Sunday, November 15, 2015

Good to be IBM

This week is I will be at SuperComputing in Austin. (#SC15 for those who know).  It will be wonderful to be back among the brightest minds I've ever met. Those drawn to SC15 are dedicated to solving hard problems with insight and validated computational results. They are rigorous and creative thinkers.

Among the attendees at SC15 are people who modeled turbulent flow problems well before airlines saved trillions with wingtips. Built huge systems to understand climate change before it was a political debate. I will be meeting with scientists and engineers who use the computational power behind the nuclear stockpile to advance drug research and protein folding. SC15 represents those who are relentless in using the latest technology to solve difficult problems.

However, they have an almost universal design flaw. The SC15 crowd is almost never interested in easy or good enough. This puts them at odds with most of the rest of the technology world, which brings me to my point.

The biggest impact of technology is not computational, nor algorithmic, nor mechanical. It is and will

be the human ability to interact, absorb, interpret and control. This is the age of design - and Apple is our Merlin.

My revisionist history of modern IBM starts with Watson - an engineering approach to solving this problem. You have seen the IBM Watson ads. Algorithms and systems so smart that a child, a genius and Bob Dylan can relate to it.

But what if you change the paradigm to focus on the people 1st and engineering second? 

Here is the answer in a  NY Times article on pervasive Design-Think at IBM. The shift from starting with the engineering constraints to the human interaction is profound. Systems and software developed to do what a human wants to do, rather than solve an engineering problem, is innovation, not incremental evolution.

If IBM can continue down this path, it will be a good time to be IBM.

I may work for IBM, but these thoughts are my own. Any resemblance to IBM statements is merely coincidence. 

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