Backtalk 05/21/09

May 19, 2009
Youth in manufacturing, Man versus machine

Youth in manufacturing

An initiative by two leading foundations is underway to inspire America’s youth to consider a career in manufacturing.

The Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation (NBTF), founded by actor, director, and producer John Ratzenberger, is joining forces with the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) Foundation to create one organization called Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. (NBT). Based in Rockford, Ill., NBT’s goal is to broaden operations and increase charitable activities, such as providing grants to educational institutions offering manufacturing camps and awarding scholarships to students pursuing manufacturing careers.

Former FMA Foundation executives Gerald Shankel and Terrence Egan will direct the new organization, serving as president and director, respectively. Ratzenberger will continue to serve on the governing board and lead the Foundation’s national public policy and media campaigns.

Ratzenberger has extensive experience with American manufacturers and valuable relationships in the entertainment, political, social, and corporate arenas. “I can think of no enterprise more worthy than one devoted to inspiring the next generation of engineers, builders, and manufacturers,” said Ratzenberger. “I am proud to join forces with FMA and know that with each child who attends one of our camps or receives one of our scholarships, we are rebuilding America’s foundation one tinkerer at a time.

“We must encourage kids when they graduate from high school to consider manufacturing as a career,” says Ratzenberger. “Part of the problem is the media and Hollywood often portray manufacturing and anyone who works with their hands in a poor light. But the industrial arts have always taken precedence over the fine arts … remember, someone had to build the ceiling before Michelangelo could go to work. We need to do better at informing the next generation and their parents that working a skilled job with your hands can be rewarding financially and fulfilling personally.”

The new organization will feature an 18-member board of directors; six members from the former NBTF will join the 12 former FMA Foundation board members. For more information on NBT go to

Man versus machine

Watson, a highly advanced Question Answering (QA) system will take on humans in an epic battle of man versus machine on a special edition of Jeopardy.

IBM scientists have been working on the QA system for nearly two years. The system understands complex questions and gives answers with the precision and speed of a human. Watson, designed to handle semantics, interpret expression, and compute with confidence in a matter of seconds, will play the game without any outside assistance.

This research is expected to elevate computer intelligence and human-to-computer communication to unprecedented levels. IBM intends to apply these technological capabilities to help industries answer business questions quickly and accurately.

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