IDF Day Zero: Of Intel China, Carrying Small and Living Large

It's Day Zero at the Intel Developer Forum: the increasingly first-day-like International Press Day. We're at the Shanghai International Conventional Centre, a huge maze-like building where the only way to the press briefings on Floor 7 is by going to Lift 8 on Floor 9.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

It's Day Zero at the Intel Developer Forum: the increasingly first-day-like International Press Day. We're at the Shanghai International Conventional Centre, a huge maze-like building where the only way to the press briefings on Floor 7 is by going to Lift 8 on Floor 9. The IDF is still in the process of construction, and most of the booths and displays are still being assembled. Nevertheless, we are registered and herded into the auditorium for two and a half hours of uniquely Intel-centric propaganda. Without coffee.

Let me share the good bits, the bad bits and the “I don't believe he just said that on stage” bits.

Our adventure starts with Ian Yang of Intel China giving it large on the History of Intel. He's doing it in Chinese, and us big-noses have been equipped with infra-red instantaneous translation devices. These are made in England, and thus do not work very well. Not that it matters to you and I, distant reader: this part of the show was for the general and local media – and to those versed in technology, it looks somewhat surreal.

There's a curious video showing various people doing technology with soldering irons and lab equipment. “The Moore's Law” says the subtitle, while the theme tune of The High Chapperal blazes through the room. No guidance is given as to who are the cowboys, who the Indians.

The briefing switches to high-speed Chinese. The Universal Translator switches to silence, then a relay of the Chinese. Finally someone in the back room throws a switch and a brief phrase in English surfaces from the noise: “Moore's Law”. Crackle crackle. Then silence. The Universal Translator falls asleep, leaving me to guess what's being talked about by the slides on the presentation.

There's a long list of the Intel genealogy. Five CEOs, presented like five dynastic warlords, with their great deeds inscribed in respectful phrases underneath. Robert Noyes, Inventor of the Integrated Circuit. Gordon Moore, Creator of Moore's Law. Andrew Grove, Exceptional Manager. Unfortunately, I was sitting to one side of the auditorium where the screen was partially shaded by a curtain, so could only see the right ear and part of the chin of Paul Otellini. I couldn't make out what his Super Power is. (Incidentally, I hear that Otellini formally requested that The Register stop calling him Little Otter. ZDNet UK is delighted to assure him that we will never use the phrase Little Otter in connection with him, his heirs or assignees.)

Then comes a video with subtitles that tells of the dark times before technology, when we had to “endure restless waiting”. (Thank goodness that's over.) We had to go out to shop. We actually bought music that actually had to be played on actual record players. Now our world is more pleasant. Technology is the magic wizard of unfulfilled knowledge. The modern China equipped with technology will continue to shine in the word.. Intel and China growing together heart to heart.

There was a lot of this. The Universal Translator mumbled in its sleep, crackle crackle. Convergence... higher... lower... Internet.. interactions... crackle. Content will serve as a connecting channel, content from internet.. crackle crackle. Internet experience must be functional experience... snap zizzt. Sometimes it managed entire paragraphs: the effect, however, was much the same.

And then it was Andrew Chein, director of Intel Research. He bounded onto stage with the irresistible energy of a small otter and unveiled the words of power for this IDF: Kerry Small, live large.

Who was Kerry Small and why was she living it large? Ah, no. Carry Small, Live Large. Better living thru tiny gizmos. Intel is so fond of this phrase now it's frequently referred to internally as CSLL, revealed Chein. It's a big bet for the company, of the same order of magnitude as terascale, converged services and the like.

We watch a video of people visiting ICRC -- the Intel China Research Centre, not the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and watching demos, one of which is of video over the Net. Just think, if I'd video'd that you could watch a video me watching a video of people watching a video. Truly, the Internet is mighty.

Now, at last, we move into the part of the briefing for the technical half of the media. Kevin Kahn, the stern uncle of Intel's mobility research and Charles Dickens look-alike, takes the stage.

He's got a lot to say. Most of it is eminently sensible. Mobile devices are fine, but limited by their size and shape. They swim through a sea of other devices with better screens, better connectivity. They know where a user is, but don't do much with the information. The future of technology will not be defined by people typing enormously quickly with their thumbs.

The future, he says, will be of small devices that know how to escape their plastic. Your PDA will sniff out a high resolution display and wirelessly link to it to show you your content. Or a mobile phone will take a photograph of the place you're in, work out where you are from GPS, and then seamlessly access a database to provide all the information you need to take full advantage of your situation. - historical context, links to local maps, making it part of the entire Wikipedia'd world. Rather daringly, Kahn illustrates this with Tiananman Square: one part of the world where such a device, as things are currently construed, would be hard-pressed to engage with the global brain.

Kahn continues with a discussion of the practicalities of making all this work. Does a handheld device displaying high resolution content on a big wireless screen send the rendering commands to a GPU in the screen, a nice low-bandwidth, high-quality solution that minimises the power needed in the portable unit? Or does it do all the rendering and send compressed bitmaps, simplifying the larger display and coping better with streaming video but reducing quality and stressing the wireless link? Intel's experimenting with both approaches, and will present its conclusions to the industry for consideration as standards in the future.

There's more, about how to orchestrate convergence to bring in as many people as possible: if this stuff doesn't work very widely and very well, it'll be hard to justify. There are some tantalising references to unified wireless and a future where all the interfaces on the desktop are collapsed into one affordable fibre link. I've got an interview with Kahn later today, and quietly tot up the many questions that his presentation begs to be asked.

Then Andrew Chein comes back, and he's really speaking my language. More on that in the next blog posting.

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