Think Beyond the Calculator

by Luke 24. November 2009 08:56

Part of my job is to help create great software. That's probably not a surprise to you. The other part of my job might be, though. That job is to help change our perspective (as engineers) on what software can do. The simple fact is that we've been using computers in our work almost exclusively as glorified calculators.

Excel? Calculator. Matlab? Fancy calculator. Super-computer time? Big parallel calculator. Code you wrote? Also probably a calculator. CAD/CAM software? Ah, now we're getting somewhere...

CAD/CAM software has offloaded the process of turning a part blueprint into a manufactured component from the machinist, who would interpret the drawing and devise a series of machining tasks, to the computer, which today can go from a CAD drawing to CNC instructions to finished part with little to no human intervention. But what about all the work that leads up to the CAD drawing?

We already have software that can make decisions about how to turn a design into a manufactured part. What are all of the decisions that need to be made to go from concept to that design? That's where we are focused. The future of engineering is creating tools that make decisions to help us, not simply building more powerful calculators.

Why Can We Automate Boring Engineering?

by Luke 17. November 2009 10:26

So why do we think we can automate boring engineering when we haven't seen anything like this before?

We have two - make that three - reasons for the claim. First, "boring" is a key part of why we can make progress. Creative tasks are usually engaging to people and keep them interested. It is the boring parts that are tedious and un-challenging. In short, boring work doesn't require a lot of creativity. And problems that don't need creativity are usually not as hard to solve with computers.

The second reason is social. Our challenges aren't just technical. Rather, we are working to see our tools used in engineering shops everywhere. Boring tasks are a bad way to introduce junior engineers to the work environment. Today's junior engineers are often skilled at computer programming and can make short work of the tasks that used to keep such team members busy until they had a chance for promotion. Instead, we can provide an opportunity for inexperienced engineers to learn from experience faster than they could have before. By automating the tedious work, young engineers can see more alternatives and more quickly understand the trade-offs that need to be made for a design to reach production. Our tools can change the way engineers learn on the job - instead of spending time crunching numbers and observing the work of others, they can spend that time exploring designs and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of them.

And the third reason that I almost forgot to mention was that we've already been able to use this approach in our case studies. For more information, contact us for one of our whitepapers that describes real-world scenarios where we've been able to use our tools. We think you'll be impressed by what we've been able to do.

ORF Reflections

by Luke 5. November 2009 07:14

As expected, October Rules Fest was excellent. For any other companies using or thinking of using rule based systems, I strongly recommend attending this conference next year. The focus is very much on real-world work being done in several industries using this technology. In a few months the conference papers should be released publicly, so check back and I'll try to provide a link.

One of my favorite talks was by Mark Proctor on the future of rule engines. His thoughts squared with many of our thoughts on rule-engine and language design, and we will be implementing several of his suggestions in the coming months to improve our systems.

There were also many other excellent presentations, but I'd like to see even more AI style expert-systems developers at the conference next year. Much of the use today is in algorithmic trading and processing by financial firms - the place where rule-engines seem to have found a home after the AI winter. But like so many technologies from that era, rule-based expert systems have quietly spread into a wide range of applications. We'd like to meet more of these developers and learn about what you have been up to.

Mindviews Labs Blog

Sharing about the future of automated engineering.