Software // Information Management
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5/12/2008
10:28 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
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In Search of 'The Scotty Effect'

Do you remember the movie "Star Trek IV," when the crew needs to go back to the 20th century to find two hump back whales? When that movie was released, twenty-five years ago, we already had SAS to build models and do statistical work and we could write reports in FOCUS or any number of other tools. Compared to the things we can do today, this may seem primitive, but how different is it really?

Do you remember the movie "Star Trek IV," when the crew needs to go back to the 20th century to find two hump back whales? When that movie was released, twenty-five years ago, we were already building pricing models with DSS software, we already had SAS to build models and do statistical work and we could write reports in FOCUS or any number of other tools. Compared to the things we can do today, this may seem primitive, but how different is it really?

Consider that the density of hard drives in the same period has increased five orders of magnitude, CPU speed even more so and the cost per unit of storage or MIP has fallen off the table. With that kind of improvement, a new BMW today would go from 0 to 60 mph in 0.00008 seconds, have a top speed of 15 million miles per hour and would burn gas at a rate of 2 million miles per gallon. Oh, and it would cost about 30 cents to buy. I haven't figured out the lease yet.Does it really seem like we've made that much progress? It reminds of that old line where the driver is lost and says, "I don't know where we are, but we're making great time."

I'm not content with the progress we're making. I'm frustrated that we still coddle our computers and software and let them do only the most basic things while we still do all of the hard work. I want the computer to learn what I need, not vice-versa. Been there, done that. I want "the Scotty Effect."

What's the Scotty Effect? At one point in the movie, Scotty has to devise a tank to hold the whales so they can be beamed into space somewhere. He explained to a 20th-century engineer that the only thing that would do would be "transparent aluminum." The engineer told him he hadn't heard of such a thing. Scotty asked to use his computer and the engineer pointed to the little original Mac on the desk (remember - Hello!). Scotty looked at it and said, "Computer?" No answer. He asked again. Again no answer. Bones reached over and handed him the mouse. He put the mouse to his mouth and said, again, "Computer!"

Scotty expected not only a verbal interface, but a computer that understood what he needed without being told explicitly. I'm willing to yield on the verbal interface, but I want the computer to help me do my job, instead of requiring nicely constrained problems while I do all the hard work. I want that analyst who is about to answer an RFP for a sourcing relationship to say to the computer, "Am I crazy? Am I going to be okay with this or am I going to get killed?" And in response the computer might answer:

"There is risk, but here are some scenarios you can work with. I've also located some documents on the Web that are germane to your situation; I can tell you haven't seen these documents before, so I've summarized them for you and you can take them into consideration. I can replay the pricing visualizations you did last Wednesday to come up with your current proposed numbers, or should I route the replays to (list of people) for their input? Would you like me to search a little deeper to find similar offers with commensurate risk/benefits ratios? At this stage, the risk level is 7, too high for you to authorize without approval."

We're actually there. I see the most amazing things when I'm briefed by technology vendors. The problem is that no one wants to rewrite the whole business technology book. Companies used to be funded by VC's looking for the next Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco. Now they starve them to death until they have a product viable enough to sell to another company, hopefully avoiding the second round of funding. In that sort of world, no one is willing to push the envelope very hard. No one has time.Do you remember the movie "Star Trek IV," when the crew needs to go back to the 20th century to find two hump back whales? When that movie was released, twenty-five years ago, we already had SAS to build models and do statistical work and we could write reports in FOCUS or any number of other tools. Compared to the things we can do today, this may seem primitive, but how different is it really?

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