Edward Neff is the CEO of Systems, Machines, Automation Components Corporation, a company which produces fine motored robotics. He has managed automation companies in Belgium and Japan. In 1990, he founded SMAC in Carlsbad, California, which has grown to become a world leader in moving coil technology. Neff produces robots he refers to as “robotic fingers,” which have the capability to complete tasks requiring precise movements. His customers include Samsung and Apple. He spoke Friday at Hillsdale on “Leadership in the Digital Age.”
In your presentation, you discussed your project regarding robotic fingers. Why are robotic fingers so important?
Robotics try to do things that humans do, and you wouldn’t be able to do too much if you didn’t have hands and fingers. That’s very important for doing just about anything. Up until now, there haven’t been any robotic hands commercialized. What we’ve been able to do is develop a robotic finger that can do what a human finger can do and in some ways, do it better.
Are you ever concerned about robots becoming too prevalent in our society?
It depends. If you go back and look at old science fiction such as Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clark even, they have all sorts of science fiction stories where people are living their own worlds. Robots are doing all sorts of things. Populations are shrinking because virtual reality is so advanced. There’s danger about that, and I suppose it depends on the society and how it applies to the robots.
Do you believe it’s possible for students who attend liberal arts institutions to be able to get jobs in the technology industry?
Yes. In my presentation, I put up a picture of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Neither one had a tech degree. Neither one even graduated from college. Gates was kinda geeky in terms of code and those kinds of things, and Jobs just had these ideas about how he thought computers should be used. You really don’t need that much tech. You need to have an idea, an interest, and you’ve got to have a strong will to make that idea become a reality. Virtually anybody can do it as long as they have the will.
What suggestions do you have for college students as they prepare to enter the workforce?
My suggestions are based on what I did. Try to find a small company that is expanding outside the U.S., and try to get a position at one of those outside locations. Good points are that when you’re young, you want to learn as much as you can about what you’re interested in. If you’re interested in a company that is smaller, then you wind up doing most of the different jobs. You learn a lot. It’s interesting, fun, and enjoyable. For example, for me, it was the French part of Belgium and Tokyo. I got into those types of cultures by playing sports too.
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