Category Archives: Vint Cerf

Zen and the Art of Software: The Innovation Interview with Grady Booch (Part 3)

In parts one and two of our chat with  software star Grady Booch, we discussed his magnum opus project  COMPUTING: The Human Experience, Innovation, the Computer History Museum and the possible changing brain structure of Millennials, among many other things.

In this, the final segment of our discussion with him, we look at software – and software architecture – in general, Grady’s relationship with it in particular, the troubles facing Google and Facebook, the web, and his views on the SOPA, PIPA and ACTA bills.

To view the full introduction to this multi-part interview with Grady: Click here

Grady Booch: Capital I Interview Series – Number 14

[This was a joint conversation between Grady, Michael and myself. I’ve italicised Michael’s questions to Ora so you are able to differentiate between us – though, I think it will become obvious as you read – lol!]

Grady, You are credited with the building, writing and architecting of so much technology;  of all of those things, what is it that you are most proud of?

There are three things.  The first one is very personal.  My godson – he would have been eight or nine at the time –  was given a task at his school to write about a hero, and he wrote about me.  That was pretty cool!  Everything else is details, but I’m really proud of that one.

On a technical basis, I’m pleased with the creation of the UML, not just because of the thing we created, but the whole idea and industry around it that being able to visualise and reason about software-intensive systems in this way is a good thing. So, I think we lifted the tide for a lot of folks.

UML Diagrams

I contributed to the notion of architecture and looking at it from multiple views, and how to represent it.  I feel good about the whole thing around modelling and architecture and abstraction.  I think I helped people and I feel good about that.

UML was certainly a game changer.  I remember when it came in, before you got bought up by IBM.  It was like a wave going across the globe.  It made a profound difference.

And it’s different now because it’s part of the oxygen.  Not everybody is using it, that’s okay – not everybody is using C++ or Java and that’s fine – but I think we changed the way people think.

Our estimates are that UML has a penetration of somewhere around 15 to 20 percent of the marketplace.  That’s a nice number.  We’ve changed the way people build things.

Absolutely, especially at the big end of the market.

Yeah.  I wrote an article in my architecture column, that tells the story of when I was dealing with my aneurysm.  I was laying in a CT scan machine in the Mayo Clinic, looking up and saying: “My gosh, I know the people who wrote the software for this, and they’ve used my methods.”  That’s a very humbling concept.

It’s a pretty much a pretty good Acid test, isn’t it.

Yes, it is.

And your work is continuing in architecture…

Correct. I continue on with the handbook of software architecture, and a lot of what I do, in both the research side and with customers, is to help them in the transformation of their architectures.

For IBM the last nine months or so I’ve been working with the Watson team – the Jeopardy playing game – and helping the teams that are commercialising their technology.

How do you take this two-million line code base, built by 25 men and women, drop it in another domain and give it to a set of people who know nothing about that system.  This is exactly the kind of stuff that I do for customers, and I’ve been helping IBM in that regard.

That would be very challenging.  You’d need somebody with your brain power to actually manage that, I imagine.

Well, it’s not an issue of brain power, it’s an issue of: how does one look at systems like this and reason about them in a meaningful way.  And after the UML comes in – because it allows us to visualise it and the whole notion of architecture as used from multiple dimensions – all these things come together.  That make a two million line code base understandable to the point where I can know where the load-bearing walls are and I can manipulate them.

That is pretty impressive!  You’ve found a way of managing the slicing and dicing of the codebase.

That’s a problem that every organisation faces.  I have an article that talks about the challenges Facebook is going to have.  Because they…. every software-intensive system is a legacy system.  The moment I write a line of code, it becomes part of my legacy…

Especially if you’re successful upfront and gets massive growth, like they did.

Yes, and having large piles of money in your revenue stream often masks the ills of your development process.


Google’s faced that, Facebook is facing that.  They have about a million lines of [the programming language] PHP that drives the core system – which is really not a lot of code – still built on top of MySQL, and it’s grown and grown over time.

I think, as they split to develop across the coast – because they’re opening up a big office in New York City – that very activity changes the game.  No longer will all of the developers fit within one building, so the social dynamics change.

Inside Facebook's Madison Avenue Offices

Ultimately, what fascinates me about the whole architecture side of it is that it is a problem that lies on the cusp of technology and society.  It’s a technical problem on the one hand – so there are days I’ll show up as an uber geek – and on the other hand, it’s a problem that’s intensely social in nature, so I’ll show up as a ‘Doctor Phil’.

To follow-up on one of Kim’s questions: if you look at the backlog of IT, I think every company of moderate size is still struggling to deliver on business demands. Do you think that architecture helps or, does it actually contributes to the problem?

Architecture can help in two ways.

I’ll give you one good example.  There is a company called OOCL (Orient Overseas Container Line) that I worked with some years ago to help them devise an architecture for their system that tracks containers and all these kind of things.  Their CEO had this brilliant notion: what would happen if we were to take this system and extract all of the domain-specific bits of it and then sell that platform?

By having a focused-upon architecture, they were able to devise a platform – this is a decade before and these kind of things – and they could then go into a completely new business and dominate that side of the marketplace.   Here is an example where a focused-upon architecture has a real, material, strategic business implication.

The other thing focused-upon architecture offers is, it  is allows you to capture the institutional memory of a piece of software.  The code is the truth, but the code is not the whole truth.  So, in so far as we can retain the tribal memory of why things are the way they are, it helps you preserve the investment you made in building that software in the first place.

What sort of size company are you talking about?  It sounds like the telco space… large Tier 1 and  Tier 2 companies. 

It could be anybody that wants to dominate a particular business. built a platform in that space.  Look at Autostar as another example.  Autostar was an attempt by BMW, and others, to define a common architectural platform, hardware and software, for in-car electronics.  By virtue of having that focused-upon architecture, all of a sudden you have unified the marketplace and made the marketplace bigger, because now it’s a platform against which others can plug and play.

There is a similar effort  with MARSSA, which is an attempt to develop a common architectural platform for electronics for boats and yachts.  Again, it eliminates the competition of the marketplace by having a set of standards against which, people can play well together.  In the end, you’ve made the marketplace bigger because it’s now more stable.

I agree. Also, an architectural approach separates the data from an application specific way of looking at things.

It used to be the case that we’d have fierce discussions about operating systems.  Operating systems are part of the plumbing; I don’t care about them that much anymore.  But, what I do care about is the level of plumbing above that.

My observations of what’s happening is that you see domain-specific architectures popping up that provide islands against which people can build things.  Amazon is a good example of such a platform.  Facebook could become that, if they figure out how to do it right – but they haven’t gotten there yet.  I think that’s one of the weaknesses and blind spots Facebook has.

I also think that they are, to a certain extent, a first generation.  I think the web, in terms of connectivity, is not being utilised to its fullest potential.  I don’t see any reason why, for example, any form of smart device shouldn’t be viewed as being a data source that should be able to plug in to these architectures.


Would that be an example of a collaborative development environment?

Well, that’s a different beast altogether.

With regards to collaborative development environments, what led me to interest in that space is emphasising the social side of architecture.  Alan Brown [IBM engineer and rational expert] and I wrote a paper on collaborative environments  almost ten years ago, so it was kind of ahead of its time.

Alan Brown

The reason my thinking was in that space was extrapolating the problem of large-scale software development, as we’re becoming more and more distributed, to just how does one attend to the social problems therein.  If I can’t fit everybody in the same room, which is ideal, then what are the kinds of things that I do that can help me build systems.

I’ve observed two things that are fundamental to crack to make this successful.  The first is the notion of trust: in so far as I can work well with someone, it’s because I trust them.  You, Kim, trust your husband Michael, and therefore there is this unspoken language between the two of you that allows you to do things that no other two people can do together.

Now, move that up to a development team, where you work and labour together in a room, where you understand one another well.  The problem comes – like with Facebook, and what we’ve done in outsourcing – when you break apart your teams (for financial reasons) across the country or across the world.  Then, all of a sudden, you’ve changed the normal mechanisms we have for building trust.   Then the question on the table is: what can one do to provide mechanisms to provide building of trust?  That’s what drives a lot of ideas in collaborative development environments.

The other thing is the importance of serendipity – the opportunity to connect with people in ways that are unanticipated, this option of ‘just trying things out’.  You need to have that ability too.  The way we split teams across the world doesn’t encourage either trust or serendipity.  So, a lot of ideas regarding collaborative environments were simply: “What can we do to inject those two very human elements into this scheme?”

As we have been talking about trust, I’m curious as to your opinion on the SOPA, PIPA and ACTA bills.

I’ve Tweeted about it, and I’m pretty clear that I think those bills are so ill-structured as to be dangerous.

I get the concept, I understand the issues of privacy and the like, and I think something needs to be done here.  But I’m disturbed by both the process that got us there and the results.  Disturbed by the process in the sense that the people who created the bills seemed to actively ignore advice from the technical community, and were more interested in hearing the voices of those whose financial interest would be protected by such a bill.

The analogy I make would be as if all of a sudden you make roads illegal because people do illegal things in their cars.  It’s stupid the way the process that led up to this bill was set, I think, because it was very, very political.  From a technical perspective, while I respect what needs to be done here, the actual details of it are so wrong – they lead you to do things to the web that are very, very destructive indeed.  That’s why I’m strongly, strongly opposed to it. And I have to say that this is my personal opinion, not that of IBM, etc.

This is the final segment of our multi-part interview with Grady Booch. Part One can be read here, and Part Two can be read here

You can learn more about Grady via the COMPUTING: The Human Experience website, Grady’s blog and his Twitter feed. Be sure to keep your eye on the COMPUTING: The Human Experience YouTube channel where Grady’s lecture series will be posted.

[Kim, Michael and Grady Skyped from their homes in Sydney and Hawaii.]

Zen and the Art of Software: The Innovation Interview with Grady Booch (Part 2)

In the pantheon of world-famous computer scientist’s, Grady Booch is the star who co-authored the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and co-developed object-oriented programming (OOP). He is a Fellow of  IBM, ACM, the IEEE, the author of six books, hundreds of articles and papers and the Booch Method of Software engineering. Grady serves on several boards, including that of the Computer History Museum and is the author, narrator and co-creator of what could be seen as a historical magnum opus of the technological world, COMPUTING: The Human Experience. 

To view the full introduction to this multi-part interview with Grady, and Part 1 of the series: Click here

Grady Booch: Capital I Interview Series – Number 14

[This was a joint conversation between Grady, Michael and myself. I’ve italicised Michael’s questions to Ora so you are able to differentiate between us – though, I think it will become obvious as you read – lol!]

Grady, lets begin with the very basics. As this is the Innovation Interview Series, let’s start with: how do you define innovation?

Ecclesiastes 1:9 has this great phrase:

What has been will be again.  What has been done before will be done again.  There is nothing new under the Sun“.

The way I take it is that innovation – really deep innovation – is about warming the Earth with the Sun of your own making. And to that end, that’s how I distinguish the ‘small i’ from the ‘Big I’.

The ‘small i’ therefore means: I may have a brilliant idea and it warms me, but the ‘Big I’ Innovation is where I can start warming others.  There are new suns possible; there are new ways of warming the Earth… And I think innovation is about doing so.

One of my heroes is the physicist Richard Feynman. If you read any of his stuff or watch his physics lectures – which are just absolutely incredible [Ed. Note: As is his series: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out] – there are some conclusions you can draw (and there is a delightful article someone wrote about the nine things they learned from Feynman.  The way I frame it is to say that I admire him and his innovation because he was intensely curious but at the same time he was bold, he was not fearful of going down a path that interested him. At the same time (too) he was also very child-like and very, very playful.  In the end what really inspires me from Feynman’s work is he was never afraid to fail, but much like Joseph Campbell observes, he followed his bliss.

Richard Feynman

I think that many innovators are often isolated because we’re the ones who are following our bliss; we really don’t care if others have that same bliss.  We are so consumed by that, that we follow it where it leads us, and we do so in a very innocent, playful way… We are not afraid to fail.

I’ve noticed that there is often a level of audacity and a lack of fear within innovators, but sometimes I wonder if that audacity and lack of fear could frighten general society.

Well, I think there’s a fine line between audacity and madness.

And that depends on what side of the fence you’re on.

Exactly. It also depends upon the cultural times. Because, what Galileo said in his time [that the earth and planets revolve around the sun] was not just audacious, it was threatening.

To the church, absolutely.

In a different time and place [the response to] Galileo would have been: “Well, yeah, that’s right. Let’s move on now”.   [Instead of being tried by the Inquisition, found suspect of heresy, forced to recant and spend the rest of his life under house arrest.]  The sad thing is you may have the most brilliant idea in the world, but you will never go anywhere.

Take a look historically at Charles Babbage.  I think he was a brilliant man who had some wonderful ideas; he was very audacious, and yet he’s a tragic figure because he never really understood how to turn his ideas into reality.  [A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and engineer; Babbage originated the idea of a programmable computer.]  That’s what ‘Capital I’ mean to me.  I think that’s why Steve Jobs was so brilliant; it’s not just that he had cool ideas, but he knew how to turn that into an industry.

We have a golden rule that it really doesn’t matter how cool your tech is if nobody’s using it. And it’s a shame because there are some incredible innovations out there, but so many innovators haven’t learned the Job’s magic of marketing.

KimmiC rule: It doesn’t matter how ‘bright the light’ if no one is using it to read.  

I think that’s especially true of our domain of computing systems, because we are ones who are most comfortable – as a gross generalisation – with controlling our machines.  Being able to connect with humans is a very different skill set. To find people who have the ability to do both is very, very challenging indeed.

Zuckerberg is a brilliant programmer, and he had the sense to surround himself with the right people so that he could make those things [Facebook] manifest.  There are probably dozens upon dozens of Zuckerbergs out there, who had similar ideas at the same time, but they didn’t know how to turn them into reality.

The same thing could be said of Tim Berners-Lee: a brilliant man, a nice man…  He was in the right time at the right place and he knew how to push the technology that he was doing.  He was developing things that were in a vast primordial soup of ideas.

Tim Berners-Lee

HyperCard was out; and why didn’t HyperCard succeed while Tim’s work did?  Part of it is technical, part of it just the will of Apple, and part was his [Tim] being in the right place at the right time.

And HyperCard influenced Tim.  Even Bill Atkinson, creator of HyperCard, said: if only he had come up with the notion of being able to link across [Hyper]card decks, then he would have invented the prototypical web.  But, he didn’t do it, he didn’t think about it.

Do you feel that you are ‘in the right time,  at the right place’?

There are times that I think I was born in the wrong century, but I know that if I had been born in the Middle Ages, at my age, I would be long dead.

So, yes, I can say from a very philosophical basis: I am quite content with the time in which I am now living, because I cannot conceive of any other time in which I could have been successful.

I read a quote on Wikipedia… a story you apparently told:

… I pounded the doors at the local IBM sales office until a salesman took pity on me. After we chatted for a while, he handed me a Fortran [manual]. I’m sure he gave it to me thinking, “I’ll never hear from this kid again.” I returned the following week saying, “This is really cool. I’ve read the whole thing and have written a small program. Where can I find a computer?” The fellow, to my delight, found me programming time on an IBM 1130 on weekends and late-evening hours. That was my first programming experience, and I must thank that anonymous IBM salesman for launching my career.”

It sounds like you were quite fortunate to have bumped into someone who was willing to take a chance with you very early on.

I think that’s fair to say.  Though, if it hadn’t been that person, I imagine the universe would have conspired to find me another person, because I was so driven.   Looking backward upon fifty-some years passed, that was the right time and place.  It may have just happened to be that was the right time and guy. But there would have been others.

Grady Presenting

[But] I haven’t told you about the missteps I had and the people who rejected me; we just talk about the successes.  Historians are the ones who write history. Because it’s the history of the winners, we don’t tend to write about the failures.  But even Edison pointed out… I forget the exact quote, but the reason he succeeded so much is he’s done so much and he’s failed; he’s failed more than others on an absolute basis, but he tried more.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

What, in your view, gets in the way of the success of innovation?

I think the main thing is the fear of failure. I run across people like Babbage for example… or this gentleman I was mentoring earlier today, who are so fearful that they’re not doing something absolutely perfect, they are afraid to turn it into a reality. I think some innovators are so enamoured with perfection they are afraid to fail and therefore never do anything.

Within this milieu you seem to have had your fingers in many interesting pies.  One that I think must be especially fascinating is your work with the Computer History Museum.  How did you get involved in that?

In a way they came to me.  My interest has been in software, it always has been.  I forget the circumstances but, some years ago, I connected with John Toole, who was the original CEO of the Computer History Museum when it was in the Bay Area. He showed me around the warehouse that they had set aside at Moffett Airfield.

Not long before that they had shipped a lot of the materials from the old computer museum in Boston out to the Bay Area.  Gordon Moore [co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Intel] and others had said they wanted to make a museum, and they funded that effort.  So, I was around the edges of it in the early days. I thought it was fascinating.

I think the reason it attracted me in the first place, in general, is that I have an interest in the appreciation of history, not just the history of technology, but just the history of humanity.

As I went to the exhibits I remember making the observation to John that I thought their plans were great, but, projecting out to one or two generations, there wasn’t going to be too much that was interesting to display in the museum because, by then, all of the hardware would have shrunk to a tiny size and we’d need microscopes in the exhibits.

“And so, therefore, John”, I said, “what are you doing about preserving the history of software,” which is a very ephemeral thing.

Think about getting the original source code to the [IBM Operating System] 360, or the original source code to Facebook.  Because these are such ephemeral things, people throw them away.  In fact we, IBM, no longer have the original source code to the first version of OS/360; it’s gone.  There are later versions but not the original one.

Facebook Source Code

When Microsoft decided to stop production on the Microsoft Flight Simulator, I mean, this was a ground-breaking program, I wrote off to Ray Ozzie [Microsoft CTO and CTA from 2005 – 2010] and said: “What are you guys going to do with the software? Can we have it?”   He munched around for a while, but I think it’s lost for all time.

We’re in an interesting period of time and my passion, which has led me to the museum, is to say: Now is to time to preserve software!  We don’t know how to present it, we don’t know what to do with it once we have it, but let’s worry about that in future generations and just capture it now.

It’s very similar to what Hollywood has found with a lot of their film stock. A lot of it was just being lost or destroyed, but there is so much cultural history in those records.

Yes, exactly.  So, prior to being on the board, I set up a workshop at the museum looking at the preservation of classic software.  I wrote to 500 of my ‘closest friends’… people ranging from Marvin Minsky [cognitive scientist in the field of AI] to some other developers I knew, and everybody in between, and asked: “What software would you preserve for future generations?”

We came up with a long list.  I think that very idea inspired Len Shustek, who’s the president of the museum, to invite me on to be on the board of trustees.

What is your favourite exhibit in the museum?

I like the [IBM] 1401 reproduction.  They have a couple of 1401 machines and they’ve gotten them running again.  It’s fun to be in a place where there is something dynamic and alive and runs and you can be in the midst of it.  Just walking into the room, you smell old computers; and that’s a pretty cool kind of smell.  So, is the fact it’s running and clacking away.

The 1401

Fred Brooks [IBM software engineer] and I had an interesting discussion once, in which I lamented the fact that our computers make no noise, because – and I know I sound like an old guy, but – I remember you could hear some of the earlier computers I worked on. They were clattering in one way or another, be it their hard drives or their tapes, and you could get a feel for where the program was just by listening.

You can’t do that now with our machines; they are all very, very quiet. So, the 1401 exhibit has this wonderful visceral immersive display, in which you hear it and smell it as it processes.

I’ve actually seen people get a little misty-eyed just thinking about a dial-up tone, and you certainly seem to have some ‘misty memories’ too.  But, let’s look forward now.  What new things do you think may be exhibited in ten years time.

I think that’s the next interesting challenge.  We know how to display physical things, but there aren’t that many more things like old machines, to collect because they are disappearing.

If you go to the exhibits, you’ll see things get smaller and smaller and there is more of an interest in software.  I think the interesting problem for the museum to attempt is: how do we present software to the general public so that we open the curtain on it and show some of the magic and the mystery therein.  I think software can be very beautiful, but how do I explain that to someone who can’t see software. That’s an interesting challenge.

You’ve got to look at it it like an art form.  Source code, especially some of the well-written stuff, looks physically beautiful; forget about what it actually does.  There are many different dimensions you can look at try to get people’s interest.

[Editors Challenge to artists: here is a piece of code I’ve ‘mucked about with’ 

– why not see what code inspires you to create and send us a picture, which we’ll share with our readers, Grady Booch and the Computer History Museum!]

I think it’s very much like modern art because you can look at a bit of an impressionistic painting and you may not get it. Often the reactions are: “My kid could do that kind of thing.”

Well, not exactly; because the more you learn about it, the more you learn how much that painting – or whatever the art form is –  speaks to you and tells you stories.  It requires a little bit of education.

There is a visceral reaction at first to some art but the more you know about it, the more you can appreciate its subtlety.  I think the same is true of software.  We (the museum) have collected the original source code to Mac Paint, which turns out to be a really beautiful piece of software.

I’m using a phrase here that has meaning to me – beautiful – but requires explanation to the general public to say: why is this a beautiful piece of code, why does it look so well-formed?  I think that’s a responsibility we have as insiders to explain and teach that kind of beauty.

What are your thoughts about the emerging trends in Innovation and technology?

Well, the web has been an amazing multiplier, and yet at the same time it’s also increased the noise.  Therefore, the ability to find the real gems in the midst of all this madness is increasingly challenging.  For example, with the computing project  [COMPUTING: The Human Experience] we’ve done, we crowdsourced some initial seed funding for our work.

We could not have done this in the past without something like the web.  We put this appeal out to the world and it gave us access to people, otherwise we could not have done it.  I think the web has produced an amazing primordial soup of ideas into which we can tap; and that is so game-changing in so many ways.  That’s probably the biggest thing. [You can contribute to and volunteer for the project here.]

The web has changed everything; and those who don’t keep up are doomed to be buggy web producers.

Yes, exactly.  Or companies like Kodak.

I had the opportunity to speak to Kodak’s developers about 15 years ago.  It was a small group of people who were in the computer side of Kodak, and I remember saying to them: “Look guys, the future of Kodak is in your hands… so, what are you going to do about it?”

I Tweeted about it not too long ago with a sort of “I told you so.”  And yet, I don’t know whether or not it was inevitable.  It could be the case that some businesses simply die because they just don’t make sense any more.

And they should die sometimes.  But I think early IBM was a good example of a company that understood what business it was in.  I don’t think Kodak really understood what business it was in, towards the end, and that’s what killed it.

I agree, very much so.

Some web business models are founded on the idea that a company has a right to use and profit from an individuals data and personal information… What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that that’s a business model that’s sustainable? I believe that the general public is wising up to this very quickly and are soon going to expect some recompense from the use of their data.

I think there is a local issue and there is global issue that is even harder to tackle.  In the case of the Facebooks and the Twitters of the world, the reality is when I subscribe to those services, I do have a choice – I can chose whether or not to use them.  And, by the very fact that I’m using those services means I am giving up something in the process.

So, why should I be outraged if those companies are using my data, because I’m getting those services for free.  It seems like a reasonable exchange here, and I, as an adult, have the responsibility of choice.  Where it becomes nasty is when I no longer have choice; when that choice is taken away from me.  That’s when it becomes outrageous: when my data is being used beyond my control [in a way] that I did not expect.

I think that will sort itself over time; capitalism has a wonderful way of sorting things.  It’s also the case that we have a generation behind the three of us who are growing up, if not born, digital.  They have a very different sense of privacy, so, I’m not so concerned about it. We have lots of ‘heat and smoke’ but it will resolve itself.

What I find curious is that the ‘heat and smoke’ and discussions are hardly any different from what was initially said about telephones or, for that matter, the printing of the book.  Look at some histories of how phones were brought into the marketplace and you’ll find almost identical arguments to those that are going on today.

I trust the human spirit and the way capitalism works to find a way.  What’s more challenging is the larger issue, and that is the reality that there are connections that can be made in the presence of this data that are simply beyond anybody’s control.

I may choose to share some information on a social media source, or I may use a credit card or whatever, but the very act of participating in the modern society leaves behind a trail of digital detritus.  And I can’t stop that unless I choose to stop participating in the modern world.

I think this is a case where we’ll have politicians do some profoundly stupid things, and we’ll see lots of interesting cases around it.  But, we’ll get used to it.  I mean, people didn’t like the idea of putting their money in a bank for God’s sake, and we got used to it; I think the same thing will happen.

You brought up the Millennials – the digitised generation. What insights would you give them in being game-changers?”

Does any young adult ever want the advice of their elders?

I didn’t ask if they wanted it… 🙂

You know… I think, we laugh about it, but the reality is – and I think Jobs said it well: “Death is a wonderful invention because it allows us to get out of the way and let the next generation find their own way.”  I’m comforted by that; I find great peace in that notion.  They need to have the opportunity to fail and find their own way.  If I were born a Millennial, I’d be growing up in an environment that’s vastly different than mine.

Though, in the end, we are all born, we all die, and we all live a human experience in various ways, there are common threads there… the stories are the same for all of us.  I think those are the kinds of things that are passed on from generation to generation, but everything else is details.

I would not be surprised if the structuring of their brain is different to ours.  I’ve been talking to guys that are 10 – 15 years younger than me, and the ability to hold their train of thought over weeks or months – when you’re doing some serious development or research – they seem to find that extremely difficult.  So, I wonder if we’ll see any really big innovations coming through from those generations.

You could claim that it’s not just the web that’s done that, but it’s back to Sesame Street and the notion of bright, shiny objects that are in and out of our view in a very short time frame.  Certainly I think a case can be made that our brains are changing; we are co-evolving with computing – we truly are.

But, at the same time, throw me in the woods and I couldn’t find my way out of it easily; I can’t track myself well, I can’t tell you what things are good to eat and what things aren’t.  Those are survival skill that someone would have needed to have had a century or two ago.  So, my brain has changed in that regard, just as the Millennials’ brains are changing. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I’m not at a point to judge it, but it is a thing.

End of Part Two.  Part Three will be published next week – sign up for the blog and it will be delivered directly to your inbox!

You can learn more about Grady via the COMPUTING: The Human Experience website, Grady’s blog and his Twitter feed. Be sure to keep your eye on the COMPUTING: The Human Experience YouTube channel where Grady’s lecture series will be posted.

[Kim, Michael and Grady Skyped from their homes in Sydney and Hawaii.]

Zen and the Art of Software: The Innovation Interview with Grady Booch (Part 1)

One of the greatest things about ‘Flat World Navigating’ the internet, is that it enables connections with fascinating minds, even if from a distance.  If you are able to then reach out to those magnificent minds and invite them to have a chat – the encounter can be transformational.  Such was the case with Grady Booch, who is, I believe, a most genial genius – a man who brings Zen to Art of Software.

Grady Booch: Capital I Interview Series – Number 14

I first encountered Grady Booch via his project, COMPUTING: The Human Experience, “a transmedia project engaging audiences of all ages in the story of the technology that has changed humanity.” I was immediately hooked on the concept, and wanted to discover the mega-mind who thought to pull this off.

In the pantheon of world-famous computer scientist’s, Grady Booch is the star who co-authored the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and was one of the original developers of object-oriented programming (OOP). That alone would be immensely impressive, but it is far from the end of Grady’s long list of credits, which include being an IBM Fellow (IBM’s highest technical position) and Chief Scientist for Software Engineering at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

In fact, he’s quite a fella, being a fellow the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the World Technology Network (WTN) as well as being a Software Development Forum Visionary and recipient of Dr. Dobb’s Excellence in Programming Award and three – yes three! – Jolt Awards .

There is a rumour (one which he doesn’t discuss), that Grady was approached to takeover from Bill Gates as by Microsoft’s chief software architect.  What is not a rumour, and what Grady does admit to, is that he taught himself to program in 1968 and had built his first computer a year earlier – at the age of 12.

He is the author of six books, hundreds of articles, and papers that originated in the term and practice of object-oriented design (OOD) and collaborative development environments (CDE), and the Booch Method of Software engineering. Grady serves on the advisory board of the International Association of Software Architects (IASA), the IEEE Software editorial boards and the board of the Computer History Museum.

Yes, with all that (and more) to his credit, Grady could quite comfortably sit on his laurels, and yet, instead he is the author, narrator and co-creator of what could be seen as a historical magnum opus of the technological world, COMPUTING: The Human Experience.

“At the intersection of humanity and technology is COMPUTING. From the abacus to the iPad, from Gutenberg to Google, from the Enigma machine designed to crack the codes of the Nazi SS to the Large Hadron Collider designed to crack the code of the universe, from Pong to Halo, we have created computing to count the uncountable, remember beyond our own experience, touch the invisible and see the unforeseeable. COMPUTING: The Human Experience is a brilliant and surprising insider view of the hidden stories of passion, greed, rebellion, rage and creation that created the technologies that are everywhere, transforming our world, our lives, and who we are as a species.”

Grady is not alone in this endeavour, working as he does with a tremendous creative team which includes, among others: Grammy Award winner, Seth Friedman; President of the Computer History Museum, John Hollar; and psychotherapist/theologian/social worker Jan Booch, Grady’s wife, co-writer and co-creator of this obvious labour of love. The series will include lectures, books, videos, an interactive website, and much more.

February 24, 2012 sees Grady launch the first in a series of lecture series at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California.  For those readers who are not lucky enough to be in the vicinity to attendWoven on the Loom of Sorrow: The Co-Evolution of Computing and Conflict’, I hope you will enjoy reading this multi-part Innovation Interview with Grady as much as Michael and I enjoyed talking to him!

Grady Booch: Capital I Interview Series – Number 14 

Grady, when I clicked on the link from your LinkedIn profile, I was extremely excited by the idea of the COMPUTING: The Human Experience and found it to be immensely interesting!  What made you feel that it was important to compute the human experience?

I think it has to do a lot of where I am in my life.  In the sense that I have nothing left to prove, if you will, and I could do what I want to do.  I could just happily fade away into an existence here.  But, I think part of it is wanting to give back to the community that has given so much to me; and being able to express to the general public my child-like joy and delight at what I do.  That’s why I think I chose to go down this path of telling the story.

In the end, I’m a story teller, and I think there is a story to be told here. There’s probably some other factors that happened that led me in this direction. Just random stories… A side conversation with one of our goddaughters…

We were talking to her about computing stuff, and she said:

“Oh, I know everything there is to know about computing. Because I’ve taken a class.”
“Oh, what did you learn?”
“Well, in my class we learned how to write a Word document and how to surf the web.”
I was like: “Oh, my gosh; there is so much more!”

It’s things like that that have led me to say… We’ve created this technology, and I’m responsible for helping create that technology, and we as a civilisation have chosen to step inside and live inside it. We’ve created a world and yet most of people in the world don’t understand it and can’t understand how to use it to their advantage.

I think my goal is: let’s open the curtain and explain some of that matter, and the mystery, beauty, excitement, and human stories that lead to it.

I think there is a lot of latent interest there, that is untapped at the moment.

I think so; I hope so.  Well, there is a lot of interest in anything.  Why do you think we still watch celebrities like Paris Hilton? It’s amazing what people get interested in.

But I think here is a topic that has profoundly changed humanity, and we are at the time and place where we can talk about it.  And the people who made these changes… many of them are still alive, so let’s get their stories and tell that to the world!

The phrase I often use is: “An educated populous is far better able to reconcile its past, reason about its present and shape its future.”  And I want to help contribute to educating that populous.

You don’t shy away from contentious topics, either. Such as: computing and war, computing and faith, and computing and politics. What are your thoughts on these subjects?

It’s interesting you called them controversial, because I see them as simply part of human experience.  The reality is that there are billions of people, a billion Muslims, a billion Christians, and lots of others who profess a faith of some sort.  So, to not talk about faith denies an element of the human experience; to not talk about war denies the existence of warfare.  It’s not intentionally controversial, it’s a recognition that this is part of the human experience, and that it’s reasonable for us to consider what role computing has played in it.

So, let’s take computing and war for example. This is the one that I’ll be giving my first lecture [Woven on the Loom of Sorrow: The Co-Evolution of Computing and Conflict] on at the Computer History Museum on February 24.  My premise is that war is part of the human experience, for better or worse.

By the way, a background you must recognise was that I trained to be a warrior.  I went to the Air Force Academy and I learned about war, and many of my classmates have killed people in anger in warfare.  It’s part of the life in which I have lived.

And yet, if you look at the parallel story of computing and warfare, the conclusion I draw is that computing was, at one time, a companion to warfare; it now is a means of warfare, and it’s quickly becoming a place of warfare.  I’d like to tell that story: an observation, from an insider, of how computing has both enabled and been shaped by warfare.

I think the average person would be surprised to know that your average smart phone, and a considerable amount of technology, exists simply because of what happened during the Cold War and World War II.

2012 is the centenary of Alan Turning's birth

There are surprises in those regards.  There are also some incredible personal stories. The tragic story of Alan Turing... [considered to be the father of computer science and AI]


Who changed the course of World War II.  He saved a nation, and yet that very nation eventually condemned him because he was homosexual. Go figure!

Will the lecture be something that people around the world will be able to access?

Our intent is to make it available on our YouTube channel and the museum’s channel. And I believe the local PBS station, QED, has an interest in making it available on their channels as well.


So, yeah, we’re going to see a wide distribution of this.  Ultimately, you can view this as the alpha (or beta) of what we’re trying to do with the series.  One of the main things we’d like to get out to the world is an eleven-part series for broadcast. This [lecture] is not the broadcast, but we’re talking about it and this is one of the lectures about it.

What is the end product, or goal, of the COMPUTING: The Human Experience project? Would you say that the series is the end product, or is it something that doesn’t necessarily have to have an end?

It won’t ever have an end because I hope we will develop a dialogue with the public that goes on far beyond this.

Look at Sagan’s Cosmos; it’s still being seen to this day.  I hope, and I certainly strive, to produce something as interesting and as timeless that.  So, I’ll put it in the terms of [political scientist] Herbert Simon:  ‘What our intermediate stable forms are‘…  We want to produce eleven one-hour episodes (that’s a big thing), have a book, an e-book, curriculum materials, some Aaps.  Those are the physical things we’ll actually be delivering.

To that end, you’ve already gone through one very successful Kickstarter funding round.  I’m sure there will be others, but, other than helping to fund the project, what can readers of the Innovation interviews do to help you, and the project, reach some of those goals?

I think there are two things: My wife Jan and I have self-funded this for the last four years, but we’ve now gone to funding, like with Kickstarter – the very process of doing a Kickstarter has brought a number of volunteers to us.  In the next few years, we need to raise about eleven-million dollars to pull this off.  We’re going to foundations, we’re talking to individuals, and we’ll continue on that path.

Grady and Jan Booch

In a recent interview with Grady, Darryl K. Taft noted, “Meanwhile, Jan’s role on the project is multi-faceted.  As a social worker, she attends to issues of multiculturalism, inclusivism and the impact computing has had on society.  As a psychotherapist, her focus is on how human desires and needs have shaped and continue to shape the development of computing technology.  As a theologian, her focus is on the moral and ethical issues found in the story of computing.  Finally, as a non-technical person, she assures that the stories will be approachable, understandable and interesting to the general public.”

Working on the book and lecture series allows us to continue story development in a very, very low-cost kind of way. So, one of the things that I hope people can do is to say: “Hey! I know a guy who knows a guy, who works for this person, and they may be interested.” I hope we can find some serendipitous connections to people with whom we can find some funding.

I know foundations within the US, but I don’t know what opportunities there are in other parts of the world; we’re telling a global story so I hope we can get some connections that way.

The second is: I hope that people will look at this and say: “This is interesting. I think you should tell this story or that story.”  And so I hope from this people will come to us and help inform us as to what they thing the world should know about.

[They hope to collect more than 2,000 human experience videos for their YouTube channel, so don’t be shy, make a video!]

Along with a magnificent creative team, you have an extremely eminent board for the COMPUTING: The Human Experience project. In particular, I must note Vint Cerf, who helped me kick off the Innovation interview series and really was integral in its initial success. How did you gather those people around you?

My philosophy is to surround myself with people far smarter than I am, because they know things that I will never know.  I want to be able to go to them for two reasons: one is as a source of information, and the second is as a source of contacts.

Tim O'Reilly

I reached out to this set of people and I’m going to be growing the board to around 20 or 30 total for people who have specific expertise and who have been game changers in certain domains.

I’ll give you a great example of how this has worked well: Vint, Tim O’Reilly and Mary Shaw have been particularly useful for me thus far, but for developing the lecture on computing and warfare, one of the people on my board is Lt. Gen. William Lord, who happens to be the Chief Information Officer and Chief War Fighting Officer of the Air Force.

Mary Shaw

He has helped me out because I wanted to get some information that simply doesn’t exist in ‘the literature’: what’s the current doctrine at the war colleges about the use of Predators… what are people thinking?  He put me in touch with people who have that source of information.

Lt. Gen. William Lord

Tim has been able to do similar kinds of things.  The computing community, at one level, is a relatively small community; we all kind of know all the movers and shakers.  Well, let’s get them to be a part of this, because I’m also celebrating their story!

You can learn more about Grady via the COMPUTING: The Human Experience website, Grady’s blog and his Twitter feed.

This is part one of a multi-part interview with Grady, be sure to look out for the next instalment – Part Two can be viewed here and part three here.

If you’re in the San Francisco area on the 24th of February, I heartily suggest you try and attend Grady’s lecture. If you, like me, are unable to attend, be sure to keep your eye on the COMPUTING: The Human Experience YouTube channel where the lectures will be posted.

[Note: the lecture has now been posted on the Computer History Museum YouTube channel.  Thanks  to John Hollar for letting us know!]

[Kim, Michael and Grady Skyped from their homes in Sydney and Hawaii.]

Do Fries Go With That Business Shake(up)?

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 5

Vincent Hunt is a man on a mission. And what is that mission? To make change. With his  tool box including the skill sets of lateral and creative thinking along with design, he is an enthusiastic, some might say evangelistic, proponent of the newly emerging role of CIO – Chief INNOVATION Officer.

Now I must be honest and say that, first off, that after ten years in the Netherlands, and two years in Sydney, sometimes the only change  – let alone innovation – I’m looking for in the hospitality industry is, well, some hospitality. That said, there is definitely a a scent of change in the air, and there are those that are leading the way. One such leader is Vincent Hunt.

Vincent is Co-founder, Chairman & Chief Innovation Officer at Kind Intelligence, which leverages cloud, mobile and social technology to bring Innovation to the hospitality industry through Hospitality Intelligence.

Vincent, how essential has innovation been in your career to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?

Innovation has been, in essence, the foundation of my career for quite some time, I can not remember a time where innovation has not been a factor in my professional development.  As individuals, I believe that we each have a responsibility to ourselves to continually challenge ourselves through rethinking, redefining and re-inventing who we are. EVEN as it pertains to our career, in-fact, I believe that this is one of the areas of our lives, more now than ever, that we should be exposing ourselves to “internal innovation” – evolving, and growing in a time where our historical perceptions of work are being challenged .  So not only has innovation been important in MY career, innovation has quintessentially shaped my career.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur? reform

I’m totally anti-politics, so I am going to steer away from that end of the question, BUT what I am going to do is dig in where my heart resides. Education.

I believe that if we are to see and benefit from one of the greatest paradigm shifts in innovation we will ever see in OUR lifetime, and if not this lifetime, one shortly after… We MUST authorize, and unleash one of the greatest and most powerful innovative forces the world has ever seen… Generation Y, the Echo Boomers and post Echo Boomers, and I think it starts with the education system.

This generation is growing up in a post-industrial world, and experiencing an industrial education system. While there is little emphasis on the arts, creativity in equal parts, and we are seeing children as young as 7 or 8 years old being diagnosed ADHD and sedated out of their creative potential, simply for the sake of conforming to  a system that was pretty much designed to produce industrial minded contributors, citizens… We have to not only evolve the education system, we have to turn it on it’s head and start exploring the creative capacity of our children.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?

Some of the main barriers to the success of innovation, in my humble opinion are, and some of these may overlay one another…

1. Resistance to change

2. Rigorous conditioning by the collective mind

3. Fear

4. The protest of “play” within the workplace

5. Habit/Routine

8. If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

This one is tough because I believe in so many of the Capital I Innovators… So can I give two? Please??!!

1. Tom Peters and

2. Apple …

Tom Peters, has, in my opinion, single handedly turned the business world upside down for the better. In his provocative book Re-Imagine (2006), Tom Peters gave us a Manifesto for the way we should view work where, not only was he Visionary and concise, BUT he ushered in a whole new way to think about business. Tom Peters talked about Social Media well before the phrase “Social Media” existed.  And TO THIS DAY, Tom Peters continues to define the foundation of business from a radical new paradigm, that gives Innovators a roadmap to navigate by…. Revolutionary.

Apple… Not only does Apple have the “chops” to create incredible products, the iPhone (game changer), the iMac (simply beautiful, and oh yeah… powerful), the iOs (revolutionary)… BUT they also believe in Design Thinking like no other company that I can put my finger on today (besides the champions of the thinking, Ideo, Frog, to name a couple), and it’s this “difference” that leads them to design and innovation excellence.

As it pertains to their “Capital I” contribution… one product that really rings true to me is the iPhone, and later the iPad.  I can remember when the iPhone first came into the marketplace, and I clearly remember the competition saying things like “It’s just another cell phone, with an oversized screen and touchpad… Big deal…” AND big deal it was… Because it was not only the beautiful aesthetics that made the iPhone amazing, it was the thinking behind the iPhone that was the “Innovation”.

The iPhone was the first hand-held device that gave the users the power to create the experience THEY wanted, and that was, and is, magical. Apple totally rethought the cell phone, and what it meant to us as a people, and the “mobile device”  (surely we can’t keep calling them cell phones now… right) will never be the same.

How do you see Capital I Innovation changing the hospitality industry?

The Hospitality Industry is going through a major shift right now, greatly in-part to the emergence of what I like to call the “Connected Consumer”.  Consumers have more opportunity than they have ever had, to shape, and re-shape, their experiences.

For the first time, the voice of the consumer is richly audible and influential, and brands are starting to understand that their brand experience is in large part, at the mercy of the consumer voice [via] Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Urban Spoon, Foodspotting… enabling technologies that are a direct line of influence on the hospitality industry.  If one person has a bad experience at a hotel, that one bad experience can instantly change the perception of thousands upon thousands of people that MAY be thinking about visiting that hotel, and one tweet, retweeted can make that happen.

At Kind Intelligence, we conceptualize and develop breakthrough ideas that 1. help hospitality industry professionals streamline operational efficiencies, but more importantly, 2. we are feverishly thinking about ways that we can turn the hospitality industry on it’s head to deliver rich, and meaningful customer experiences.  Our innovations rest in “delivering better ways of doing things based on new sets of data”… new, deeper, demographic information (Hospitality Intelligence 2.0).

We think about empathetic intelligence. I can learn more about you. I can learn your mood at any given point of the day, and for the first time, I can market to moods. The Connected Consumer is giving us more data than every before, the question is how do we leverage that data and how do we make solutions that improve the customers experience. Does this means that one day you’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and be offered a completely unique experience, could that be possible? Absolutely.

I can see Capital I Innovation shifting how consumers connect with hospitality brands, but more importantly, how hospitality brands connect with the consumers.

Do you think the ‘Groupon Effect’ emboldening innovation in the industry?

I think that Groupon is a great idea, from the consumer side of the house, as they’re are able to get deals and save a lot of great money. But I think it hinders the growth and potential of some restauranteurs and other companies because they discount their products and services and reduce the value of their offerings.

What is the difference between ‘Possibility Thinking vs Competition Thinking’?

This is something that I am fanatical about, and it’s become the foundational thinking that we embrace at Kind. We don’t think in terms of  ‘competition’ because we feel that that only leads to incremental (at best) change. We lean towards focusing on what is ‘possible’, which often leads to a more disruptive form of innovation.

Right now we are working on a massive project with Mutual Mobile out of Austin Texas called Menulus, that we feel will totally reinvent the dining experience. Menulus, [which we’re launching in the first Quarter of  2012] was designed based on possibility thinking, and some of it’s abilities are going to “shake up” the mobile space in a very profound way.

‘Possibility Thinking’ is innovating based on what is possible in todays marketplace vs ‘Competition Thinking’, which suggest that we simply innovate, a little, to beat the competition. It’s the difference between taking an ‘innovation’ stance vs a  ‘disruptive innovation’ stance.

It sounds like Menulus is going to enable Micro-pitches to the consumer. 

Through micro-pitches we have ways of extending Kindness, and that’s where the name of our company comes from.  Kindness is a choice, but I need tools to help me make better choices and that’s where the semantic web and Web 3.0 really empowers what Menulus is all about.

Could we potentially have a POS (Point of Sale) System that’s integrated into the menu in real time? Could we have consumer facing tools that allowed us to discover food and restaurants in completely new ways that are more catered to our preferences – all the way down to our calorie counts? Can we do that? Absolutely. And we did it.

Tell me about The Hospitality Intelligence Company.

Kind, The Hospitality Intelligence Company focuses on conceptualizing and developing breakthrough ideas that streamline operational efficiencies and improve customer experiences within the hospitality industry.  Our value proposition rest in our  “thinking” vs our “doing”.  We work with really creative people to develop new products, services and brands that can fulfill our companies objectives and ethos… The pursuit of design and innovation excellence.

When we formed Kind Intelligence I knew I had to take the position of CIO, Chief INNOVATION Officer, as I wanted the ethos of the company to reside there, in design and innovation excellence. I oversee the Innovation Initiatives of this company, I drive that. Its interesting to be in this role at such a critical time in our economic transition, going from the Industrial Age into the Creative Age.

Here in the US the role of Chief Innovation Officer is fairly new. You have them, but you don’t have that many of them. The other component to that is that I am African American. I think I am one of only a few African American Chief Innovation Officers in the country.

Why do you think that is?

If I talk to 10 colleagues and ask them what a CIO is, they’ll all say ‘Chief Information Officer’. They just don’t know that this position exists, so they don’t know to pursue it.

That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to be in this role, because I plan on championing it and bringing it to the forefront. Saying, “This is what a Chief Innovation Officer does; and yes, you can be one!”

Its seems that in his role as Chief INNOVATION Officer, Vincent Hunt is shaking up more than the hospitality Industry. I know I’m not alone in seeing where his enthusiasm and expertise lead.

[More information on the Semantic Web and business here.]

The e-Health Perspectives of e-Patient Dave (Part 2)

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 3

The e-Perspectives of e-Patient Dave 

e-Patient Daveis a world renowned keynote speaker, author, government policy advisor, e-patient advocate and champion of participatory medicine.  He, along with his physician, Dr. Danny Sands, has been named one of the “Twenty People Making Healthcare Better.”  An acclaimed speaker, Dave has received a myriad of standing ovations for his penetrative presentations, including his TEDTalk in the Netherlands this year.

As I have made clear in an earlier post, if there is anywhere that Capital I Innovationis essential, I believe it is in the field of eHealth.  This is one of the reasons I was so drawn to e-Patient Dave, an Innovative patient and  leader in what I call meHealth.

meHealth expects that I, you, we, take it upon ourselves to expect (if not demand) that all healthcare stakeholders at all levels work together to ensure that affordable, effective healthcare is available to one and all. There may be no one better known for voicing this expectation that e-Patient Dave deBronkart.

Why did you become a healthcare advocate?

Funny you should ask. During his presidential campaign JFK was asked how he became a war hero, and he answered, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” Same here.

I was going through life ignoring healthcare, as most of us do – it was always like the fire department: if I ever need it, it’ll be there.  And when my crisis hit, it was there for me – pretty much.

In hindsight there were avoidable errors, but all in all they saved my life, brilliantly, including gluing and screwing my leg back together when the cancer ate such a big hole [in it].

A year later my physician, Dr. Danny Sands, invited me to go on a retreat with the gang, with whom he’d been discussing what we now call e-patients. I read the e-patient white paper, and it blew my mind.  My little hobby blog took a sharp right turn, as if it had bounced off a boulder.  I renamed it from “the New Life of Patient Dave” to “e-Patient Dave,” and started reading books about healthcare.

And here’s the power of social media when combined with conventional print:  A year later, I tried to move my hospital records into Google Health.  What came across was garbage. It wasn’t Google’s fault – the hospital sent garbage.

That knocked me for a loop, and it took me weeks to figure out what to say.  I finally wrote a 3500 word blog post about it.

The next thing I knew, the Boston Globe called because, unbeknownst to me, medical data was a hot topic in Washington.  They wrote about my post on page 1, and we were off to the races:  speaking, policy meetings in Washington, thousands of Twitter followers, and ten months later, the end of my old career and the start of this [advocacy].

Involuntary indeed; but I’m so happy it happened, because heaven knows healthcare needs to let patients help.

What responsibility do you feel in your position as a healthcare advocate?

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the thousands of people who, just that day, got the news they never wanted to hear.  Four thousand people a day in the US discover they have cancer.  That alone is enough.  Heaven knows how many people get other life-altering or –ending news.

Five hundred times a day, in the U.S., medical errors accidentally kill someone over age 65.  For all these people, and their families, I want to improve healthcare.

I also think about the many, many healthcare employees whose lives are sometimes ruined by involvement in a horrible medical error.  In some cases these deaths or ‘harms’ are caused by negligence, but too often they’re the inevitable result of healthcare methods that simply are not as matured, not as reliable, not as bullet-proofed, as the rest of life.  As we are all in denial about it, there’s zero chance we’ll get serious about dealing with it.  So the pain continues.

Last month in Seattle, I believe, a skilled nurse killed herself after her involvement in a tragic pediatric death that became a media circus.  Shame on those media people, for hounding that woman to her death.

The responsibility I feel is to wake people up about the complexity and riskiness of healthcare, to get us out of denial – patients and providers alike – so we can work together to improve processes and, in the interim, manage and minimize risks as best we can.  [It’s about] participatory medicine.

Who is the Healthcare customer – is it only the patient, or do you include healthcare providers and managers?

“I think the answer is that, in all cases, the customer is not well served – with the sole exception of the insurance companies… when I say patient, to me that’s a collective noun. Its everybody who’s on the receiving end of the professional services.”

For more Dave’s answer to this question, click play on the video!

In our lead up to this interview, we joked about wanting to change the world.  If you could change the world, how would you do so, and what tools do you need to make it happen?

Well of course, world peace, a stable population, plenty of food, mutual care, a healthy nourishing upbringing for every child, and all kinds of things. (Caution -I’m trained in how to visualize a future without concern for its current feasibility.)

I wasn’t joking about changing the world. Cynics are wrong; change happens all the time. For heaven’s sake, the Web was only born 17 years ago. (The Mozilla browser arrived in April 1994.) That’s only 6300 days ago.

Cynics should think about this: if everywhere you turn, the world looks like shit, perhaps you have your head up your ass.

So I am changing the world (and so are you), and it’s not a joke. My tools are stories – mine and others’ – because stories well told are potent change agents; [I use] humor, because it’s more engaging than just tragedy; logic, for instance explaining why it’s reasonable for patients to be active participants; evidence; and social media.

How do you define Innovation in Healthcare? [Note: throughout his answer Dave refers to the KimmiC definition of ‘Capital I’ Innovation: Something that was not there before, upon which new economies and cultures can be built.]

Trick question – Having said that …

What’s “not there before” in healthcare is to start with the question, “What would the customer like to see?

I’m increasingly certain that the principal source of dysfunction in healthcare is that it’s the only industry I know where the definition of quality doesn’t start with what the customer wants.  Once we ignore that, then all our best efforts to improve other things will pursue other goals, but not home in on more satisfied customers.

Want evidence of this?  Consider that hardly anyone in healthcare can even imagine what this question means, much less that it might be important. 🙂

And yes, entire new economies can be built on this. Entire new ecosystems, in fact.

The other “what’s not there before” is for all our medical data – all your medical data – to be in your hands, your property, for you to take with you wherever you want.

Aside from putting the power where it belongs – in your hands – it will enable another new ecosystem of personal health data tools.

Combine the two, and we could someday see a health ecosystem that’s built on what people want, not what professionals say they should want.

The third ‘Capital I’ is uncommon today and could be immensely powerful:  a vast and widely-known network of patient communities for every condition under the sun.

Not only is there great practical value in connecting with other patients for disease management and day-to-day tips, communities enable information pathways that bypass the limitations of clinical trials and medical journals.  Those methods are focused on the scientific method, which is great – it saved my life – but by their nature those methods can’t measure anything that cannot be subjected to trials, and can’t identify factors where the scientific method is weak.

Finally, consumer communities know about findings that fail or side effects that arise after the articles are published – and communities spread the word far more rapidly than traditional channels.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of healthcare innovation?

This too is too big for me to answer.  Having said that, within the narrow scope of my own knowledge, the main barrier I do know of is the lack of that belief that the patient ought to define care’s objectives.  If every clinician and hospital executive truly believed that everything they do is to accomplish whatever we [the patients]  want, much would change.

And [now] consider how unimaginable or senseless that seems to them.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation in Healthcare Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

I don’t know the whole industry.  Having said that, at this moment, within my very limited experience, I see these nominees. (I hesitate to say this because of whom I might leave out.)

    • The current leadership of the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services. They’re implementing truly patient-centered policies for the first time in generations. That is “that which was not, before.”
    • The people in the Obama administration who by some miracle got US health reform passed. Almost every president since Roosevelt had tried. That is “that which was not, before.”
    • Don Berwick, head of Medicare and Medicaid, who is implementing policies and freeing data which will empower real informed choice for consumers.
    • Lucien Engelen at Radboud UMC in the Netherlands, for creating the REshape Academy, which is actively at work on reshaping the care relationship. That is “that which was not, before.”
    • Regina Holliday, Medical Advocacy Muralist. A phenomenal story teller in words and paint, she has been putting a face on the human suffering from our dysfunctional system. That is “that which was not, before.”

Are you a patient patient?

Hell yes, presuming the care team is working competently and I’m not being subjected to waits for no good reason.

Though the last question I ask, it is no doubt the most important.. how is your health now?

My cancer is completely gone; for better and worse, I’m exactly back to where I was before the illness, including being a bit overweight. (When the treatment ended I’d achieved my ideal weight! Unfortunately I’ve gained it all back.)

The only clinical difference is that I have one less kidney and adrenal gland, and a bunch of steel that repaired my femur after it snapped from the cancer.

Personally, I’d say Dave has a lot more steel in him than just which repaired his femur. 

[Note: On July 23 Dave celebrated the fourth anniversary of his last dose of HDIL-2 (high dosage interleukin-2), the treatment that rapidly reversed the course of the cancer that was killing him.  He hasn’t had a drop of treatment – and thus not a single side effect – since then!]


For more information on e-Patient Dave, check out:

(Kim and Dave Skype’d between from their homes in Sydney and Boston  on July 26, 2011. Part One of this series can be found here.)

(NOTE: Excuse the quality of the filming/lighting/all-other-ing of this interview.  Suffice it to say, Spielberg has no worries I’m going to be sitting in his chair anytime soon!)

Capital I Innovation Series Introduction

The e-Health Perspectives of e-Patient Dave (Part 1)

Capital I Interview Series – Number 3 (Part 1)

The e-Perspectives of e-Patient Dave 

Recently I, along with a myriad of others around the world, was introduced to the passionate, personable and thought provoking e-Patient Dave through his TED Talk ‘Dave deBronkart: Meet e-Patient Dave.

I was so inspired by his presentation, I immediately took to Twitter to send him a message of congratulations – and an invitation to become involved in my Innovation Interview Series – not least because of my long held interest in Innovation in healthcare, and in meHealth in particular.

Unsurprisingly, with  more than 180,000 views so far, and having been subtitled in nine languages, Dave’s TEDTalk has proven to be an international hit.  So much so, that TED invited him back to do a TED Conversation on “Let Patients Help”   scheduled for Wednesday 27 July at 1:00 p.m. (US) EDT.

My interview with Dave, conducted on 26 July, will be posted in a series of ‘chunks’ – some in text, and some in video format.

(NOTE: Excuse the quality of the filming/lighting/all-other-ing of this interview.  Suffice it to say, Spielberg has no worries I’m going to be sitting in his chair anytime soon!)

This first posting, to coincide with the Ted Conversation, will look at two questions in particular: the responsibility of Healthcare users and the demands they are entitled to make.

But first, lets talk about TED:

You’ve recently done a TedTalk and had a great global response to your presentation.  What has been the most surprising outcome from this success.

It’s no surprise that being  a hit on has been phenomenal at spreading the meme.  What is a pleasant surprise is that it’s clearly gone viral: the idea is currently spreading at over 1500 views a day, and volunteers have added subtitles in eight languages.  WHAT a pleasure for any advocate, to see an idea take off like that, especially across cultures. Farsi!

And what a testament to the power and reach of TED.

And who brought you into TED?

That’s my friend Lucien Engelen, His Twitter name is Zorg – which means ‘Care’ in Dutch – 20, and he is a visionary.  A visionary who has the ability to execute. About two years ago he got […] authorized to run a TEDx, the smaller regional franchise TED events, in Maastricht.  A year before it happened he announced that a patient was going to be the first speaker at this medical conference.”

Lucien Engelen is a Health 2.0 Ambassador, the Director of the Radboud REshape & Innovation Center, and on the Advisory Executive Board at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre

“Clearly this is tapping into something in consumers cross culturally – people want to be involved in their healthcare around the world.”

What responsibility do you think healthcare users need to take in their own health?

The simplest eye-opener view was put forth in December 2008 by endocrinologist Stanley Feld: “Physicians are coaches. Patients are players.”  You don’t get to sit on the couch all day and then demand participatory healthcare. With rights come responsibility.  Get up off your ass; be physically engaged in your life, not just your care decisions.

For those inclined toward a more delicate view, and perhaps a more formal model, Jessie Gruman’s Center for Advancing Health has developed a terrific ten-piece framework for patient engagement:

  • Find Safe, Decent Care
  • Communicate with Health Care Professionals
  • Organize Health Care
  • Pay for Health Care
  • Make Good Treatment Decisions
  • Participate in Treatment
  • Promote Health
  • Get Preventive Health Care
  • Plan for the End of Life
  • Seek Health Knowledge

For details see this post with her speech about it and links to the full framework documents.

Should patients be allowed to read their doctors’ notes, access lab result and see images they aren’t necessarily qualified to assess?

“There’s several levels of thinking about this.. here’s entitled according to the law, and there’s what I think makes sense.”

“How do we improve healthcare?  And I assert that we have to start there, because we are approaching a genuine healthcare famine.”

Lucien Engelen, who hosted TEDx Maastricht… he’s going to be running the REshape academy in September, where I’m going to be doing my ePatient bootcamp.

He said that in the Netherlands, which is not a giant country, by 2025 they’re facing a shortage of 400,000 nurses.”

“Now anybody who plans to be alive in 2025, and there probably will be more humans in the Netherlands than there are today, is going to be facing a care shortage.  So it just seems unavoidable that that we’ve got to hand people a lifeline to try to help themselves.”

My doctor, Dr. Danny Sands, is famous for saying, “How can patients be engaged in their care if they can’t see the information?”

“For the patients to be a second set of eyes, to check the data quality, costs the healthcare system nothing more and will reduce defects.”

What responsibility do you think healthcare users need to take in demanding change in the healthcare system?

Well, that varies a lot.  All my life I’ve felt that demands aren’t necessary until one has asked courteously, offering partnership in creating the change and doing the work.

But there are times when the establishment simply will not listen.

It happened for hundreds of years with women’s suffrage.  It happened with the civil rights movement: folk singer Malvina Reynolds penned a cheerful ditty “It Isn’t Nice” about what you sometimes have to do for justice:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway
It isn’t nice to go to jail
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail

Although I followed folk music in the Sixties, I didn’t hear that song until this year, in the context of yet another movement: gay rights.  It was mentioned in an episode of our great PBS series The American Experience the Stonewall Uprising.

One of the gents who was in that movement recounts what gays eventually had to do to be granted the right to live and let live.  Will we see a day when patients march in the streets?  Gays chanted “Out of the closets and into the streets!”

Will patients march, chanting “Out of the johnnies [US slang for hospital gown] and into the streets – stop the killing now”?

Personally, I’d prefer the chant “Let Patients Help.”  But if healthcare ignores that, who knows.


End of Part One

In Part Two of my interview with e-Patient Dave, we’ll look at, among other things:  Capital I’ Innovation in healthcare, healthcare heroes, why Dave became a healthcare advocate (and the responsibilities that entails) and changing the world.

[ There’s a lot more to come from e-Patient Dave, so keep your ears tuned, and your eyes peeled – conversely, you could make things easy on yourself and either follow this blog or subscribe to the RSS feed! 🙂 ]

For more information on e-Patient Dave, check out:

(Kim and Dave Skype’d between from their homes in Sydney and Boston  on July 26, 2011. This is Part One of a multi-part series.)

Part Two of this interview can be found here

Capital I Innovation Series Introduction

Vint Cerf: Father Knows Best! (Part 2)

Capital I Interview Series – Number 2 (Part 2)

KimmiC chats with ‘Father of the Internet’, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf

(Along with our particular questions, we invited some of our readers to submit their own queries to Vint, which he was happy to answer. Thanks go out to to ‘ePatient Dave’ Dave deBronkart, Brent Hall, and Roger Kermode for taking part!)

This is the final segment of the KimmiC chat with Google VP and Chief Internet Evangelist, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf, known around the world as one of ‘fathers of the internet’. [Part 1 available here.]

There has been a great amount of debate about Net Neutrality Vint. Do you think it is important to ongoing Innovation?

Yes, in the sense that it is intended to assure that the limited number of providers of broadband access to the Internet, do not use their control of this pipe to interfere with competing  applications that rely on this transport. It is the anti-competitive aspect that is the most critical problem. A lot of smoke and misleading argument has obscured this basic fact.

The issue here is a business issue more than anything else. It is distorted and twisted around and treated as if its a technical problem or ‘just a bunch of geeks who don’t know what they’re doing’, but this is a real, honest business problem; especially in places where there is not much competition to provide broadband service.

When you don’t have a market that’s disciplined by competition, you have the potential for real monopoly or market power abuse. If you’re the only party supplying broadband access to the internet, and if you supply vertical services like video, then you may be persuaded to interfere with someone else’s service in order to take advantage of your control over the underlying pipe.

The situation in Australia largely eliminates that problem because of the way in which you’re investing in the NBN. Here in the United States we have a serious problem because Broadband is not very competitive. We have Telcos, CableCos and maybe you could consider satellite services to be a third possible competitor, but the synchronous satellite delay makes it a lot less attractive.

Last week a popular Ted Talk by ‘ePatient DaveDave deBronkart was launched. An eHealth advocate, Dave was pleased to have the opportunity to ask you:
 Increasingly, “e-patients” are using the internet to supplement the care they receive from professionals by connecting with information, and with each other, in ways that were never possible before.

ePatient Dave

Some have found life-saving information online, but others warn that there’s garbage amid the gold. And some doctors don’t like it when patients present information they haven’t seen.

Are there lessons from other fields that have similarly faced the democratization of information? 

There are several facets to this question. First of all, there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about healthcare. There are a lot of quacks and people who tried things and think there are correlations. Things like, “I jumped around on my left foot and sacrificed a chicken over my computer, and I got better.” So they conclude that you have to jump around on your left foot and sacrifice a chicken over your computer to get better.

Of course that’s all nonsense.  Anyone who goes out on the net looking for healthcare information should be very careful to look for bona-fides and some evidence that the information is valid.

On the other hand doctors are saying that they have more informed patients than they have ever had before because information is more readily available. I sense that people are paying more attention to their health conditions and they’ve learned a lot.

Doctors don’t have a great deal of time to tutor their patients about their problems. So one thing the healthcare system would benefit from is a deliberate provision of good quality information about either a condition, or its treatment,  its potential outcomes and possible side effects. Then the population can learn more without chewing up a lot of the doctor’s time.

As far as making a comparison with other vertical segments, none immediately come to mind, except perhaps Climate Change, which as you know is a hugely controversial thing. Perhaps one other would be in the financial services area where people go out on the net looking for advice about investments, specific stocks, or choices about home mortgages and things of that sort. All of that is subject to misinformation and deliberate fraud.

I think the honest answer is, people do get defrauded on the net. People do get involved in things that turn out to be unrealistic – ponzi schemes and whatnot. The only thing I can say is, if you don’t teach people, or at least encourage them to ask questions, or at least do some validation… if they don’t spend some time evaluating the information they’re getting, then they are going to be at risk.

The one thing that I would want to teach kids today about the net is: think critically about what you’re seeing and hearing – don’t accept everything that you see without doing some more homework.

As I’m sure you know, July 1 marked the 45th anniversary of the implementation of Medicare following President Lyndon Johnson signing the healthcare program on July 30, 1965.

How do you envisage eHealth developing with the advancement of the internet and broadband capabilities?

I have to confess that I had not been driven specifically by the eHealth vector in my work on the internet. But as it became increasingly apparent that the healthcare problem was going to get worse and worse here in the US, in terms of dollars spent per patient/capita I got more and more interested – for the same reasons that you mentioned.

As you probably know, Google has announced that its going to terminate its current efforts in the electronic health record effort. I’m disappointed at that. I think that we had hoped that it would have more traction that it did. Part of the problem is getting people to adopt and use those records – and interoperability and so on.

There is however, a small piece of light. The US CTO, Aneesh Chopra, at least succeeded in getting some agreements on a format for data that could be exchanged by email. As you know the concerns about privacy and health information have been quite intense here in the US. There’s a big, complex system here called HIPAA, (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), apparently he was able to cope with that and still get an interoperable agreement done.

US CTO Aneesh Chopra

From my point of view, there is no doubt that having records which are sharable, at least among physicians, would be a huge help. When people go in to be examined, they often have to repeat their medical histories. They don’t get it right every time, they forget stuff.  Yet the doctors are not in a great position to service a patient without having good background information. I am very much in favour of getting those kinds of records online.

The second thing I would say is that for chronic conditions, which are generally the worst problems we have in healthcare – whether its heart disease, diabetes, cancer, [obesity] – those chronic conditions cost us more per capita than anything else in the healthcare system. If we were able to harness the electronic healthcare system to provide incentives for people to respond to those problems, to take better care of themselves, then we would reduce a lot of the system costs, simply because we had a more healthy population.

On this point about a healthy population, if you are not collecting data, you can’t know what the state of health of your population is. We have to get better data.

There is a concern about Telcos on the whole, and in the US in particular, having asked for and received huge subsidies along with the removal of regulations and obligations for common carriage. In return, they have promised to provide improved services for everyone, and yet they have consistently failed to do so.

With that in mind, could you comment on Brent Hall’s question: What is the greatest threat to the future of a free and open  internet?

I worry about the: “Our business models don’t work anymore. We can’t expect the general public to pay for access to this expensive resource, so we have to find other sources of revenue to pay for the build out, which might mean government handouts,” argument. Or the, “Hey, look at those guys over there at Google and Facebook and Amazon. They’re sending streaming video over our pipes, and they’re not paying for it!

Of course we are paying for it! We pay commercial services a lot of money to put our servers up on the net. Now they’re saying, “Customers can’t pay!”
My reaction to that is: technology should be cheap enough that you can make this available to customers at a reasonable price.

Now, what are we going to do about it? Well, Google is doing something about it. We’re going to fibreize Kansas City. It’s not as big as Australia but it’s our attempt to do the work. We will expose what the problems were, what was easy, what was technically hard and what was fiscally expensive.

And by the way, I haven’t said this to [Senator] Stephen Conroy, but I would find it extraordinary if the Australian Government would be willing to share what the costs turned out to be. The reason for that is, it might encourage others, or at least give us a real datapoint so that if we want to do what you’re doing, we will all – the US and elsewhere – know what we’re getting into.

Australian Senator, and Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy

This could be a dangerous thing. If it turns out that its all a cock-up of some sort, if it costs more than was expected and it doesn’t get done, then nobody is going to want to talk about it. I understand that. But I am increasingly confident that you’re going to pull this off successfully. I sincerely hope you do.

The world over, citizens in their millions are calling for more openness from their respective governments. As part of the Board of advisors of Scientists and Engineers for America, what is your view of the effectiveness and potential of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative and its mandate to create an unprecedented level of openness in Government?

As you probably know, Vivek Kundra who is the CIO at OMB (the Office of Management and Budget) was vigorous in his pursuit of that objective. He got an enormous collection of government databases up and running and made them easily accessible – including budgetary information – which of course is what the OMB is all about.

US CIO Vivek Kundra

What he did was to create a tool online, which enabled you to drill-down into the budget. It allowed you to find the actual person who was responsible for spending that ‘piece’ of money in the US budget, which is unprecedented. Nobody had ever done that before.

Coupling that with tools to visualize some of this ‘dry as dust’ information was really eye opening. You began to see historical trends and things you would never see by just leafing through pages and pages of table and figures.
I’m sorry to say that in the crunch of the national debt limits and concerns over entitlements such as healthcare, social security and so on – non-discretionary expenses… in the course of  trying to negotiate reductions in spending, they reduced the budget Vivek had for some of his projects.

Whether it was causative or not, I don’t know, but recently Vivek announced that he is going to Harvard to the Berkman Centre. I don’t know who his replacement will be, but whoever it is will have less budget than Vivek originally had for the pursuit of this stuff.

President Barack Obama

I don’t think the President or any of his senior people are any less enthusiastic about openness and making information transparently available. I think they’re facing a reality of a budget problem that’s going to be hard to fix.

Looking to your past, who most influenced you in high school? I ask this, as I find it amazing that you, Jon Postel (editor of the RFC document series) and Steve Crocker (co-creator of the ARPANET) all went to the same school – was there a particular teacher, or club who inspired you there?

I actually did not meet Jon until we met at UCLA as graduate students.

Jon Postel

Steve and I were, and are, best friends -we were best men at each other’s weddings and have collaborated in many ways over the course of 5 decades.

Steve Crocker

I think the biggest influence for me in high school was the enrichment program sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation in the wake of Sputnik.
I was a direct beneficiary of the emphasis placed on science, mathematics and technology in American high schools in the 1960s. I had teachers who encouraged me in all academic subjects including history, creative writing and literature, not only math, science, physics, chemistry, etc. Steve and I were members of the math club and he was president. The club won city-wide awards in contests and that was very satisfying.

And today, why is Google a good place for an Internet Evangelist and Futurist?

Google is vibrant and alive with ideas, energy and a youthfulness that leads to innovation and Innovation. The leadership is willing to aim at big targets and is willing to allow for failure as long as the targets are ambitious enough. The company has a highly successful business model and a culture of invention and collaboration.

Vint, thank you so much for your time, which I know you extended for me. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to let me know!

If you could figure out how to fix the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Australian dollar so I can could buy more Australian wine, I’d really appreciate that!

(Kim and Vint Skype’d between from their homes in Sydney and Washington D.C. Part One of their conversation was published  on July 1, 2011)

[This interview has been translated into the Serbo-Croatian language by Jovana Milutinovich of]

Capital I Innovation Series Introduction

Vint Cerf: Father Knows Best!

Capital I Interview Series – Number 2 (Part 1)

KimmiC chats with ‘Father of the Internet’, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf

(Along with our particular questions, we invited some of our readers to submit their own queries to Vint, which he was happy to answer. Thanks go out to to “e-Patient Dave” Dave deBronkart, Brent Hall, and Roger Kermode for taking part!)

Imagine having the opportunity to ask Johannes Gutenberg about his thoughts on how his printing press would change the industry – let alone his opinion on how his press would change the world. Well, essentially, that’s the chance that I’ve had this morning, when I was given the opportunity to speak to Google‘s VP and Chief Internet Evangelist, Vinton ‘Vint’ Cerf, known around the world as one of ‘fathers of the internet’.

When looking for a ‘poster child’ for Capital I Innovation, Vint is, to many – myself included – at the top of an impressive, international list. His list of awards and medals from around the globe is vast, as is his experience and range of interests. I do believe, in this instance, it is fair to say that when discussing Capital I Innovation – especially as it relates to the internet – ‘Father really does know best’.

As this series is based on Capital I Innovation, Lets start with how you define Innovation?
I think capital “I” innovation happens when something new is invented that has very large potential for cultural and/or economic change. However, it is important to appreciate that some innovations are stillborn if they are not, in fact, taken up widely.

In a recent book entitled Why the West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York), evidence is given that strongly points to the long term evolution and adoption of agriculture ultimately replacing a hunter-gatherer way of life. The process is not instantaneous but it has dramatic effects on culture and economy.

We sometimes think of Innovation as a sudden invention but often it takes decades and even centuries to have an effect. The printing press took centuries to have its primary effect. The telegraph, railroads, highways, radio, television and even the Internet took decades but those are a blink of the eye in terms of human history, which is fairly short itself (a few tens of thousands of year for prehistory, perhaps 8,000 for “history”).

Do you see a difference between ‘little i’ and ‘Capital I’ Innovation?
Yes, I think of the lower case instance as sequential refinement and adaptation while the basic Innovation might be a dramatically different way of doing something.

The Industrial Revolution is capitalized because of that – a shift from manpower or animal power to harnessing non-biological forms of mechanical energy (water power from rivers; steam from coal and wood; hydro-electric, oil, gas, wind or solar generated electricity; internal combustion engine; fractional horsepower motors).

The Transistor (and reed switches or vacuum tubes) ushered in the harnessing the power of “mechanical” thought using computers and programs. The Telegraph ushered in new forms of communication that eventually lead to the telephone, radio, television, optical fiber, coaxial cable, microwave, etc.

Printing Telegraph

The combination of computing and communication, once the economics reached a certain level, created the conditions for the invention of packet switching and, eventually, the Internet and many other kinds of computer-based networks.

With that in mind, do you think that Cloud Computing is big enough – different enough – to be capitalised?
Yes I do, for a couple of reasons. I’ve been jokingly saying that it is like time-sharing on steroids, as, like time-sharing, it does share the same resources. However, the scale of a Cloud system is so dramatically different than any time-sharing system that’s ever existed that it does deserve to be Capital I. There is a common belief that once you scale up by a three or four orders of magnitude you are in a different space than you were before.

Of course, this raises a very interesting question about the internet, because the internet is now 6 orders of magnitude bigger than it was when we first launched it in 1983. You have to ask yourself, is it still the same architecture, the same protocols? What’s different?

Of course one thing that’s different is that there are two billion users. Another thing that’s different is that the world wide web wasn’t there, and now it is – that [came] 10 years after launch. Its also available on mobiles, which didn’t exist. So, there are a whole bunch of things about that scaling up, including data and video, which could allow you to argue that this is a whole different beast now.

The meeting I just came back from in Paris suggests this. If anyone had suggested to me in 1983 that in 2011 there would be a meeting of 50 or so countries in the OECD, for two days talking about the internet economy, concerns about intellectual property, crime on the net and so on… I would have scratched my head and said, this thing is for the military, and the research community.

You’re called by many, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. What do you think of your baby now?

  • Astonished at its evolution and growth,
  • Hopeful that it will reach well beyond the present 2 billion users,
  • Amazed at the response to the WWW infrastructure,
  • Worried about government intervention that might seriously harm the openness that has driven innovation in and around the Internet,
  • Excited by the possibility of extending its operation across the solar system to support manned and robotic space exploration,
  • Envious of kids who get to use it at age 5 when I had to wait until I was 28… and we had to invent it first!

What is the most important piece of innovation, which has launched in your lifetime?
The obvious answer for me is, of course, the Internet, but in fact it depended on the creation of conditions that allowed this idea to be explored and, ultimately, exploited.

The ARPANET, the successful invention of packet switching, the invention of the Ethernet, the invention of the Unix operating system, the invention of the mini-computer (ie. something that could afford to be replicated and used as packet switches or routers), the invention of high speed, long distance communication technology (wired, wireless, satellite, mobile…). Those, and so many more technologies, all had to be readily available for the Internet to grow.

Business models had to be invented, not only to make and sell the equipment and software needed for the Internet to operate but for the support of the enterprises that grew up around the World Wide Web (WWW). The WWW itself would not likely have amounted to much had it not had an Internet on which to be supported. It was invented or at least became operational in a single node in December 1990, six years after the Internet became available to the academic and military communities and contemporary with the development of a commercial Internet service.

I was born in 1943. I grew up using a three-party, black dial up telephone with long-distance operators. There was no television to speak of. Jet planes were purely military. Early in my life, the atomic bomb was invented, tested and used. Microwave and radar were military systems. Sputnik happened when I was 15 and just entering high school.

We landed on the moon when I was 26. At 18 I worked in a small way on the F-1 booster rocket engines used in the Saturn V rocket that put the astronauts in orbit around the Earth.

The microwave oven became a commodity in my lifetime as did jet travel. The computer was very new during my early lifetime and I was introduced to the tube-based SAGE system (Semi-Automated Ground Environment) when I was 15.

Lasers were invented in my life time and have myriad uses today. Robotic surgical systems such as the Intuitive Surgical Da Vinci system were invented in my lifetime. So was the Pill (by Syntex and others, for birth control). The discovery of the structure of DNA occurs around 1953 when I am ten years old.

While relativity and quantum theory were already a few decades old when I was born, the existence of quarks wasn’t really demonstrated until 1968 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), at about the time I am working on the ARPANET at UCLA. The cochlear implant, invented by Graeme Clark beginning in 1973, was a long process, but had utterly spectacular results. My wife, who was profoundly deaf for 50 years, has two implants and is living a second life as a result!

What piece of innovation did you expect to happen/take off, that didn’t?
Two things were really disappointing. When I was working on the Saturn F-1 engines in 1962, I really did think that we would have regular, weekly space launches in 20 years, maybe out of the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles where the famous Lockheed “Skunkworks” is located. I also thought that we would be flying personal helicopters by then, too.

I also thought 20 years was a long time (more than twice my lifetime at that point). I was wrong about all three, but I am not disappointed to have outlived thrice my lifetime at age 19!!

Where does the Interplanetary Internet project stands at the moment – and why do you think it is important?
The standards are firming up well. There are implementations of the Bundle Protocol and the Licklider Transport Protocol that realize the Interplanetary Internet architecture. Instances are on board the International Space Station and the EPOXI spacecraft. Discussions are underway in the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems to standardize these protocols for international use.

If all space-faring nations adopt these protocols, then all espacecraft will be able to communicate with each other. Once they have completed their primary scientific missions, they can be re-purposed to become part of an interplanetary backbone network. One can imagine the aggregation of a solar internet over a period of decades, in support of both manned and robotic exploration.

Here on earth, are entrepreneurs born or made?
I think there has to be a combination of conditions to allow entrepreneurship to happen. A person has to be willing to take risks, and that often has a genetic component. But a person’s experience with risk also has to have had some positive feedback effect. If you are never successful at taking risk, you are likely to learn to be very conservative.

Conditions also have to be right to allow the risk-taking to go on long enough to produce results. This is the so called “runway” needed to go from the idea to a successful, profitable or at least self-sustaining business. It should be noted, however, that not all inventors are entrepreneurs. They may take risks in the technical sense but not necessarily in the personal (livelihood) sense.

Conditions for invention may actually require that the inventor be shielded from economic risk while exploring ideas that may have a high pay off in some sense, but such high risk that no one could afford to take the personal risk needed to explore them.

This is one reason that it is often a government that has to make the investment in research in high-risk area,s since no business or inventor would take the economic risk. It is also why inventors often die in poverty (think of Tesla) [while] others harvest wealth in addition to technical success.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?
Sometimes they are technical (can’t process that much information in a timely way, can’t store it, can’t build a big enough data platform, uses too much power) or economic (can’t deploy the necessary infrastructure, devices out of consumer reach) or operational (too bulky, battery life too short, displays don’t work in all lighting conditions). Sometimes the major barrier is that the private sector doesn’t give innovative employees the freedom to fail.

For any particular innovation, the conditions for its sustainable growth and use may simply not yet be ready.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur?
Not all Innovations require government support, but often this is the only path to initial success because the risks are too high for the private sector, even venture capital or angel investors to take.

Google was essentially entirely private sector funded and that’s something of an anomaly, given its stunning success. In that case, angel investment was an important component.

Economics is another critical factor. It is possible to have a breakthrough invention that is simply too expensive for widespread adoption.

Mobiles have been stunningly successful but took many years to emerge because the costs and the physical size, battery life, and infrastructure were a long time in development. Tax breaks can be sustaining but generally don’t lead to capital I innovation, to first order.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? This could be individuals, organizations and/or companies (it could also be yourself!).

Does Innovation have a nation?
I think there is no country that has a lock on innovation but some places, like Silicon Valley, have conditions that support it better than many other places. You have:

  • a continuous stream of trained, high technology graduates,
  • experienced business people,
  • venture capitalists,
  • a liquid stock market,
  • mobility from company to company, and
  • a community of players that know each other.

It is a potent brew. There are more smart people, in absolute numbers, outside of Silicon Valley than inside, but the conditions in SV are remarkable.

Is innovation an overused term?
Yes in some ways. It is too much the focus when one should be asking “under what conditions can innovation take hold and become a real driver of economic growth?”.

It could be said that a huge amount of the core innovations that we use seems to have come out of either government funding and/or telco’s (for instance MCI and AT&T). Do you agree with this? And if so, do you think it was past structural, political and economic situations that made these innovations possible.
I think we should be very careful to distinguish between innovation and participation within the infrastructure. MCI supplied point-to-point high speed pipes to build the NSFNET backbone, to build the vBNS network, and to ultimately build Internet MCI a publicly available internet service.

Where they DID pioneer was in the commercial use of optical fibre. You have to give them credit for that, and for participating in the National Science Foundation Network by contributing underlying transmission resources. The fact that they were willing to get into the game is different than them being the inventors of it.

The real innovators for NSFNET were Merit and IBM. Particularly IBM, which designed and built the original routers; though they didn’t really follow up on that. Ironically IBM built the routers for the NSFNET back bone but Cisco systems, Juniper and others turned out to inherit all the commercial value from it.

AT&T, as a very successful monopoly, had an enormous amount of resources, which they put into AT&T Bell labs. Bell Labs was absolutely one of the most innovative places anywhere in the world. Nobel prizes have come out of there, the transistor came out of there. There’s no doubt in my mind that something was lost when AT&T was broken up.

The one thing about MCI which was interesting was that, instead of doing research, they would dangle a $250m dollar cheque in front of company and say, “If you can do this, I will buy a quarter of a billion dollars worth…” Its amazing how much R&D you get out of people when you do that. So, rather than taking all the risks themselves MCI simply said, we’ll buy a lot of stuff if you make this happen.

And yes, there’s no question in my mind that government sponsorship for this kind of high risk research is important.

Many nations are in the midst of debates about Broadband. You were recently quoted as saying that you believe” internet bandwidth can increase exponentially,” adding that this would, among other applications, “enable greater access to high-def video.” Other than being able to get the latest blockbuster downloaded in no time, where else do you see it being of use?
The term “exponential” is not one I would use (a reporter put that word in my mouth). However, I do believe we are far from fully taking advantage of communication technology to achieve many gigabits per second, end-to-end on the Internet.

These speeds have a transformative potential because they dramatically reduce the cost of moving information in large quantities from one place to another. It allows replication for resilience and safety. Large files like MRI scans will be easily retrievable and processable with higher speed transport.

We can build much larger data processing systems when we can interlink the processors at terabit and higher speeds. In a recent technical session, serious mention was made of 1000Tbs (that’s a petabit per second). Holographic simulations will benefit from speeds of this kind.

By the way, Stephen Conroy was in Paris with me for the OECD Conference, and I have to say that I continue to stand in awe of the Australian Government decision to fund the fibre network.

Stephen Conroy launching the Digital Strategy 2020 (

This is the kind of infrastructure investment that probably would not ever be made by the private sector. There would be parts of the community left out, there would be economic decisions that would reduce capacity….

This is a very big deal and I’m hoping that it all works out. If it does, it would be a bell weather example of why government investment in fundamental infrastructure is so important.

This leads neatly to Roger Kermode‘s question: What advice would you give Australian ISPs, governments and businesses to take best advantage of the NBN?
First of all, because its a Level 2 infrastructure, anybody who wants to is free to put up a level 3 routing system on top of it. That means they can all compete for any business or individual subscribers service. Then on top of that you have the enabling effect of the broadband capability. This means that people can put applications up there that they would never have put up without such a broadband infrastructure.

Next, with the fact that everybody is online, or very nearly everybody, you can begin to say, “We are going to do ‘X‘ for the entire population,” and have a reasonable expectation that you will, in fact, reach the entire population.

For example, when it comes to healthcare, and the possibility of remote diagnosis and things like that, you’d be in a position to actually exercise that idea. Whereas, most other places, including here in the U.S. would not.

I anticipate that if this infrastructure goes into place and it operates reliably that you will be exploring a space of ‘online-ness’ which no other country has ever experienced.

End of Part 1 – Follow our blog and Part 2 will be delivered to your in box next week!

Part 2 – Next week we talk about net neutrality, eHealth, Telcos, Google, the Open Government Initiative and more (including a message to Australian Senator Stephen Conroy)!

(Kim and Vint Skype’d between from their homes in Sydney and Washington D.C.)

[This interview has been translated into the Serbo-Croatian language by Jovana Milutinovich of]