What a Waste

All sorts of nonsense is erupting in our industry’s corner of the environmental arena this past week. Let’s go to the tape:

  • On May 14, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) introduced a bill that essentially codifies the EU RoHS Directive for the US as well. The bill proposes to prohibit the manufacture after July 1, 2010 of “electroindustry products” that contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PBBs, and PBDEs above the maximum concentration levels specified in the European Union’s RoHS Directive.
  • Today, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition issued a statement opposing a toxic e-waste bill scheduled to be introduced in the House later this week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) (how’s that for irony?), Rep. Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), permits e-waste exports under a loophole under which any type of entity can export toxic e-waste to developing nations for reuse and refurbishment, the Coalition asserts.

    “By passing a law that only appears to restrict exports to developing countries without actually doing so, the bill would undermine those recycling companies which are in fact managing their e-waste responsibly, and providing jobs here at home. This bill fails in serious and even critical ways.”

  • And in between, IPC issued a press release boasting how 22 of its 2700-odd members managed to trek to Washington in support of a permanent R&D tax credit, something that just about every technology company operating in the US already supports anyway — and many of which are priming the lobbying pump to ensure it goes through.

    So in summary, we have a Republican from Texas trying to overlay (absurd) European laws onto US manufacturers, an industry environmental advocacy group trying to shoot down new proposed environmental regs, and the major US PCB trade association completely in the dark about all of it.

    Not too good.

  • Apex or Bust!

    Tuesday marks the opening of Apex, the largest electronics assembly trade show in North America. With it, the industry suppliers hope buyers will turn out in force for the Las Vegas event. The early returns don’t look promising, with suggestions that preregistration attendance numbers are down some 15% or more from last year, coupled with travel bans by several major OEMs. Here’s hoping this week marks not another nail in the coffin but the beginning of the turnaround.

    Tonight, CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY will announce winners of its NPI and Service Excellence Awards. Check back for frequent updates.

    A bit of early gossip: IPC will induct Dan Feinberg to its Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Years ago, Feinberg was president of the dry film and soldermask division of Morton (now owned by Rohm & Haas) and was a major driver behind the IPC Printed Circuits Expo trade show.

    The Age of Spiritual Machines?

    That Ray Kurzweil is a smart, creative, inventive and prolific person is beyond dispute. In addition, it cannot be said that he hasn’t made numerous accurate predictions, most with 10-year lead times, such as IBM’s Deep Blue computer beating world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, the growth of the Internet and emergence of flash memory drives. However, he goes way too far in his belief in “spiritual machines” and the advent of a technical singularity.

    The spiritual machines argument is quite old (1999) and with little progress in that direction, it surprises me that his 2005 book The Singularity is Near still suggested that, as Wikipedia puts it, “the functionality of the human brain is quantifiable in terms of technology that we can build in the near future.” Why do I say there is little progress? Computers are faster and can perform more tasks than ever, but are still limited to what human programmers tell them to do. In addition, human consciousness is far from being understood today. Our brains are not machines that simply perform clever mathematical operations, developed by computer programmers.

    All this somewhat dated information was brought back to me in an interview on Fox News recently. Kurzweil predicts that a computer will passing the Turing Test by 2019, and that by 2029 a computer-based machine would be recognized as having consciousness.

    Why am I not a believer? Computers are terrific at mathematical operations. Many felt that computers would never beat a world champion at chess. But consider: chess can be described in strictly mathematical terms. Deep Blue did what computers do well, math, not human thought. As one person said upon hearing of the news of Deep Blue’s victory, “I’ll be impressed when a computer can write and understand poetry.” The best computers today, connected to a vision system cannot do what a six-month-old child can, recognize and follow its mother’s face in a crowd.

    All this reminds me of a book I read a few years ago by Robin Cook called Abduction. In this novel, the main characters, while exploring the sea, happen upon an opening to Interterra, a society of humans living under the earth’s crust. Their society is so advanced that when their bodies wear out, a new test tube baby is selected as a replacement. Their memories are downloaded to the babies and hence the babies become them. Their old body is destroyed and they live another life through the baby. Many of Kurzweil’s farout ideas are similar to this type of human/technological immortality.

    I can’t be the only person who believes there is something uniquely me and uniquely you, uniquely human, that goes beyond our memories and can’t be downloaded from our bodies.

    Interesting stuff. Why am I discussing this? We will be the ones assembling the electronics for Kurzweil’s machines. It will be interesting to watch.