Losing sight of the news

moodyMaybe you noticed it has been a couple weeks since I’ve written anything here. Readers are starting to wonder so I thought I’d post an update. It’s a funny thing about writing, that — for me at least — it really helps to be able to see and that’s something I’m not so good at lately. Over the last few months I’ve lost usable vision in one eye and the other is headed the same way.

It’s nothing serious. No glaucoma or macular degeneration, just cataracts — a result, I’m told, of my lifelong habit of not wearing sunglasses when I should have. I never liked carrying two pairs of glasses […]

Fifteen years after 9-11 threats have evolved, too

Fifteen years after 9-11 it’s interesting to reflect on how much our lives have — and haven’t — changed as a result of that attack. One very obvious change for all of us since 9-11 is how much more connected we are to the world and to each other than we were back then. Politico has a great post quoting many of the people flying on Air Force One that day with President George W. Bush as his administration reacted to the unfolding events. Reading the story one thing that struck me was the lack of immediate information about the attacks available to the airborne White House. They had televisions with rabbit ear antennas and […]

What Carrie Underwood’s success teaches us about IBM’s Watson failure

underwood (1)I have a TV producer friend I worked with years ago who at some point landed as one of the many producers of American Idol when that singing show was a monster hit dominating U.S. television. She later told me an interesting story about Carrie Underwood, the country-western singer who won American Idol Season 4. That story can stand as a lesson applicable to far more than just TV talent shows. It’s especially useful for the purposes of this column for explaining IBM’s Watson technology and associated products. You see the producers of American Idol Season 4 knew before the season was half over that Underwood would win. And, by the same token, […]

John Ellenby dies at 75

ellenbyI wouldn’t normally be writing a column early on a Saturday morning but I just read that John Ellenby died and I think that’s really worth mentioning because Ellenby changed all our lives and especially mine.

If you don’t recognize his name, John Ellenby was a British computer engineer who came to Xerox PARC in the 1970s to manufacture the Xerox Alto, the first graphical workstation. He left Xerox in the late 1980s to found Grid Systems, makers of the Compass — the first full-service laptop computer. In the 1990s he founded Agilis, which made arguably the first handheld mobile phone that wasn’t the size of a brick. Finally he […]

The self-driving car is old enough to drink and drive

RCAdriverlessTwenty-one years ago, when we were shooting Triumph of the Nerds, the director, Paul Sen, introduced me to his cousin who was working at the time on a big Department of Transportation research program to build self-driving cars. Twenty-one years ago! Yet what goes around comes around and today there is nothing fresher than autonomous cars, artificial intelligence. You know, old stuff.

As you can see from this picture, driverless cars were tested by RCA and General Motors decades earlier, back in the 1950s.

What changed from 1995 until today in my view comes down to three major things: 1) 21 years of cumulative automotive research; 2) demographic changes that might […]