Last week I attended SC06 - the 2006 international supercomputing conference which this year took place in Tampa. This annual conference is one of my favorites, where I get to meet so many of the supercomputing colleagues whom I have known and worked closely with for years – people from universities and research labs, government and industry. The conference coincides with the release of the latest TOP500 list of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. I am proud to say that once more IBM is very well represented in the list with 237 of the 500 entries including 4 of the top 5 and 44 of the top 100.
There was nothing unusual about my being at SC06 last week. The unusual meeting I participated in while in Tampa took place in Beijing, where IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano spoke at a Town Hall event before a live audience of over 2500 IBM employees, partners and distinguished guests. We also had audiences throughout China at seven additional locations. They participated in the town hall via the usual video and audio feeds. But, in addition, we had an IBM audience from many different countries join the event through the virtual world of Second Life. I was part of that virtual world audience.
In his Beijing talk, Sam announced the results of InnovationJam. Earlier this year, InnovationJam brought together over 150,000 people from 104 countries. They were mostly IBM employees, but it also included family members, academics, business partners and clients from 67 companies. Over two 72-hour sessions they engaged in online conversations about innovation, explored some of IBM's most advanced technologies from our research labs, considered their application to real-world problems as well as to new business opportunities, and altogether posted more than 46,000 ideas.
Sam pledged to invest $100 million over the next two years to pursue new businesses based on the top ten ideas coming out of InnovationJam. The top ten ideas include Real-Time Translation Services: "offering advanced, real-time translation capabilities across major languages as a service for high-potential applications, industries and environments, such as healthcare, government and travel and transportation"; Smart Healthcare Payment Systems: "overhauling healthcare payment and management systems through the use of small personal devices (such as smart cards) that will automatically trigger financial transactions, the processing of insurance claims and the updating of electronic health records"; and "Big Green" Innovations: "launching a new business unit in IBM that will focus on applying the company’s advanced expertise and technologies to emerging environmental opportunities, such as advanced water modeling, water filtration via nanotechnology and efficient solar power systems."
The number one idea coming from InnovationJam was 3D Internet: “partnering with others to take the best of virtual worlds and gaming environments to build a seamless, standards-based, 3D Internet - the next platform for global commerce and day-to-day business operations." So, sometime around 3:30 pm Beijing time - 2:30 am in Tampa - I joined the Town Hall from Second Life to discuss the potential of 3D Internet and virtual worlds with Sam. For our Second Life venue, we used the Virtual Forbidden City being developed as part of the The Forbidden City: Beyond Space and Time project, a collaboration between IBM and The Palace Museum.
Sam then also "crossed over" into the 3D version of the Forbidden City in Second Life, and for a few minutes we talked about the potential business and societal opportunities of the 3D Internet and virtual worlds. We talked about some of the discussions we are already having with clients in telecommunications, petroleum, insurance and financial services. We discussed our internal pilots in which we are using virtual worlds to bring thousands of new hires on board from all around India, holding meetings with IBM people around the world as well as IBM alumni, and a new initiative in China called Fresh Blue to help IBM interns get up and running before their start date. We also took Sam and the Town Hall audience through a quick tour of the various IBM projects going on in Second Life.
It is clear that while still in the very early stages, the innovation potentia for all kinds of 3D Internet visual applications is enormous. Sam concluded our virtual Forbidden City meeting by remarking "You know, this really reminds me of those early days of the Internet, when you were one of the folks telling us that the Web wasn't just about browsers, it was about business, and we coined the term e-business. It’s now about v-business in virtual worlds."
It is fitting that I participated in the Beijing town hall from the SC06 supercomputing conference in Tampa. It is this community of scientists and engineers that first used the Internet and World Wide Web extensively in their work. It is also this community that first pioneered the use of advanced technologies to visualize the vast amounts of information generated in supercomputing simulations so they could better extract the insights that lead to innovative discoveries.
This community, more than any other, knows how to bring together brilliant minds with very powerful machines to produce the most innovative results. As the SC06 web site so aptly puts it: “This year the conference will take its inspiration from Albert Einstein who said, ‘Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.’"