Friday, December 21, 2007

Q&A: Author Nicholas Carr

Q&A: Author Nicholas Carr on the Terrifying Future of Computing

[Editor's Note: 'Terrifying' is a little dramatic, don't you agree?]

Nicholas Carr is high tech's Captain Buzzkill — the go-to guy for bad news. A former executive editor of Harvard Business Review, he tossed a grenade under big-budget corporate computing with his 2004 polemic Does IT Matter? (Answer: Not really, because all companies have it in spades.) Carr's new book, The Big Switch, targets the emerging "World Wide Computer" — dummy PCs tied to massive server farms way up in the data cloud. We asked Carr why he finds the future of computing so scary.

Wired: IBM founder Thomas J. Watson is quoted — possibly misquoted — as saying the world needs only five computers. Is it true?

Carr: The World Wide Web is becoming one vast, programmable machine. As NYU's Clay Shirky likes to say, Watson was off by four.

Wired: When does the big switch from the desktop to the data cloud happen?

Carr: Most people are already there. Young people in particular spend way more time using so-called cloud apps — MySpace, Flickr, Gmail — than running old-fashioned programs on their hard drives. What's amazing is that this shift from private to public software has happened without us even noticing it.

Wired: What happened to privacy worries?

Carr: People say they're nervous about storing personal info online, but they do it all the time, sacrificing privacy to save time and money. Companies are no different. The two most popular Web-based business applications right now are for managing payroll and customer accounts — some of the most sensitive information companies have.

Wired: What's left for PCs?

Carr: They're turning into network terminals.

Wired: Just like Sun Microsystems' old mantra, "The network is the computer"?

Carr: It's no coincidence that Google CEO Eric Schmidt cut his teeth there. Google is fulfilling the destiny that Sun sketched out.

Wired: But a single global system?

Carr: I used to think we'd end up with something dynamic and heterogeneous — many companies loosely joined. But we're already seeing a great deal of consolidation by companies like Google and Microsoft. We'll probably see some kind of oligopoly, with standards that allow the movement of data among the utilities similar to the way current moves through the electric grid.

Wired: What happened to the Web undermining institutions and empowering individuals?

Carr: Computers are technologies of liberation, but they're also technologies of control. It's great that everyone is empowered to write blogs, upload videos to YouTube, and promote themselves on Facebook. But as systems become more centralized — as personal data becomes more exposed and data-mining software grows in sophistication — the interests of control will gain the upper hand. If you're looking to monitor and manipulate people, you couldn't design a better machine.

Wired: So it's Google ├╝ber alles?

Carr: Yeah. Welcome to Google Earth. A bunch of bright computer scientists and AI experts in Silicon Valley are not only rewiring our computers — they're dictating the future terms of our culture. It's terrifying.

Wired: Back to the future — HAL lives!

Carr: The scariest thing about Stanley Kubrick's vision wasn't that computers started to act like people but that people had started to act like computers. We're beginning to process information as if we're nodes; it's all about the speed of locating and reading data. [Editor's Note: This is my take as well...] We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us.


  1. This guy looks like a grumpy old version of Tom Hanks

  2. Hi Ben,
    Could you comment on the tech for display tech like you did with TI. Is this a possible major competition for MVIS.
    Thank you very much and happy holidays to you and yours.
    Here are some most current PR.

  3. I have often called Microvision's visual information interface a "modem" to the brain.


  4. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Ben, thanks for a whole year of great work you are doing at MVIS....

    stay warm..


Ragentek's Green Orange to Launch 2nd Gen Laser Projector Phone in September

Commentary: Ragentek's brand Green Orange is launching a second-generation laser projection phone next month. This seems that it should...

This website does not recommend the purchase or sale of any stocks, options, bonds or any investment of any kind. This website does not provide investment advice. Disclaimer and Notices: Disclaimer: This website may contain "forward-looking" information including statements concerning the company's outlook for the future, as well as other statements of beliefs, future plans and strategies or anticipated events, and similar expressions concerning matters that are not historical facts. The forward-looking information and statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in, or implied by, the statements. The information on this website includes forward looking statements, including statements regarding projections of future operations, product applications, development and production, future benefits of contractual arrangements, growth in demand, as well as statements containing words like believe, estimate, expect, anticipate, target, plan, will, could, would, and other similar expressions. These statements are not guarantees of future performance. Actual results could differ materially from the results implied or expressed in the forward looking statement. Additional information concerning factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward looking statements are included in MVIS most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission under the heading 'Risk factors related to the company's business,' and our other reports filed with the Comission from time to time. Except as expressly required by Federal securities laws, MVIS Blog undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, changes in circumstances, or other reasons. Legal Notice: Although considerable care has been taken in preparing and maintaining the information and material contained on this website, MVIS Blog makes no representation nor gives any warranty as to the currency, completeness, accuracy or correctness of any of the elements contained herein. Facts and information contained in the website are believed to be accurate at the time of posting. However, information may be superseded by subsequent disclosure, and changes may be made at any time without prior notice. MVIS Blog shall not be responsible for, or liable in respect of, any damage, direct or indirect, or of any nature whatsoever, resulting from the use of the information contained herein. While the information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, its accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. MVIS Blog has not independently verified the facts, assumptions, and estimates contained on this website. Accordingly, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to, and no reliance should be placed on the fairness, accuracy, or completeness of the information and opinions contained on this website. Consequently, MVIS Blog assumes no liability for the accompanying information, which is being provided to you solely for evaluation and general information. This website does not contain inside information, proprietary or confidential information learned or disclosed as part of employment relationships or under nondisclosure agreements or otherwise.