Intel invests millions in social computing research center
Looking to avoid the curse of Xerox PARC
At Intel Labs' annual outing, Chipzilla has announced it is investing millions in a new social research center and explained how it plans to avoid the mistakes of researchers in the past.
The new Intel Science Technology Center is a $15m program funding five years of research into social and anthropological research into how people use technology. Rather than focus on how hardware and software are used, the new center will be looking at how human wetware interacts with the resulting data.
Intel has upped its R&D spending in such academic sectors to over $100m in recent years, and CTO Justin Rattner said the company had come a long way from the early days when Gordon Moore would personally have to review and sign off on any research funding. But making big investments upfront, Intel could fund full-time research places and reap the rewards he said.
Chipzilla is looking to avoid the mistakes Xerox made with its vaunted Palo Alto Research Center, which invented much of the backbone of modern computing, including Ethernet, the GUI, the mouse, and laser printing, but almost none of those inventions were taken to market by Xerox, which lost out by concentrating on its existing business.
A youthful Steve Jobs famously brokered a million dollar deal to tour PARC and harvest its secrets for Apple's early lines, something that provoked resignation threats from PARC directors, and Microsoft then
stole was inspired by the same technology. Bob Metcalfe took Ethernet public with 3Com and changed the world. But Xerox reaped none of the benefits of its research because it didn’t get the difference between invention and innovation Rattner said.
"We're very conscious of this at Intel Labs and have spent considerable time ways to break those barriers and avoid what we call the valley of death for products in the labs that never make it to product," he explained. ®
Rattner also caused a frisson of excitement with the mention that the start of sessions would be signaled with the "Intel bong." This turned out to be a reference to the advertising music it has used, rather than some of California's finest medicinal herbs.
From one who was there...
I worked at X during the 70's and 80's. I never worked at PARC (I didn't have the requisite PhD). I had one of the first Altos outside of California in 1975 in Dallas, Texas. From '75 to '90 when I was downsized out, I used PARC technology daily to do my job. In the late '80's I had responsibility to take some of PARC technology to the market. On Jan 1, 1986 X sponsored a multimillion $ extravaganza at Lincoln Center in NYC to announce a set of integrated products. I personally managed the installation support of many of these products at the show and at some first customers with my group from CA. These inventions were taken to market by X, BUT when it came time to roll these products into the market the money was nowhere to be found!
In the late '80's Xerox Corporation, world-wide used these products successfully in their daily business with over 40,000 workstations, ethernet -connected via Xerox Network Systems (XNS) software scattered all over the world; did anyone ever hear about that?
Here's my personal assessment:
1. The products were technologically advanced but too expensive to manufacture
2. Only customers like Boeing, the US government and a few others could afford them
3. Xerox upper management didn't understand the value proposition of these products
4. Xerox upper management preferred to count meter-clicks from copiers instead of investing in the future of the company
It makes me very sad to see the state of Xerox today.
You're sure PARC was a failure? They may not have maximized revenues on some of their developments but they did give Jobs & Gates something to play with & their toys sparked an online war that's still going on.
Re: Cynical me.
Bang on. This is doublespeak for "We're going to look into all the different ways you can interact with data, and patent them. Then you'll be paying us if you want to use your technology in a new way."
Appropriate icon is appropriate.