SNAPSHOT FROM SPACE APOLLO 11 What's bigger than a breadbox, weighs more than 70 pounds and packs less computing power than a typical video game console? The computer used onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft when it made its historic voyage to the moon and back just over 30 years ago.
Huge mainframes on the ground controlled the mission, according to Carnegie Mellon University's James Tomayko, a former NASA consultant who now directs the software engineering master's program at CMU in Pittsburgh. But the onboard computers-one in the command module, which orbited the moon, and the other in the lunar explorer itself-were used for some aspects of navigation and timing, and they could, if needed, guide the craft back home on its own. Designers thought of the onboard computer systems as the fourth crew member.
To minimize size and weight and improve performance, MIT engineers designing the computers decided to use integrated circuits rather than discrete transistors. Integrated circuits were then a three-year-old technology with no track record for reliability. "They really took a chance on that," Tomayko says. "Everything else was very conservative. They wanted to use older technology to make sure it would work." The circuits were simple, made up of three transistors and four resistors, and each computer used about 5,000 of them. By the time the spacecraft launched in 1969, the onboard computers' technology was already out of date.
There was one notable software glitch during the Apollo 11 landing, Tomayko says. The operating system was designed to schedule jobs in a cycle, devoting a few milliseconds to each; a request to increment the count in the memory register had priority over other jobs. If a job did not get done in 20 milliseconds, the system would reboot itself. When the lunar explorer module was descending to the moon, the so-called rendezvous radar hogged so many computing resources that the system restarted itself several times, setting off warnings in the craft and on the ground. Experts at Mission Control realized what the problem was and decided it was OK to land. The rest is history.
For more in-depth information about the development of the computers aboard Apollo 11 and other spacecraft, check out Tomayko's report for NASA, "Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience," on NASA's Web site at www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/computers/Compspace.html. -Sari Kalin LOOKING BACKWARD PREDICTIONS Forecasting even short-term technology and business trends can be risky business. Remember Ethernet inventor and Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe's famously unfulfilled prophecy that the Internet would collapse under its own weight in 1996? (When the Internet didn't crash, Metcalfe literally ate his own words-a copy of his column-onstage at a conference.) Yet every December, gurus, consultants, researchers, authors and futurists all try to predict what will fly and what will die in the next 12 months.
Many 1998 prognostications came true in 1999. But then, a lot of those fell into the no-brainer category. For example, nobody went too far out on a limb by predicting that, in 1999, Internet stocks would soar and crash, soar again and crash again. Other predictions contradicted each other: Some pundits projected additional portal proliferation this year, while others insisted the trend had run its course.
A few key developments pretty much escaped everyone's crystal ball: A year ago, nobody really predicted the rapid rise of vertical, or special-interest, portal sites; nobody had yet invented the term click-and-mortar to describe companies combining their online and offline businesses.
As the year draws to a close, some 1998 predictions don't appear to be in the cards for 1999:
Digital Duds GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn., included wearable computers in its list of 10 technologies to watch in 1999. How many belt-mounted computers or keyboard bracelets did you see this year?
Electronic Books GartnerGroup also advised watching for these paperback-size devices, which let users download books and other publications from the Web.
E-books did begin popping up this fall, but they remain a novelty.
My Firewall The Web Informant, an e-mail newsletter, predicted that anybody with a permanent Internet connection-even at home-would start thinking about corporate-level security. But do-it-yourself firewall kits haven't exactly become household items.
Making Money New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers said companies would start to see significant returns on their e-commerce investments by the end of 1999.
But for most companies, serious e-commerce profits are still somewhere over the millennial rainbow. -Anne Stuart WHEN WOMEN RULE THE WORLD INTERVIEW Anita Borg, a researcher with Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif., is a leading advocate for the advancement of women in technology careers. She founded the nonprofit group Institute for Women in Technology (www.iwt.org) and leads technology idea workshops for women nationwide. Recently she spoke with CIO about the role of women in corporate America, 20 to 30 years down the road.
Q: IF, IN 20 YEARS, THERE ARE AS MANY WOMEN AS MEN AT THE EXECUTIVE LEVEL, HOW WILL THAT AFFECT MANAGEMENT AND CORPORATE CULTURE? A: Women will change the corporation more than we expect. I think that even today, an awful lot of women still need to be "one of the boys" in order to succeed. And the range of behavior that's acceptable for women in those positions is still considerably more narrow than it is for men. When half of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female, the top-level meetings across corporations will have a different feel to them.
Leaders of the future will have to be visionary and be able to bring people in-real communicators. These are things that women bring to leadership and executive positions, and it's going to be incredibly valuable and incredibly in demand.
Q: DO YOU THINK WOMEN WILL HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON THE TYPES OF PRODUCTS AND SERVICES THAT COMPANIES ARE GOING TO DELIVER IN THE FUTURE?
A: Women's markets are dealt with very stereotypically right now. Having lots of women in senior leadership positions may lead to a more reality-based perception of women's markets. The way we view women as consumers of high-tech stuff will be open to change if women are there throughout the corporate hierarchy.
The women I have met who are starting companies are often more committed to the end vision of the company, of actually making that product or service happen and getting it out. I am very distressed by the tendency in Silicon Valley for people to create companies with the primary goal of being bought, not of providing a service or a product. The idea is to get it far enough that somebody will buy you, and who the heck cares what they do with it down the road. With women, the reason they're doing it is because there's a need. They can create a company that both pays salaries and makes some money for folks but meets a need. And that, for me, matches another perspective, which is that women frequently think of things they buy in terms of tools rather than toys-whether it's a computer or cosmetics. -Polly Schneider UP FOR THE COUNT CENSUS 2000 Right now, approximately 275 million people live in the United States and its territories. Imagine you have to count them all on April 1. Tough job. And not only do you have to count them, you have to assign each individual an address, or at the very least a hometown. Think of all the leases that are up March 30, how many people are moving April 1, how many babies are born that day, how many new houses are not quite finished.
That's the monster job of data collection facing the U.S. Census Bureau. Of course, April 1 is just the official date of the count; the tally won't be in until the end of the year. But the Bureau is working off a 210-year-old job description that has only gradually benefitted from technological improvements.
Indeed, Census 2000 will be the first fully computerized count-a full 110 years after the revolutionary use of punch cards and 50 years after UNIVAC 1 ramped up census processing.
The crucial development for this decade's census is the optical scanner. No more No. 2 pencils! No more filling in little circles! The scanners can read handwritten letters in pencil or ink and translate them to computer code-just one component in a system designed by Lockheed Martin Mission Systems. The code is then transmitted to one of four data capture centers around the country for processing. The center in Indiana is a permanent Census Bureau installation; the other three are just for Census 2000 and contracted to TRW.
Despite the technological advances, Census officials expect to get results only comparable in accuracy to the 1990 census, which Kenneth Prewitt, director of the bureau, admits "did not please the Census Bureau or the Bush administration or Congress or governors, mayors, and other state and local officials, or a large number of private and public sector data users, or the American public."
The Census Bureau is running faster to stay in place, he says. Why?
Technological gains have helped keep pace with the sheer volume of work resulting from a larger population, but so far the Bureau hasn't found a way to overcome civic passivity. In 1970, 85 percent of the people to whom forms were sent returned them. Ten years later, that number dropped to 75 percent. The last census, in 1990, had a 65 percent response rate, and the bureau expects a rate of 61 percent in 2000.
Technology is not free of blame, either. Census folks acknowledge that the heaps of database-generated junk mail that crowd most people's mailboxes make them more likely to overlook or toss the census form when it arrives. And people who have always been wary of government have become downright hostile in an era in which extensive computer networks seem to threaten privacy.
So the overwhelmed And the paranoid won't get counted. How much can that matter? About $200 billion worth, actually. The government uses the census to determine how to apportion funds as well as how to define congressional districts and whatnot. And the people most affected by the undercount are those farthest from the warm hearth of technology. Minorities, the poor and the transient are overlooked proportionally more than their white, middle-class compatriots are. This inaccuracy leads to civic inequities and potential business losses. For example, Prewitt says, "When Wal-Mart decides to put an outlet in a particular community, [its people] look at census data. They look at the age composition and the growth pattern of that town. They look at the ethnic composition of that town. I couldn't begin to estimate the dollar amount of the business investments that depend upon census data."-Sandy Kendall WHAT ABOUT SARAN WRAP? INVENTIONS The 20th century produced countless inventions that have changed the way people live their lives. Which have had the biggest impact? A recent survey by Harris Corp., a Melbourne, Fla.-based communications equipment company, with support from the University of Florida, asked 1,000 American consumers what technology they thought was the top innovation of the past century. The top five named were * computer (named by 40 percent) * television (12 percent) * refrigerator (12 percent) * medical advances (6 percent) * the Internet (5 percent) What about Americans' expectations for the future? Fifty-four percent of those surveyed felt that a cure for cancer or AIDS would be the top accomplishment of the 21st century; 19 percent said that solving world hunger through advanced agriculture would be the top achievement.
For more information, visit www.harris.com.
R&D IN AN IPO WORLD INNOVATION Unix as we know it today evolved over the better part of two decades under the protective gaze of Bell Laboratories Inc. TCP/IP wended its way through various iterations for nine years before it became an ARPA standard and then took another decade to make its way into widespread commercial use. Ray Ozzie cooked Notes for eight years before serving it up to the general public.
On the eve of the millennium, when IPO fever is rampant and the posting of a single quarter's results can make or break a company, can any technology or product still take that kind of time to come to market? Probably not, say several inventors of enterprise technology who know a thing or two about innovation.
But that doesn't mean the climate for creativity is necessarily bad. In fact, David A. Patterson, one of the inventors of reduced instruction set computing (RISC), says that technological innovation has become more democratic over the years. "Companies are more receptive to radical ideas." Back in the early 1980s, when Patterson was working on RISC, "innovation was for researchers at a university only," he says.
Now, any Silicon Valley startup that manages to secure sufficient funding from venture capitalists can join in the game. In fact, venture capital has proved to be quite fertile soil for fostering innovation, says Java creator James Gosling. "One of the hallmarks of people doing truly innovative things is their [tolerance] of failure," Gosling points out. "Most corporations don't like failure, but venture capitalists are expecting it. Ninety-five percent of their investments fail."
Gordon Bell, father of the VAX minicomputer, is bullish on the range and type of innovation coming from startups in Silicon Valley and technology hot spots around Seattle, Boston, Atlanta and New York. "The rate of innovation today is unprecedented," he enthuses. "We're getting on the order of 10 new startups a day in Silicon Valley."
Most such startups are now set up from the outset to function not as independent companies but as individual projects that expect to be bought up somewhere down the road. "It's a way to do projects that large companies can't do anymore," Bell says. In general, startups are simply more nimble than established technology powerhouses.
Expecting to be acquired is one thing, these inventors say, but expecting to make a killing off the stock market in your first year of business is something else entirely. Java's Gosling is just one of several pioneers who deplores the current craze to go public. "One of the things that is verging on a tragedy is that you're no longer trying to build a viable business; you're trying to fly an IPO," he says. -Tracy Mayor A ROOM WITH MANY, MANY VIEWS OFFICES OF THE FUTURE Move over, office furniture.
If the folks at British Telecom's research and development center in the United Kingdom have anything to say about it, the pale gray desk and chair sets that populate most offices are on their way out.
"The desk you have now is ideal for writing a paper, not for using technology," says John Collins, a senior research engineer at BT.
Enter Smartspace, a new virtual workspace that consists of a desk and chair with a wraparound projection screen that allows for multiple data streams and surround sound. Users can view data in a wide or split screen and can control an onscreen keyboard connected to a liquid crystal display either by voice recognition or by a finger or pen on the display service. Rotating the chair controls a remote camera, so a user can view a roomful of people via videoconferencing. Smartspace is semi-immersive, meaning the user can plug in to the virtual environment and still tune in to what's going on around him.
Smartspace is manufactured by Incorporated Technologies Ltd., which has licensed BT's patent. For now the price tag is pretty steep-the fully loaded version sells for about 42,000 (about US$70,000)-but BT expects the price to come down as production increases.
One company in England has already licensed Smartspace to use as a point-of-sale kiosk, and BT hopes to market it to airport traffic controllers or traders-anyone who needs to keep an eye on several screens at once. Someday, researchers hope, Smartspace will be common in your garden-variety office building, and BT will be able to offer customized versions for specific functions.
SLICKER CITIES? URBAN PREDICTIONS It's one thing to speculate about the future of information technology or of the corporation. But even more central, perhaps, to the tenor of our lives in the coming decades are changes that will occur closer to home-right where we live, in this country's cities.
A recent article in Preservation magazine collected various predictions by urban experts about what America's cities might look like in the year 2050. By that year, Preservation notes, there will have been dramatic changes in the U.S. population. For starters, there will be almost twice as many of us-400 million. Twenty percent of us will be over 65, while a quarter of us will be Hispanic, with white school-age kids a minority for the first time among their peers. Winters will be wetter and summers will be hotter. Three-fourths of the world will live in cities, since unclaimed land will be a rarity by then.
What follows are selected visions of the future American city, culled by Preservation:
* The Cyber City As a result of the Internet, the new dominant urban life form will be the borderless metropolis, in which a city is defined by its online interactions. Lack of adequate Net connections will create a new metropolitan underclass, according to the Taub Urban Research Center at New York University.
* The Galactic City In this view, Pennsylvania State University geographer Peirce Lewis describes a relentless urban expansion that splinters natural habitats and devours once-freestanding towns. To wit: "Lancaster County, Pa., 125 miles from Manhattan, is the newest fringe of New York commuter country; development around Phoenix now gobbles Sonoran desert at the rate of one acre every hour."
* The Green City Portland, Ore., established an urban-growth boundary in the 1970s, and many experts credit that move with preserving the health of the city's urban ecology. As Ethan Seltzer, director of the Institute of Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University, told Preservation, "It has forced people not to just use and abandon urban places but to use and reuse them."
* The Out-of-Control City Population growth in supercities such as Lagos, Nigeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Sao Paulo, Brazil, will continue to skyrocket, leaving 1.4 billion city dwellers without basic services by 2010. In our hemisphere, visits to New York, Mexico City and Los Angeles might require "a special travel kit of antibiotics, insecticide and barter goods like peanut butter or batteries."
* The Tourist City As tourism evolves into a dominant economic force, many cities will develop a tourist bubble catering to out-of-town visitors and protecting them from any unpleasantness elsewhere in the city. A current example: Boston's Freedom Trail and Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
* The Global Warming City In a June 1999 statement, the Red Cross predicted that climate change, environmental damage and population pressures will combine to make weather-related superdisasters the key feature of the next century.
Global warming will lead to flooding that will reclaim large portions of coastal cities such as New York.
The overall picture? Kind of makes Y2K look like nursery school. Fortunately, predictions don't always come true. Let's hope many of these don't.
"We will have a robot that dresses us. The robot knows when you are ready to get dressed because it watches you. You can tell it what you want to wear. Then it will pick up the dress and tell you to put up your arms. At the end of the day, the robot takes off your clothes and puts on your pajamas. The robot even puts your clothes in the laundry." -Nicole M., 11 TOP 10 SIGNS THAT YOU'VE HAD TOO MUCH OF THE '90S End of a Decade 10. You try to enter your password on the microwave.
9. You haven't played solitaire with a real deck of cards in years.
8. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
7. Your daughter sells Girl Scout cookies via her Web site.
6. You buy a computer and a week later it's selling for half the price you paid.
5. Cleaning up the dining area means getting the fast food bags out of the back seat of your car.
4. Your reason for not staying in touch with family is that they do not have e-mail addresses.
3. You consider second-day air delivery painfully slow.
2. You refer to your dining room table as the flat filing cabinet.
And the top sign that you've had too much of the '90s...
1. You hear your jokes via e-mail instead of in person.
Source: From a circulated e-mail; author unknown.