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Rise of the Machines

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Robotic arm

Robotic arm used to produce a silicon wafer in a specially lit clean room at the Texas Instruments semiconductor-fabrication plant in Dallas.

Jason Janik / Bloomberg-Getty Images

Looking out at the mammoth factory floor where Samsung Austin Semiconductor assembles microchips, Cyrus Bavarian realized there was one thing missing: people. Bavarian, a 24-year-old process engineer hired last spring fresh from the University of Texas, Austin, had imagined the dust-free assembly floor would be crowded with workers wearing "bunny-suits," those white booties and hair coverings that make the employees look like surgeons.

Instead he saw only robots. "There is just nobody out there. You hear the whir of machines, and you see the lights but these tools are almost just operating themselves," Bavarian told Newsweek. "It’s like The Matrix."

Even for a high-tech manufacturer like Samsung Semiconductor, this level of automation was new. Two years earlier, at a facility now closed, workers jockeyed for space on assembly lines, much like a more traditional factory. "With these workers the automation was very limited, you basically had them hauling [silicon] wafers [for microchips] between areas. It was labor intensive," says Burton Nicoson, vice president of fab engineering at Samsung.

From Newsweek
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