The Human Touch

In this morning’s e-packet of hot technology news was a story, the likes of which we’ll see more frequently in the future. The headline: “A Computer with the Human Touch.” The lead paragraph: “Without emotion, there can be no cognitive thinking. That’s the theory at least behind IBM research into gestural recognition. IBM is developing a computer that can interpret human facial expressions, recognize voices and acknowledge gestures.” You get the gist.

Add to this MIT’s robotics lab head Rodney Brooks’ assertion that his team will have developed within a very short time a robot with the sentience of a six-month old human, and you can quickly get why Sun Microsystems’ co-founder and chief scientist Bill Joy (chief architect of both Sun SPARC and the co-developer of the Java programming language) mused (in a recent Wired magazine article) whether humans are necessary to the future. (His springboard was Ray Kurzweil’s provocative book, The Age of the Spiritual Machines and a subsequent conversation with Kurzweil and others.)

Personal computing has already jumped off the desktop and into practically everything, certainly including both the toaster and the kitchen sink. Device-embedded software (the essence of robotics) is taking on increasingly complex challenges.

Tracy Kidder’s seminal book The Soul of a New Machine may well take on a completely new cast as human-like cognitive reasoning and sentience become an everyday part of what we understand computing to be.

Given this, knowledge management and business intelligence tools, too, will take on whole new attributes that may resolve, for good or ill, much of the cultural resistance to the notion of shared know-how and know-what. Either we humans and our organizations will cross the chasm of our own inhibition to change and understand the “new currency” of knowledge and to grow this new wealth in the Knowledge Age, or our own machines may well cross it ahead of us.

It’s truly a new era.

So, it’s time for a change here as well. After nearly a quarter century of writing, editing and publishing primarily on various facets of business-to-business computing and information management, I’m now ending stewardship of this particular organization, and its various entities, which was first a glimmer in my eye in 1987. I am now very close to completing my turnover of management duties to others following the sale in December, 1999of this business, this magazine, website, conference, trade show and web-based living organism to Information Today, Inc. I leave this publication in the adroit editorial hands of Hugh McKellar and the publishing acumen hands of Thomas H. Hogan, Sr., president and CEO of Information Today, Inc.

I have consistently violated one of my own rules that no one should do the same thing for any longer than five years (given the increased velocity of time in this time, that probably is now down to four!). Now I am leaping off the precipice, hoping like hell that I both grow wings and learn to fly fast. I am curiously relaxed about it, however. And my focus now turns to some longer-term collaborative research-, thinking-, writing- and seminar (Web-conferencing) projects that are close to my heart.

As always, there’s a touch of sadness in shutting the door on one stage in a career and a life, but there is the exhilaration of opening a new one. This one opens both inward and outward into cyberspace, methinks. z

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