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Archive for May, 2011
May 30th, 2011

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The annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest matches up the best of the best young software programmers in the world and evokes the magic of software. The 2011 contest took place May 30 in Orlando, Florida.

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By: Linda Ban, Global CIO Study Director, AIS Studies, IBM Global Business Services

There is big business in big data.

Indeed, information is exploding and we live in the era of data. This data is valuable, and can be mined to detect patterns that improve decisions and provide better outcomes for businesses, institutions and individuals.

CIO’s can take advantage of this exploding data and seize big data opportunities as computing goes beyond increased storage, better search, and more complex analytics to systems that enable humanity to reach its greatest potential for human creativity, innovation and ingenuity.

CIOs will need to act as both strategy collaborators and as technology managers and apply analytics to gain a new level of intelligence capitalizing on the opportunities provided by big data. More than ever before, CIOs must plan now to focus on enabling the organization to make faster decisions, and preparing the IT environment to accommodate rising levels of change and complexity to help organizations drive better business outcomes.

Essential Actions for the CIO are to: Continue Reading »

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Michell Zappa

Michell Zappa

Michell Zappa got this exploration started a couple of months ago when he contacted me via e-mail and sent a link to his Web site, Envisioning Technology, which lays out graphically his vision of the future of technology. That gave me the idea, perhaps a bit crazy in retrospect, of staging a contest to encourage people to think about the future of technology and to display their visions graphically.  Well, I got some interesting comments and Tweets about the contest, but nobody went to the trouble of laying out their vision. So Zappa wins the prize: Two Watson travel mugs. I wanted to know more about Zappa (though I neglected to ask if he’s related to Frank). Here are his answers:

Who are you?

I’m a 29-year old designer by trade, but self-taught technologist by interest. I was born in Stockholm, but have since lived in São Paulo, Amsterdam and now London. I’ve always been tremendously interested in where technology is taking our society and how it’s shaping humanity as a whole. I believe technology to be the the single most important driving force of humanity, and what ultimately sets contemporary society apart from our own past. Devising better means of understanding the direction of technology might ultimately allow us to control our faith, even if a little bit.

When and how did you become a trends spotter?

I’ve long held an interest in observing the ongoing advances of technologies, but having the privilege of working at for the last couple of years has helped me develop the skills if knowing where to look for emerging changes and how to cut through the noise.

When and why did you start thinking in a comprehensive way about the future of technology?

A while ago, I built and presented a keynote about five emerging technologies for the next five years in São Paulo. That exercise, of taking all loose observations I was already collecting and translating them into a coherent story was the challenge that got me thinking about how to further organize my thoughts in the shape of an even bigger framework (and daring to go out even further on the limb of predictions…)

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RPA photoBy Jeff Ferzoco is the Creative and Technology Director for Regional Plan Association.

In a powerful example of seamless integration of people, data and cities, Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics’ Pothole app – which sits on your car’s dashboard and reports bumps in the road through your phone’s built-in accelerometer – leverages a road’s intended activity to identify its flaws. You connect rubber to the road, then your phone tells a server what that rubber felt – giving way to hard hat, shovel and asphalt. Continue Reading »

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SWBy Steve White, President/CEO of UnifiedEdge

An activated emergency management operations center is typically a busy, noisy and chaotic work environment. With radios blaring, phones ringing, and unfamiliar personnel needing close attention, emergency management leadership often find it difficult to communicate effectively while directing the response to the crisis at hand.

This was a typical situation in the emergency response center in the City of Fort Worth, Texas.

To help better protect its citizens, the City of Fort Worth in 2008 began efforts to build a new Joint Emergency Operations Center (JEOC) facility with their Tarrant County emergency management counterparts. The JEOC would one day become the command and control center for event and crisis response coordination across the region and its 1.8 million constituents. Along with physical building and process oriented needs, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) personnel knew they needed to shore up their ‘communication’ capabilities. Continue Reading »

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May 22nd, 2011

brainOn several occasions during his decades as an IBM executive, former CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. went out of his way to differentiate between human brains and computers. The goal of IBM, he said, was to make machines that could serve as tools for humans, not replace them. By taking on many of the more routine tasks that people were saddled with, he said, machines would free humans up to do more fulfilling creative work.

Today’s computers are “smarter” than those of the mid-20th century, when Watson was busy trying to calm people’s fears about the onslaught of electronic brains.  But even with the achievements and potential of Watson, the Jeopardy-playing computer,  IBM is pushing the borders of machine capability with the goal of augmenting human thought, not replacing human brains with machines.

Still it’s intriguing to compare the two, and for scientists, nature offers models for next-generation computer design. At the conference IBM Research Colloquia – Zurich last week, Prof. Karlheinz Meier of  Heidelberg University spoke about neuromorphic computers during his presentation on Brain Inspired Computing. A key aspect of neuromorphic computing is understanding how the brain works and attempting to mimic some of its functions in silicon.

For me, the most intriguing moment during Meier’s presentation was when an audience member asked him a question that got to the heart of the man vs. machine debate. Essentially, he asked: Why copy nature? Why not aim to do better?

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People were impressed when IBM’s Watson question-and-answer computer beat the two former champions at the Jeopardy! TV quiz show. Now they’re asking: what else can it do?

The company’s researchers and business leaders have been busy searching commercial uses for the technology, and they’re making progress. David Ferrucci, the IBM Fellow who heads up the Watson project, today told a group of journalists and analysts at a briefing on Big Data at IBM Research that the healthcare field is especially promising. IBM is developing applications in collaboration with physicians and researchers at Columbia University and the University of Maryland. Meanwhile, it took one researcher just three months to adapt the Watson Jeopardy! database to the medical field. Presumably, adaptations to other domains will be relatively easy, as well.

But a big issue is affordability. Watson is “embarrassingly parallel,” in computer science parlance—meaning the machine uses thousands of high-performance microprocessors. Embarrassing parallelism is expensive.

During a break form the briefing, I asked Ferrucci and other IBM colleagues about the affordability issue. Ferrucci’s response was that the cost of computing is dropping rapidly, and that the more industries Watson can serve and the more applications that are running on the platform, the more affordable it will be for each individual client.

Rod Smith, another IBM Fellow who heads up the Emerging Internet Technologies group at IBM Research, told me that another key will be the simplicity of the user interface. If IBM can develop user-friendly interfaces, clients will get rapid adoption of the technology and rapid returns on their investments. So, even if the service is relatively expensive, it will be worth the price.

Another key to affordability will be setting up Watson services for specific industries as shared services offered from the computing cloud. That way, many clients can use the same application and the same computing resources, making the services highly efficient.

It has been just three months since the Jeopardy! contest, but, already, it’s clear that the Watson machine has a life after Jeopardy! In the months ahead we’ll find out whether it can play a major role in making the world work better.

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about_pageEntrepreneur, comedian and actress Felicia Day will be the special guest emcee at this year’s Innovate2011 conference, June 5 – 9.  We caught up with her recently to ask about why she agreed to be the host (a conference first for her), as well as get her views on where technology is heading, and the impact innovations such as Watson have on her industry.

What made you decide to host Innovate2011?

Felicia: My brother worked for IBM and had been to Innovate many times. He said it was a really fun time. So, I have that connection to IBM. And I feel the tech world is something I’m very comfortable in. I enjoy working with tech companies because I’m always looking to do something no one has done before, and that kind of thinking is embraced by tech companies. IBM seemed like a really good fit for me to make my first foray into being a host.

Oh, and I’m excited to meet Watson.

Speaking of Watson, from your perspective, where else could Watson’s natural language processing be used?

Felicia: I derive great enjoyment by sharing things [through social media] that people don’t know about, but they would enjoy – especially in the area of entertainment, gaming, social media.

We’re in a world with so much inundation of information and we are able to customize our living experiences to really identify what we love in the world … but I think there’s a particular need for curation and customization with all the technology we have in order to find the information that you’re looking for.

So, having the technology that we can say “Hey, find a really good cupcake within two miles of me.” Or, “What time was my dentist appointment?” to … being able to interact with all the technologies around us in a way that is more human … that would be particularly helpful for people in this social media world, where we’re always connected, but maybe not connected to the right things.

Why should your fans, fans of The Guild, be interested in IBM?

Felicia: I learned, in my years when I was starting The Guild from the ground up, to appreciate how valuable all the back-end technology components were to us getting going quickly – things we took for granted.

So, to me, all my experiences have given me a great appreciation for the people who are experts in the field who work on the platforms and technology behind the scenes, and who without them nothing would exist.

And having my brother be at IBM for so long and knowing that his work with data systems made things run properly and help us advance as a society made me really interested in supporting that, and proud to be giving more of a face to it.

How’s The Guild going and are you working on any new projects you can tell us about?

I have a new project that should come out this summer. It’s based on the world of DragonAge, which is a video game franchise I love. They gave me an opportunity to create a narrative web series that fits in their universe. I created an elf character who is an assassin, and we follow her on her quest. It’s even more “meta” than The Guild, which is a show about people playing a game. This is a show about me playing a character who could fit in the world of a game. I’m progressively digging myself deeper and deeper into the world of video games which is not a bad thing because I love them.

Thank you Felicia for chatting with us today. Any final thoughts?

Felicia: You’re welcome. And thank you, too. I’m really looking forward to Innovate. To me, I’ve always been connected to tech, so the people I admire most are the people who innovate in the tech area.

Remember to register today for Innovate2011, the premier event for software and systems innovation.  You can follow Felicia on twitter at @feliciaday.

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globalentre_footerA record number of applicants, reviewed and screened down to 5 finalists, mentored and judged by experts, including Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, a People’s Vote that allowed live stream viewers to pick their favorite startup from their laptops, and a skyped-in visit from Scott Case, head of StartupAmerica, defines the energy of entrepreneurship at this year’s IBM SmartCamp in Austin.  And the winners are… Continue Reading »

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Bob MetcalfeStartup entrepreneurs entering the healthcare marketplace in the United States face huge challenges. The market is mature; it’s dominated by large, established companies; and it’s under severe stress. But those dynamics also create opportunity for entrepreneurs, according to Bob Metcalfe, Internet pioneer, longtime venture capitalist, and, now, professor of innovation at the University of Texas.  “It’s harder for startups when the incumbents are well entrenched, but there’s an opportunity for disruption when an industry is broken, like healthcare is, and when the incumbents are broken, like some in healthcare are,” Metcalfe says.

Metcalfe is one of five judges at IBM SmartCamp Austin, May 17 and 18. The event is the second this year of the series of annual IBM SmartCamp entrepreneur competitions, which are aimed at helping startups that are focusing on Smarter Planet-related products and services. Of the five finalists in Austin, three are in the healthcare field and another is health related, so I when spoke to Metcalfe on the phone last week I asked him to tailor his advice to their circumstances.

Of course, some of the most important advice that entrepreneurs can receive is more general, and Metcalfe dispenses that as well.  One key piece: Don’t be afraid of going up against entrenched incumbents. Metcalfe did just that in his own career as an entrepreneur. After co-inventing the Ethernet networking technology in 1973 at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, he co-founded 3Com to sell networking equipment based on the technology. The major incumbent in that case was none other than IBM, with its Token Ring technology. Long story short, Metcalfe and Ethernet won.

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