It was the gun that left the room motionless and silent.
Not a cough could be heard in the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey conference room, nor any stray forks clinking on plates as manufacturing leaders from across the region gazed at projected images of a small drone hovering in the air with an attached handgun firing off shots.
John McElligott, CEO at The Fortress and York Exponential, didn’t mince words.
“Don’t waste time on solving obsolete or near-obsolete challenges,” the vision caster and technical futurist told his audience at Mantec Inc.’s fourth Business Growth Conference.
The terrifying drone, created by a student in Connecticut, made headlines last year after a YouTube video went viral, prompting an investigation. It used off-the-shelf technology and some 3-D printed parts, McElligott explained.
While Nero fiddled, Rome burned. Or in modern terms, while Washington insiders continued fighting partisan battles over gun laws, an 18-year-old demonstrated how quickly technology has passed them by.
“Right now, I can show you thousands of videos on YouTube about how to 3-D print a gun,” McElligott said. “You could, if you wanted to, launch a school shooting from a beach in the Bahamas with your iPhone.”
Again, he wasn’t trying to encourage irresponsible activity or score political points, but to underscore how essential it is for business leaders — and particularly manufacturers — to embrace technology before it leaves them in the dust.
His point wasn’t lost on me. As a business journalist, scoping trends is my bread and butter. And the importance of tech to midstate industries has been a theme I’ve been writing about on a regular basis in recent times: How York County-based Red Lion Controls Inc. is a prime mover in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) movement, or how Mantec wants to help manufacturers reap the benefits of York-area gigabit installation.
If you’re in manufacturing and you don’t know what IIoT or gigabits are, that’s a problem: Because the drones are coming — hopefully unarmed.
The question is whether or not manufacturers in Pennsylvania and across the nation are prepared to take advantage of new technologies and train their workforce accordingly.
There will be disruption, as McElligott pointed out. There will be job losses. Machines and computer apps will perform functions faster and better than humans.
Can we equip those humans to do other things, from designing and building those machines and apps to finding new ways to employ them in manufacturing?
McElligott, a history buff who likes to talk a lot about how midstate manufacturers supported the war effort 75 years ago with the York Plan, believes Pennsylvania’s modern-day captains of industry can rise to the challenge as their ancestors did.
It is the challenge of our times.