Last week I visited Hewlett-Packard’s lab to see what they have in the works. Lab tours are one of the nice perks of this job. A few months ago I got to see Intel’s rather extensive future lineup, and weeks ago I also witnessed Sun Microsystems’ rather disappointing event.
It was clear that Sun had cut its research budget substantially because that show was a pale image of what it had shown a year earlier at the Computer History Museum. While Sun is clearly on the ropes, HP, thanks to its new executive team, seems to be picking up steam. Its presentation was much stronger than last year’s was, and bodes well for the future of this firm.
Nano, Quantum Technologies on the Horizon
HP’s biggest — and furthest off — technologies, were its nano advancements and quantum physics work. Based on third party independent research presented to the audience, the company appears to be well ahead of any other technology vendor, including IBM, in both nano and quantum research.
In the nanotechnology area HP presented designs for memory that would be several magnitudes more dense than the DRAM currently on the market and micro processor technology that could result in chips more than 100 times smaller than the processors we currently have. The combination could make improved artificial intelligence and autonomous robots a reality in 20 to 30 years — or at about the time I’ll need something to push me around in my wheelchair.
On the quantum side, HP showcased the use of quantum physics to make virtually unbreakable encryption. This was a creative use of one-time keys, which are considered to be the most secure and are said to be virtually unbreakable. The current problem with a one-time key is, if the key is intercepted, it can be compromised. Quantum physics can identify observation — since the quantum state of the key would change if it were somehow observed — therefore the proposed system would know if the key were intercepted and reject it.
The reason to use quantum keys is that it is theorized that quantum computers would be able to break virtually any traditionally encrypted file incredibly quickly. That means a new, innovative, vastly more secure approach will be incredibly important.
HP’s Window to the Future
During the tour, we also saw the future of Halo, HP’s next-generation collaboration tool. Halo is the closest thing we have to telepresence for corporations. Designed in partnership with DreamWorks, this is an HD level teleconferencing system that uses a dedicated high speed HP network.
The current product is rather amazing, with its ability to show window-like images of the remote site with zero latency, making you feel like you are in the same room with the other person. This technology doesn’t come cheap though — it costs US$550,000 installed per station (you’d need at least two) and $18,000 a month to run it. However, initial customers have confirmed that, unlike older teleconferencing systems, this one is heavily used. Firms could easily recover the system’s cost with airfare savings if they’re used to sending groups on frequent trips.
The current system uses four large plasma displays and several cameras, all concealed behind built-in furniture. Future systems will have custom wrap-around screens and create an even stronger sense that those located remotely are in the same room with you. Tim Bajarin, a consultant with Creative Strategies, uses Halo a lot and swears by it. Given the increasing hassle and safety risks associated with air travel, systems like this could actually eliminate the need for most folks to get on planes for business.
Looking even further ahead, this technology could end up in homes in a decade or so, providing a high resolution window to exotic locations, or to “visit” with remote family and friends. It could also eliminate the need for many to ever have to go into the office. Technology like this, regardless of who provides it in the end, could have a bigger impact on our lives near term than many of the higher profile technologies I’ve been writing about.
Speaking of video, HP is rolling out its own video-everyplace technology. It uses a unique encryption methodology which effectively mitigates both the risk of unsecured networks and provides for video content that automatically scales from phones to TVs. This uses an intermediate transcoder that, when unencrypted files are sent, automatically transcodes the video into whatever format the receiving device can accept.
If the file is encrypted the transcoding occurs when the file is captured and the file is constructed so that first the low-resolution image is sent. Then the extra information for a medium-resolution image is sent, and finally the information for a high-resolution image is sent. The transcoder in this case works as traffic cop and only routes the needed bits to the receiving device.
This would be particularly useful for security videos, nanny cams, and organizations like the National Security Agency, for example. Of course, the downside is, if you feel like Big Brother is watching you, he probably is.
Looking Forward to Some Wild HP Personal Tech
Finally, one of the big stories that came up during my tour last week was that one of HP’s top executives has moved over to oversee personal computers and handheld computers for the firm. This person is already cutting a broad swath through HP’s product designs which could mean that the company’s next-generation products should have more edgy (think RAZR/iPod) designs and significant ease-of-use benefits.
It was interesting to note that the HP employees still credited Carly Fiorina for much of the vision that led to the creation of all this stuff. At the same time they noted that the execution problems that were so frustrating for them had largely been eliminated. It had to be tough, under Fiorina, to be working on so many amazing things and not make progress during her term. On the other hand, unlike a lot of other firms, at least they were working on amazing things.
How to Win an Election With Blogs
Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about blogs lately — and the lack of control anyone has over them. From my view, traditional media was manipulated both in the last U.S. Presidential election and in the run-up to the Iraq war, but now, blogs are gaining power at traditional media’s expense.
Given that formal rules for bloggers don’t really exist, and there isn’t really any oversight over blogs like there is over traditional media, it seems to me that blogs are set to become a natural tool for manipulating an election.
By the way, this isn’t a hidden plea for government oversight on blogs — I don’t think that would work and the danger of censorship would be incredibly high.
However, I have been thinking about the ways in which someone might go about changing the outcome of an election effectively using this medium.
Fooling ‘We the People’
I went back and reviewed my notes on how blogs have been misused over the last year or so and concluded that the anonymity of most blog owners is well suited for this kind of a broad scheme. Here is how I think you would go about it:
First, you would create a number of professional-looking blogs that would be targeted at attracting people from each party. The blog(s) for your party would start out relatively extreme and then get more moderate over time in an attempt to get as many people to trust the site as possible before you focused them, much later, on your preferred candidate.
The blog(s) targeting your opponent(s) would start out very moderate and stay that way until relatively late. Then they’d start to become extreme and end up making statements that are over the top, embarrassing its party’s members before selecting your candidate’s biggest competitor as its favored candidate. In both cases a high level of trust results in a set of predictable behaviors: support for your candidate on the one side and elimination of the support of your candidate’s leading competitor on the other.
My inspiration for this idea comes from coverage of the phony Major Ynos Web site set up during the Xbox 360 launch. While Microsoft didn’t create this site, which went over the top with its criticism of the competing Sony PlayStation 3, it could have. Apparently the site did fool a lot of folks.
Secrecy and Small Numbers
One thing is clear: The strategy would need to be kept secret in order to work and that means only a few people would know of the plan. Perhaps some of the people contributing to the site could be fired or moved so not even they would know of the plan — they would just think they were being honest with their views. After observing the ease with which so many people are fooled by phony Web sites and phishing attacks, it’s clear that if done right, this phony blog strategy could be incredibly powerful. Wth adequate scope, it could probably shift an election.
The only defense for individual voters would be to anticipate that the battling parties will be trying to play them — I urge you in that case to make sure that the information you are getting on the Web is coming from real people who you can identify and can depend on. How many of us have been fooled because we didn’t take the time to make sure our trust in someone was well founded?
The Web, like any powerful tool, can be used for good or evil and we probably all need to work to make ensure that the former prevails, regardless of who we want to win elections.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.