Tag Archives: Industrial economy

Machine envy

By Philip Ball – The tools of science are so specialised that we accept them as a kind of occult machinery for producing knowledge. We figure that they must know how it all works. Likewise, histories of science focus on ideas rather than methods — for the most part, readers just want to know what the discoveries were.

Even so, most historians these days recognise that the relationship between scientists and their instruments is an essential part of the story. It isn’t simply that the science is dependent on the devices; the devices actually determine what is known. You explore the things that you have the means to explore, planning your questions accordingly.

Today, however, they have become symbols of prestige as never before. I have several times been invited to admire the most state-of-the-art device in a laboratory purely for its own sake, as though I was being shown a Lamborghini.

One of the dysfunctional consequences of this sort of attitude is that the machine becomes its own justification, its own measure of worth. Results seem ‘important’ not because of what they tell us but because of how they were obtained. more> https://goo.gl/4HQWRQ

Organizing to Learn, Learning to Organize

By Chris Brooks & Susan Williams – Traditional education is about banking: I am an expert, I have banked this information, and I am going to pour it in your head—and you are going to tell me back what I told you.

So when people face problems, their first thought is, “I need to go and find a lawyer!” They think they have to rely on others, who have the right kind of knowledge, to solve their problems. Now we head straight to the Internet and Google. We are not encouraged to think that we have the capacity to change things ourselves.

Popular education involves passing on skills and content in a collective way; it’s based on the belief that people can do more than they think they can. Good organizing provides people with the ability to learn together and grow. So these processes are connected. more> https://goo.gl/zXQr1h

Updates from GE

I Machine, You Human: How AI Is Helping GE Build A Powerhouse Of Knowledge
By Tomas Kellner – Every fall, GE Global Research holds a scientific gathering called the Whitney Symposium highlighting the latest scientific trends. Last year the two-day event explored industrial applications of artificial intelligence. We sat down with Mark Grabb and Achalesh Pandey, two GE scientists looking for ways to apply AI to jet engines, medical scanners and other machines.

“We are starting to see significant performance increases from the combination of deep learning and reinforcement learning, where you have a human in the loop correcting the system,” Grabb said. “Once you build a smooth user experience and get the system going, people don’t even know they are correcting the AI along the way.”

At GE, we are writing software like Predix, which is the cloud-based operating system for machines that allows us to connect them to the Industrial Internet. But we also have a tremendous number of domain experts. There’s a lot of physics and domain knowledge that’s required to build good analytics and machine learning models. We have actually built AI systems that help data scientists more quickly and more effectively capture the domain knowledge across all the people inside GE building these models. So AI comes in even in the developing of analytics. more> https://goo.gl/OMZ9TS

Now it’s time to prepare for the Machinocene


Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism, Author: Huw Price.

By Huw Price – One way or another, then, we are going to be sharing the planet with a lot of non-biological intelligence. Whatever it brings, we humans face this future together. We have an obvious common interest in getting it right. And we need to nail it the first time round. Barring some calamity that ends our technological civilization without entirely finishing us off, we’re not going to be coming this way again.

If we are to develop machines that think, ensuring that they are safe and beneficial is one of the great intellectual and practical challenges of this century. And we must face it together – the issue is far too large and crucial to be tackled by any individual institution, corporation or nation. Our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are likely to be living in a different era, perhaps more Machinocene than Anthropocene.

Our task is to make the best of this epochal transition, for them and the generations to follow. We need the best of human intelligence to make the best of artificial intelligence. more> https://goo.gl/dHx4jd

Updates from GE

Game On: Augmented Reality Is Helping Factory Workers Become More Productive
By Tomas Kellner – As chief engineer for advanced manufacturing at GE Healthcare, Jimmie Beacham, 43, is in charge of a futuristic laboratory in Waukesha, Wisconsin, experimenting with new ways to make things. He and his team are using the Xbox and a connected Kinect motion tracker to bring augmented reality (AR) into the factory and help workers become more efficient. “We are projecting the work instructions onto the parts and use sensors to monitor the assembly and give feedback to the operator,” Beacham says.

Specifically, the Kinect and a camera are following the worker’s movements and feeding them to a computer that stores the assembly instructions. The computer controls an overhead projector that displays the manufacturing steps on the workbench. Based on the visual and sensory feedback, the system signals the operator immediately if an error occurs or guides them to the next step.

The system currently at the Waukesha lab came from Light Guide System, a Detroit-area maker of augmented reality tools for industry. The first applications are focusing on guiding workers through “the critical steps where we can’t afford to make a mistake,” Beacham says. But his team has already started expanding its scope and connecting it to face recognition technology, collaborative robots, or cobots, and Predix, GE’s software platform for the Industrial Internet. more> https://goo.gl/KaGM9r

Hierarchy in organizations: when it helps, when it hurts


Friend & Foe, Authors: Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer.

By Steve Kelman – You can’t say either hierarchical or participatory arrangements are always good or always bad. Instead, there are some organizational tasks for which hierarchy works best, and others where hierarchy creates problems.

How does hierarchy help?

It helps groups of people coordinate their activities and gives people information about who does what. It reduces the need to bargain and argue over such decisions.

Google initially tried to work without managers, but found that “the lack of hierarchy created chaos and confusion. … As they learned, even Google needs hierarchy.”

How does participatory management help?

It helps when the information the group needs to have to make good decisions is more complex and uncertain. The danger of hierarchy is that it tends not to generate a wide range of information.

“The more complex the task, the more likely we are to make a mistake or miss something critical” in a hierarchical organization.

Hierarchy can also suppress dissent, because people don’t want to take on those at the top. more> https://goo.gl/qSusGs

Turning Back Time: Watching Rust Transform into Iron

By W. Zhu, J.P. Winterstein, W.D. Yang, L. Yuan, R. Sharma and G. Zhou – Using a state-of-the-art microscopy technique, experimenters at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues have witnessed a slow-motion, atomic-scale transformation of rust—iron oxide—back to pure iron metal, in all of its chemical steps.

In a new effort to study the microscopic details of metal oxide reduction, researchers used a specially adapted transmission electron microscope (TEM) at NIST’s NanoLab facility to document the step-by-step transformation of nanocrystals of the iron oxide hematite (Fe2O3) to the iron oxide magnetite (Fe3O4), and finally to iron metal.

By lowering the temperature of the reaction and decreasing the pressure of the hydrogen gas that acted as the reducing agent, the scientists slowed down the reduction process so that it could be captured with an environmental TEM—a specially configured TEM that can study both solids and gas. The instrument enables researchers to perform atomic-resolution imaging of a sample under real-life conditions—in this case the gaseous environment necessary for iron oxides to undergo reduction–rather than under the vacuum needed in ordinary TEMs. more> https://goo.gl/8lJIAH

If US trade with China is so unfair, why is GM the best-selling car there?

By Tim Fernholz – While the US taxes imported cars and cars parts at a maximum of 2.5%, China charges tariffs of between 21% and 30%. This gives foreign automakers who want to sell in China a big incentive to manufacture there to avoid the import charge. But China also requires foreign subsidiaries to operate as 50-50 joint ventures with Chinese companies. These, of course, then become classrooms for Chinese engineers to gain foreign know-how.

This isn’t exactly anyone’s definition of “fair” trade, but there is a logic to the situation. The system came into play in 2001, after China joined the World Trade Organization. At the time, Chinese industry was much further behind America’s. The idea was that future rounds of WTO negotiations would lower China’s trade barriers further, but global trade talks have stagnated completely.

Ironically enough, therefore, this “unfair” situation for America is a product of globalization’s stumbles, not the unyielding march forward that the Trump administration portrays it as.

And any attempts to convince China to drop its protections will now be coming from the most protectionist American administration in recent memory. more> https://goo.gl/7Supvh

Updates from GE

School’s In: GE’s New “Brilliant Learning” Program Will Train Workers For Jobs Of The Future
By Tomas Kellner – Jesse Schrimpf didn’t study additive manufacturing in school. But when a 3D printer showed up at his plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the GE Healthcare engineer decided to give the machine a whirl.

Normally, Schrimpf would design a new master mold, order a wooden mold prototype costing as much as $20,000 from a supplier and wait as long as four weeks for the delivery. He would test it, make tweaks and repeat the process. The costs quickly added up.

But with the 3D printer at his disposal, he could print a mold that performed better than the wooden kind in just two days on-site and for $1,000. The printer, which creates 3D objects directly from a computer file, enabled him to incorporate changes into the next design version with his keyboard and a mouse.

Schrimpf is in many ways the poster child for GE’s new “brilliant learning” program the company is launching for employees around the world this week. It includes “massive open online courses” in several languages, workshops, “immersion boot camps on lean manufacturing” and other training designed to help employees get ready for the arrival in the factory of 3D printing, big data, robotics, digital and lean manufacturing and other advanced technologies.

GE is launching “brilliant learning” to change things. The model feeds into the company’s idea of the Brilliant Factory, a plant that uses big data, software sensors, new manufacturing methods and robotics to increase productivity. GE businesses are busy rolling out the concept at 17 sites in Japan, India, Italy, Mexico and also the U.S, and more are in the pipeline. more> https://goo.gl/1jmbjf

Updates from Chicago Booth

How sales taxes could boost economic growth
By Dee Gill – Many big economies are stagnating, and economists are running out of options to fix them.

The conventional monetary policy for encouraging spending has been to drop short-term interest rates. But with rates already near, at, or below zero, that method is all but exhausted. Some economists have also started to empirically and theoretically question the power of forward guidance, in which central banks publicize plans for future interest-rate policies, at the zero lower bound.

To create the rising prices that fuel higher wages and economic growth, central banks must convince consumers and companies to spend more money. But controversial asset-buying programs that brought down long-term interest rates have not also produced sustained price increases as hoped, and they have inflated central-bank balance sheets.

The idea that the threat of a sales-tax hike might stimulate stagnant economies has been around for some 25 years. But before the researchers homed in on the German VAT increase, economists had not documented such an effect in real life. more> https://goo.gl/exG06C