We’re currently at the annual Future in Review conference, just south of Los Angeles. FiRe’s one of those events that sets agendas, attracting an audience of CTOs and CEOs, entrpreneurs and investors. It’s not the biggest event, but over the last eight years it’s built a community, and changed direction from being a pure technology event to one that covers everything from science and technology, to economics and physics, and from education and architecture, to climate change and sustainability.
In other words, it’s spending time in a room with some of the smartest folk around.
Today was day one of this year’s event, with keynote speeches from Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie and NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. Both talked about the future of their respective parts of the industry, with Ozzie focusing on cloud, and Huang on GPU-powered massively parallel computing. The two turned out to have closely linked visions, with Ozzie’s cloud needing flexible computation and deep visualisation, and Huang’s three pronged approach to what NVIDIA calls visual computing needing operating system and software support.
Ozzie’s not been at Microsoft that long, but his vision of the transition of the general purpose computing world to one of appliances and cloud services has deeply affected the company. You can see its mark on many recent products, from Windows 7 to Azure, and on through to the Internet-time experiments of Fuze Labs.
It was interesting to think about Ozzie’s approach to changing the direction of the Microsoft supertanker in terms of the work of John Hagel and John Seely Brown in their book “The Power Of Pull”. It’s a look at how the edges of businesses are starting to gain the power to set their own agendas and to build new business models. Talking to Brown after his presentation, I suggested that it reminded me of the evolution of the American suburbs, and he went on to talk about how the suburbs themselves have been changed by a return to city centres – setting up dynamic tension that is encouraging innovation, something he expects to see in businesses as they adapt to having both a dynamic core and a dynamic edge.
What was really at the heart of their thinking was the role of talent in businesses, and of how it needs to be encouraged and nurtured. That topic came up in Huang’s conversation with FiRe’s creator, the analyst and futurist Mark Anderson, where he talked about how most of NVIDIA’s intellectual property “walked out the door every night, and it’s [his] job to ensure that it comes back the next morning”. That’s a lesson many CEOs need to learn…
However it was visual computing that had Huang’s attention, and it’s an area that means a lot to him. It’s not just CUDA and GPGPU supercomputing (though that’s important), nor is it the mobile Tegra platform. What really catches his interest are the applications being built on his company’s hardware – especially augmented reality.
You have some fascinating conversations at FiRe, and one of those came as a followup over lunch to a session on cloud computing and the network. With cloud becoming important for the enterprise, there are questions about how to build and manage your virtual network – and how to find the right hardware for the job. Everyone at the table had different ideas, but there was one unified vision – a world where workloads were designed for virtualisation and for scaling, replacing the traditional infrastructure model of application and data with one more akin to object oriented programming, wrapping up a minimal OS with applications and data in one VM that can be scaled out and moved from virtual server to virtual server, and from private data centre to cloud.
A day at FiRe can be like a week at any other conference. You start with technology, and you end it sat in a room watching a film about the results of climate change, the deeply moving Climate Refugees, learning about the already massive movement of people that’s only going to get bigger. It was a sobering view of the changes wreaked on the world.
But FiRe is ultimately an optimistic event, and sessions on how students are volunteering to design and build sustainable housing, and on how further education is changing its business model – and its target audience showed that social change is happening in the most unlikely places. It’s change we’re going to need to tap to build a sustainable future – a future that’s at the heart of this year’s instantiation of one of FiRe’s regular events, the CTO Challenge.
The CTO challenge is an extremely interesting event, that runs through the conference. In previous years CTOs from all across several industries have looked at mobile devices, wildfire prevention, and water management in drought areas. The theme of social responsibility inherent in these challenges has taken on a new level this year, with the team of CTOs looking at how to create a basis for sustainable renewable power – at both a technical and policy level. It’s going to be interesting to see what they come with by Friday…