The Future of Computing: Forget Search?

December 6, 2011

I opened my dead tree version of the New York Times a few minutes ago. I noticed an insert called “Science Times: The Future of Computing.” You may be able to find the December 6, 2011, story at this link. No promises, however.

I found the collection of articles and essays interesting. I suppose “interesting” is a poor word choice. The collection covers start ups, the Africa meme, quantum computing, artificial intelligence (an oxymoron I have heard), online instruction (bad news for some traditional educational materials’ business models I believe), a “programmable universe” (another notion which would be fun to discuss in Philosophy 101), biocomputing, security, open source, and a look at how computing is so important.

I have zero inputs to these polished, shaped, and New York mid-town write ups. The point of the exercise, I believe, was finding the buttons to push at General Electric to get the two page spread which told me:

We power. We are making energy independence a reality. From cutting edge, think film solar panels to advanced gas turbines, we created the high-tech machines that create over a quarter of the world’s energy…

My reaction to the collection of essays in the “special” section was three fold.

First, search, findability, and information access are not concepts which made the starting team in the articles and essays. In fact, I had a tough time locating the link to the special section itself, but that type of intellectual exercise is not one that concerns most of the traditional publishing companies covering technology. The collection and its inserted advertisement seem to lack an integrating hook. In my world, the notion of integration is a pretty big idea.

Second, the special section lacked a message. After working through the “real” outputs from “real” writers, I wondered what might have been done to string these gems on a necklace. The reader would then have been able to enjoy each gem and marvel at the beauty of the necklace. Someone in that Philosophy 101 class would have offered up gestalt, but not the addled goose. I just know when a collection lacks unity.

Third, is GE the “right” advertiser. I read the ad and asked myself two questions:

  1. Isn’t the solar industry in a bit of a tail spin? Forget Solyndra. There are other economic forces which prevent my neighbors from kicking the gas and traditional electric company approach for solar technology.
  2. The energy point baffled me. I kept wondering who supplied the Fukushima reactors? I mean there were fuel pools to the left and fuel pools to the right. Then there were some fuel rods on the roof, almost out of sight.

Interesting special section. Too bad search did not make the cut. It would have been interesting to read what the public relations firms for Google, Microsoft, and Yandex (Blekko) would have said about the future. I would also have enjoyed a write up by Jon Kleinberg, whose team has found some interesting information in posted Flickr pictures. But with search on the outs in the New York knowledge value world, I will just put my fins in the water and take a paddle around the pond filled with mine run off water. None of that coal has anything to do with certain large firms which produce “over a quarter of the world’s energy.” I will consult a mobile device and run a query. The system will “know” what I want better than I do. Artificial intelligence. Just great. Just not search and retrieval or research. Who needs research?

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2011

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