Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 22/03/2004To IBM Hursley, Big Blue's very big house in the country near Winchester, where once the wartime production of Spitfires was co-ordinated but now Java, Websphere and transaction processing are the order of the day. We've been promised a meeting with the head of the labs but he's unavoidably detained elsewhere, so we spend time looking at demos of voice systems and pervasive computing.

Monday 22/03/2004
To IBM Hursley, Big Blue's very big house in the country near Winchester, where once the wartime production of Spitfires was co-ordinated but now Java, Websphere and transaction processing are the order of the day. We've been promised a meeting with the head of the labs but he's unavoidably detained elsewhere, so we spend time looking at demos of voice systems and pervasive computing.

That's good fun: IBM is especially proud of its method for making sensors, controllers and the like talk to each other across a variety of networks without too much fuss. We stand and are impressed as a Head Inventor shows us that he can spy on his wife in the Isle of Wight by interrogating his house about current spikes in the mains -- yep, there goes the kettle for the eleven o'clock cuppa -- and equally impressed when he admits that this side of his work does not go down well with Mrs Head Inventor. We see Coke machines that trigger flashing lights saying "Fred just bought a Tango" -- Dasani not pictured -- and glowing green balls that go an angry shade of red when things get too hot elsewhere. Whether this was the emotional state of Mrs H-I on realising that her morning refreshments were being used to titillate a bunch of hacks, I cannot say.

As for the voice side: not good news, I'm afraid. Call centres are rarely exciting places to phone, but at least you could have some fun trying to get the person at the other end to go off-script. Now, IBM says, it can automate a whole swathe of standard call centre stuff, like checking authorisation and identity, by having a voice-recognition robot quiz you before you're allowed to go through and talk to a human. It works very well, says IBM, it's quicker than doing it all with humans and of course you can get away with employing a lot fewer people. No indication what the people who were working in the call centres are expected to do next: doubtless if they phone up the Job Centre to find out, they'll end up speaking to a Xeon server somewhere in Bangladesh.

On my return, I discuss the day with newsmonger Mun. He says that he was due an Important Announcement from Google, but that had to be cancelled due to the absence of yet another leader of men. We wonder idly whether there's a special breed of superbug going around that doesn't attack children in hospitals, but rather directs its attention to board-level officers of major companies. That would give the remuneration committees something to think about the next time corporate governance is on the agenda...