 27 different components called Institutes and Centers. Each has its own specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems.

Begun as a one-room Laboratory of Hygiene in 1887 today’s NIH is the steward of medical and behavioral research for the Nation. Its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

The output of this machine is information: Information about human health that can then be utilized across multiple disciplines, such as medicine, triage, and potential threats to humanity.

THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER (LHC) At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 member states.

Scientists use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles.

The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

The LHC consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets.

Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.

The output of this machine is knowledge about the fundamentals of existence at the smallest scale.

U. S. POWER GRID — In the United States, the entire electricity grid consists of hundreds of thousands of miles of high-voltage power lines and millions of miles of low-voltage power lines with distribution transformers that connect thousands of power plants to hundreds of millions of electricity customers all across the country.

Coal; natural gas; 10 major petroleum products, other petroleum products, and total petroleum; nuclear fuel; renewable energy, including hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy, and wood and waste; all contribute to generating power for the grid. Some are more costly to the environment and will be phased out. The shift away from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources puts the machine in a state of flux.

Though some end users of power are now able to generate their own electricity, it will be many years, if not decades, before the grid disappears in its current configuration.

For the time being, this machine will continue to produce power that can then be utilized for various purposes, such as the production of goods, warming or cooling homes, allowing humans to prepare foods, and so on.

THE PANAMA CANAL — Since opening in 1914, more than 850 thousand vessels carrying passengers or cargo, or both, have passed the 77km (48 mi.) in either direction: from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The six to eight hours it takes to make the trip save days (money) off the time it takes ships to travel from one port to another by not having to go around the whole of South America.

The operation of a series of locks, allows ships to be raised or lowered as the journey from one ocean to the other takes place. The locks use gravity to fill with water from nearby manmade lakes raising the ships as the locks fill, and after traveling across lowering them by emptying the lock of water.

The output of this machine is reduced time to move people and goods from one ocean to another.

NOAA; National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — an American scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. NOAA warns of dangerous weather, charts seas, guides the use and protection of ocean and coastal resources, and conducts research to improve understanding and stewardship of the environment. In addition to its civilian employees, over 11,000 as of 2015, NOAA research and operations are supported by 379 uniformed service members who make up the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. NOAA traces its history to the Coast Survey established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807. In its present form, it combined several scientific agencies in 1970.

To realize the scope of this agency’s work, it’s sub-agencies, and the sharing of data with other governments across the globe, just take a look at the map of the lower 48 states (https://www.weather.gov/Radar) and the presentation of up-to-date weather information from data collated from sensors, satellites, radar, and other scientific instruments stationed in space, our atmosphere, our waterways, our oceans, and across the land masses of North America, Hawaii, and our territories in the Pacific.

The output of this machine is information.

THREE GORGES DAM — is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW).

As well as producing electricity, the dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. China regards the project as monumental as well as a success socially and economically, with the design of state-of-the-art large turbines, and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Though controversial because of its impact on the environment and the displacement of 1.3M persons, the dam and the installation of ship locks is intended to increase river shipping from ten million to 100 million tonnes annually. As a result transportation costs will be cut between 30 and 37%. Shipping will become safer, since the gorges are notoriously dangerous to navigate.

The output of this machine is raw power.

THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE — The James Webb will be able to see light sources 10 to 100 times fainter than Hubble. It will look far into the past to study light from the first stars and galaxies formed just after the Big Bang, as well as check the chemical makeup of Earthlike planets.

When the Webb launches, hopefully in 2018, it will travel a million miles away from the Earth before settling into orbit. Like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon, the Webb will spread all five layers of its tennis-court-sized solar shield and shortly thereafter, become operational.

Its primary mirror, with a diameter of 21.3 feet, is 2.7 times as wide as Hubble’s and has six times the area. The reason for this is that the Hubble has just about reached its capacity for how far it can see into the abyss — as the universe expands, the light from the farthest objects is reduced to a faint trickle of infrared light that the Hubble isn’t sensitive enough to pick up.

The James Webb will be able to see light sources 10 to 100 times fainter than Hubble. It will look far into the past to study light from the first stars and galaxies formed just after the Big Bang, as well as check the chemical makeup of Earthlike planets.

The purpose of this machine will be, like the Large Hadron Collider, to provide fundamental knowledge about existence, but at the opposite end of the scale from the micro to the macro.

If you found this post interesting, please add your thoughts or suggest machines that were left off. Remember, the list was arbitrary. Your input can be arbitrary as well.