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Why digital machines?

By xuriwan ·
New to this forum and impressed by its wider perspective than elsewhere, I thought the following might be of interest:

Since 1995 innovation in technology has been stagnant, replaced by efforts to improve and replicate within the boundaries of what already existed. This has produced a complacent industry bloated with clones (and moans) with no sign of the mid-1980's enthusiasm to use computerisation to advance our civilisation for the benefit of Society as a whole. How come the promising revolution got washed away in favour of pursuit of the frivolous?

I think the problem is that IT is currently seen as an end in itself, whereas it is a utility something like electricity. Imagine if electrical innovation had been confined to producing more and more power with no recognition of its application beyond various forms of lighting. Today, for most, office suites are doshed out to help with the work; isn't it time to consider the kind of cross industry collaboration that resulted in the washing machine?

I see machines in the workplace that speed up communications but it seems required human time and effort has not been reduced. Are there machines that help with this? I have not found one, but I find appealing the idea of IT people bursting out of their bubble and joint venturing with practitioners to make specialist digital machines for diverse non-creative activities.

PS I use the term "digital machine" to mean an assembly of word and code components that carry out tasks (e.g. finding and displaying pertinent collections of product options) to support human creativity. Different components are selected to assemble specific machines for specific tasks. I accept that the term "digital" is often used to describe a mechanical machine with digital controls, so I will attempt to find another term - any suggestions welcome.

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A washing machine is digital

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Why digital machines?

Usually a PIC mirco-controller at the heart of it.
As for frivolity, it's that that sells.
Putting elliptical buttons all over your UI, captures the marketeer's attention, gives the salesman a foot in the door and best of all it's actually cheaper than making sure the function executed by the button, is safe, useful and appropriate.
There are a lot of solutions out there that do what you describe, they are heavily customised though and so hard to sell. The quest for a super-duper all things to all men IT solution is still on-going, one day the people searching for it will realise it's a fallacy.
Much of the requirement for more oomph for IT kit has been driven not to do things better, but to cope with the shortfalls in doing things badly.
You only have to look at the hand in hand technology progression between intel and ms to see that.

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by xuriwan In reply to A washing machine is digi ...

I have added a postscript to my original post in the hope of correcting the use of ambiguous terms ... for which I apologise.

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Innovation is dead -it's a mature "industry"

by denis.lesperance1 In reply to Why digital machines?

You are right. I constantly complain that software does do much : you have to click like **** ti get things going. I think that by now, the desktop analogy is counter productive - what familiarized people with computers is now a hindrance : we dont need digital scissors !
I have worked for a company that produced custom software for doamin specialists (eg geologists). they found nothing suitable in the industry. When pressed why they said : teh stuff available is from developpers that know nothing about geology but create useless interfaces.

We are like the auto industry inthe 20s :rationalizing to the point of uniformity, this is now a mainstream industry : we build Model A Ford to sell cars. Not to travel, to no meet people, not to deliver soil samples, genetic engineering material or anything else, just to "drive around". No wonder the world champions of the 20s only got good race cars from Euro specialists (Bugatti) ! and then comes marketing : the most palatable to the most people.

The basic problem today is that software is being developped without knowledge of what exists OUTSIDE the IT industry.


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by xuriwan In reply to Innovation is dead -it's ...

Why? Please see "Game of life" below.

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Evolutionary or revolutionary?

by M_a_r_k In reply to Why digital machines?

I agree that there are some frivolous pursuits for the use of technology. About 10 years ago, the idea of interactive TV was hot. The concept was that we'd be able to change the plot of a TV show or movie to suit our fancies. They were even thinking of having little consoles at each seat in a theater. People would interact with the movie and somehow the movie would take the course of however the majority of viewers wanted it to go. I am glad that that interactivity idea died away.

In general most of our inventions have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Improvements in computer systems have been almost all evolutionary. I don't think the pace of evolution or innovation is markedly different now than it was 10 yrs ago. If anything, I would say there is more innovation now, not less. IMO, though, ideas for how to harness computing power have quite often been revolutionary.

You mentioned that "required human time and effort has not been reduced". This is because we expect computers to do more for us now than 10 yrs ago. We interact with them more. And we have fewer employees to do the same amount of or more work.

Your term "digital machine" is a valid term. It is used in computer science quite often. For what it's worth, and this is a bit off track, but a "machine" is anything that assists in accomplishing a task. A computer, mechanical or electronic, is a machine. And anything that has definite states is digital. Analog is the opposite of digital; an analog system has a continuum of states. A digital clock has definite states of 3:01, 3:02, etc, with no states between those. An analog clock has an infinite number of states between 3:01 and 3:02.

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Quicker. easier

by ozi Eagle In reply to Why digital machines?

Remember that the main push to innovate is to do what you are already doing, but faster, better and cheaper. There is very little push to do something new.
It took computers quite a while to get off the ground. Once they started to be more widespread then there was a push to make them faster, better and cheaper. Purists might disagree on whether they are better, but they are definitely faster and cheaper.

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A direction to the outside world

by xuriwan In reply to Why digital machines?

I think it is healthy that more people are questioning the direction of information technology, looking for, what in 1994 Bill Gates called the next generational change. I agree with Denis that the desktop analogy is counter productive and with Mark's comment about harnessing computer power. But I do question his assertion that we have fewer employees to do the same amount of work.

Fewer bank tellers, inventory clerks, ticket collectors ... of course, but these reductions have all been at the very visible big end of business. Within the rest I am really only familiar with the building industry and my impression is that, there, office workers have increased, not just with network and CAD managers and technicians, but generally to deal with the vast volume of information that is so easily produced and distributed around the world. Ironically builders still have to analyse vast piles of table size drawings (anachronistically referred to as blueprints) and enormous tomes of specifications before they can buy anything and get on with the physical work. But I cannot expect you to be aware of that.

Ozi suggests there is very little push to do something new, and I think this understandable while there are no obvious IT connectors to the world outside. My suggestion is to use words, particularly those representing an idea for a physical end result - "House" - and then to use pieces of code to link to other words for ideas practitioners use to come up with the components needed. Practitioners advise what they need to be displayed to select, position and analyse alternative products and web developers provide appropriate devices. Information is specific to the industry and technology is specific to human actions it replaces. In my view this is a rational way to join "I" and "T".

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Fewer employes and more work output

by M_a_r_k In reply to A direction to the outsid ...

By fewer employees, I meant that employees today are more productive than 10 yrs ago. Therefore we have fewer employees to do an equivalent amount of work as 10 yrs ago. Not only pure IT jobs but anything where IT is used (secretaries, clerks, whatever). There has a been a LOT of downsizing in IT in the last 10 yrs. Some has been outsourced offshore but many jobs have gone away entirely. Data centers are a good example. It takes fewer people to run a data center than 10 yrs ago. There are more automated controls so fewer employees are required and also less equipment (more powerful computers -->> fewer computers in the data center -->> less human support). I've even heard some pundits predict that in the not too distant future, we won't even a single person to run a data center.

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by Dr Dij In reply to Why digital machines?

techies proclaim they can invent the next society changing software / gadget / hardware etc.

Just give us a few millions. We'll lounge around and play nerf frisbee, sleep in the hallways to be walked over the next day by other employees returning to work (happened at one place I was).

Actually make the device so we can pay the bills?

no, we need to add some more features.. Do they work? Well we didn't bother with usability studies or perfecting the interface. How could it be any better? Do you not share the VISION?

(Are you not ONE with Landru ???!!?? :)

what you are saying is the epitome of the tech bubble a few years ago.

Will it rebound? Yes.. Are there people looking for the newest inovations? Yes..

Are today's PC incredible piles of junk? Yes!!
And why are they so big when Mac can come out with their mini-me (woops mini-mac?? or whatever)

That's how big PC's should be. slightly bigger than a cd player. add more horsepower? slap on another module and would work in tandem like regular humongo sized dual processor workstations. Add a third processor and it won't choke? YESSS!!! keep your old memory when you add new even tho dift speed! Yess!

have a standard execution model so your old apps work however many patches m$ comes out with? Yess!! (maybe on windoze verion X with linux core .. I can dream..)

Be consumer hardened so Granny can use it without spyware? Yess!! Have remote diags so your service contract can fix it without visiting you, Yess!!

and that's just for standard PCs.
they'll do neural net hardware addons for computers. dual vidcams hooked to multiprocessor should be driving your car (autopilot instead of cruise control, despite the jokes about RVs on this)

We need to get beyond the wasteland of PCs and continue advancing.. Maybe in a few years..

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What a shame

by xuriwan In reply to breathless

Here was the start of a discussion about whether:

computer technology can really reduce the workload in more industries,

the desktop analogy should be discarded, and

how smart technologists might link up effectively with practitioners wise enough to know what information is required and what they need to manipulate it to fulfill specific objectives.

Whatever you feel about these things, it would be mature at least to make some reasoned response to them, or, if impossible, not reply at all.

I guess your ego-trip has killed off further discussion - well done!

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