Quality Magazine

From the Editor: Smart Season

August 31, 2010


Fall is usually not my favorite season, but when your car’s air conditioning can best be described as reluctant, cooler weather begins to sound a lot better. Much of the United States has been hit with a hot, hot summer. (Those lucky residents of Siberia don’t know how good they have it. I have never been more interested in relocating somewhere known for low-sun winters.)

Besides moving from ice cream to cookie season, fall also means back-to-school season and a fresh start. While adults usually consider New Year’s Eve the time to think about resolutions, September is just as important in planning for the next year. It’s time to consider what you’d like to accomplish, set goals and make this year better than the last.

If shopping helps you do that, so much the better. Illinois just had a sales tax holiday with no state sales taxes on qualifying back-to-school purchases including clothes and supplies. While cameras and software may not qualify for this type of discount, it is still a good time to consider equipment upgrades. Are you doing any shopping for your business?

It appears that more people have put machine vision technology into their shopping carts: a new machine vision market report from the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) shows a North American recovery in machine vision sales of components and systems. What’s on your wish list?

No matter what you’re looking for, I’m sure another person on staff would always be appreciated. A recent NPR Marketplace program mentioned that worker productivity fell in July for the first time in a year and a half. This economic indicator could be interpreted several ways, host Kai Ryssdal explains: “It’s possibly a sign the recovery’s running out of gas. It’s also possibly a sign companies will finally have to start hiring again because they’ve gotten all they can out of a workforce that’s already been trimmed back pretty far.”

While machines can do many different things, it is important not to underestimate the importance of people. Machine vision systems don’t set themselves up; cameras and lighting don’t just come together on their own. But more importantly, algorithms don’t design the products themselves.

In his New York Times op-ed piece, “The First Church of Robotics,” Jaron Lanier, a partner architect at Microsoft Research and an innovator in residence at the Annenberg School of the University of Southern California, says it is important to value our inherent capabilities instead of blindly following algorithm-selected recommendations or assessments.

Lanier says, “We must instead take responsibility for every task undertaken by a machine and double check every conclusion offered by an algorithm, just as we always look both ways when crossing an intersection, even though the light has turned green.”

While algorithms today can predict taste in music or movies, trusting your own skills also is important.

If you are looking for new technologies, check out Vision 2010 in Stuttgart, Germany, November 4 to 6. Consider doing some belated back to school shopping there.

But shop smart. No matter what’s on offer, the people using those products should not be underestimated.

In the meantime, I think it’s time for a cookie.