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Systems, Machines, Automation Components Corporation CEO Edward Neff spoke about his "robotic fingers" project at Hillsdale Friday. Ben Dietderich | Collegian
Systems, Machines, Automation Com­po­nents Cor­po­ration CEO Edward Neff spoke about his “robotic fingers” project at Hillsdale Friday. Ben Diet­derich | Col­legian

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.

Hear more on Radio Free Hilsdale 101.7 FM’s Sound­cloud.