NIST’s picture

By: NIST

A new research effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) aims to address a pervasive issue in our data-driven society: a lack of fairness that sometimes turns up in the answers we get from information retrieval software.

A measurably “fair search” would not always return the exact same list of answers to a repeated, identical query. Instead, the software would consider the relative relevance of the answers each time the search runs—thereby allowing different, potentially interesting answers to appear higher in the list at times.

Software of this type is everywhere, from popular search engines to less-known algorithms that help specialists comb through databases. This software usually incorporates forms of artificial intelligence that help it learn to make better decisions over time. But it bases these decisions on the data it receives, and if those data are biased in some way, the software will learn to make decisions that reflect that bias, too. These decisions can have real-world consequences—for instance, influencing which music artists a streaming service suggests, and whether you get recommended for a job interview.

NVision Inc.’s picture

By: NVision Inc.

It roamed Texas long before the first dinosaurs. Growing to 12 ft in length, with powerful jaws and specialized teeth for stabbing and tearing apart its prey, it was not a creature you’d want to encounter while on a Saturday morning hike. “It” was Dimetrodon limbatus, and a fossilized skeleton of the Paleozoic predator was recently scanned by NVision, a leader in 3D noncontact optical scanning/measurement, for the Texas Through Time museum in Hillsboro, Texas. The detailed scan data will enable the paleontology museum to 3D-print exact replicas of the fossil for further study and education.

Billed as the “Best Little Fossil Museum in Texas,” the nonprofit Texas Through Time was created by paleontologist Andre LuJan to preserve and promote the rich fossil history of the Lone Star State. Free to the public, the museum features a wide assortment of fossils from all ages and formations, including many one-of-a-kind fossils not available anywhere else. Although primarily focused on the noteworthy fossil diversity of Texas, the museum’s collection also includes fossils from around the world.

Andrea Canidio’s picture

By: Andrea Canidio

The culture of overwork—with the expectation of incredibly long hours and interrupted vacations—is often criticized for its negative impact on workers and organizations. Workers suffer from burnout, are not as productive as they think they are, and make mistakes, as research has made overwhelmingly clear. Because of this, overwork can cut into a company’s bottom line. But as the evidence against overwork mounts, understanding why it is still so widespread becomes even more important.

Michael Millenson’s picture

By: Michael Millenson

In late November 1999, a TV producer called me about an alarming report that 44,000 to 98,000 Americans were being killed each year by preventable errors in hospitals, and another 1 million were being injured. Could that be true? Based on my research, I replied, the estimate seemed low.

The “To Err is Human” report from the Institute of Medicine has been called a “seminal moment” in the patient safety fight. The public furor sparked by the group’s assertion that medical mistakes were deadlier than breast cancer, auto accidents, or AIDS prompted new laws, as well as vows to meet the Institute of Medicine’s goal of cutting medical errors in half in five years.

Twenty years after the report’s release, how safe is our medical care?

Corey Brown’s picture

By: Corey Brown

While on-the-job training is practical for certain applications, manufacturers rely on it too heavily as a method for onboarding and training employees.

Companies looking to train a new workforce should be aware that on-the-job training can:
 • Hurt productivity
 • Increase safety risks
 • Impact quality costs

Training without standards

On the surface, the concept of on-the-job (OTJ) training makes sense: Follow an employee around and watch what he does so you know how to do the same. Unfortunately, the desired outcome rarely comes to fruition. OTJ training methods rely too heavily on mentor/mentee relationships and are by their very nature, nonstandardized.

A new recruit may experience a completely different training process depending on:
 • Availability of mentors
 • Variance in tribal knowledge
 • Accuracy of the job demonstration
 • Nonstandardized work practices across mentors

Nico Thomas’s picture

By: Nico Thomas

Earlier this year, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, celebrated its 50th anniversary. The recognition is much deserved for an agency that has worked hard to strengthen minority-owned businesses. Through a network of centers and partners not unlike our own Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network, the MBDA works with minority-owned businesses to create and retain jobs, build scale and capacity, and increase revenues. The drive to increase the competitiveness of underserved businesses by leveraging a network is something that connects the MBDA and the MEP program.

Davis Balestracci’s picture

By: Davis Balestracci

During the late 1970s, quality began to evolve from its historically Neanderthal, passive inspection approach to its current Cro-Magnon state, where its more proactive, project-based approach is bolted on to the operational status quo. Joseph Juran was a pioneer in such efforts. Various subsequent adaptations such as Six Sigma and lean evolved it further, but over time, it has become comfortably stuck in a misguided focus on tactical improvements at the expense of strategic improvements—i.e., doing things right as opposed to doing the right things right.

In 2011 Jim Liker, a professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan, wrote the following to leadership expert Jim Clemmer (emphasis mine):

Clifton B. Parker’s picture

By: Clifton B. Parker

An underlying theme emerged from the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence’s fall conference: Artificial intelligence (AI) must be truly beneficial for humanity and not undermine people in a cold calculus of efficiency.

Titled “AI Ethics, Policy, and Governance,” the event brought together more than 900 people from academia, industry, civil society, and government to discuss the future of AI (or automated computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence).

Discussions at the conference highlighted how companies, governments, and people around the world are grappling with AI’s ethical, policy, and governance implications.

Ryan E. Day’s picture

By: Ryan E. Day

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Plasan North America (PNA) manufactures metal, composite, and ceramic-composite components for defense and commercial applications. PNA brings decades of process experience to bear in creating the world’s most advanced armor, metal components, and fabrications.

Challenge

PNA has a vision to become the global leader in armor solutions based on innovation and quality. This vision spurs growth that regularly challenges the company’s quality team to grow right along with production. Accelerating product development forced PNA’s quality department to reassess the capability of its current inspection equipment.

“We were facing some pretty aggressive timelines on launch activity,” explains Tony Bellitto, quality manager at Plasan North America. “We were scheduled to launch 140 new part numbers, and most of them included GD&T [geometric dimensioning and tolerancing], not just basic measurements.”

Some of the parts PNA manufactures are of considerable size and weight, which posed further challenges.

“Some of these products are up to eight feet across,” says Christine Foley, senior quality engineer at PNA. “One of the underbelly parts we produce for tactical vehicles weighs about 2,500 pounds.”

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

When was the last time you as a quality professional saw a major failure in implementing decisions? What about in project or process management? Such disasters can have devastating consequences for high-flying careers and successful companies. Yet they happen all too often, with little effort taken to prevent failure.

For example, many leaders stake their reputations on key projects such as successful product launches. However, research shows that most product launches fail. Nike’s FuelBand, launched with much fanfare in 2012, flopped on arrival. By 2014, Nike fired most of the team behind FuelBand, discontinuing this product.

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