Past and Future


On September 28, I went to two meetings and presentations that were totally orthogonal to each other.  The first meeting was at the Boston CTO Club. The speaker was Bruce Welty. Chairman at Locus Robotics Corporation. Locus Robotics builds robots focused on the distribution industry. Bruce's talk was "Robots: the Good, the Bad, and the Hype". The Second meeting was at the Cape Cod Writers Center (CCWC).  The speaker was John Cumbler, professor of history, University of Louisville and author of several historical books. His talk was on historical research techniques for writing historical books. However, I found a common thread in both talks.

The Boston CTO Club Chatham House Rules prevent me from quoting Bruce or other members, but it was a very lively discussion.  We talked a lot about artificial intelligence software embedded in robots and how robots are controlled. Much of the discussion focused on rules data to control the robots versus machine learning.  After the presentation, I had a casual conversation with a CTO from a major financial institution about a new initiative that their group is working on for financial advisor robots. Many in their company think that the robot will be a physical human-like device, similar to C-3PO, dispensing advice to potential investors in an English accent.  We talked about how we use artificial intelligence by building organization and project profiles to predict the likelihood of success for future projects. The CTO thought their robots would be more like our use of case-based reasoning technology.

The Cape Cod Writers Center does not have Chatham House Rules even though Chatham is part of the Cape. Therefore, I am free to relate John’s comments. One comment John did not make was from Winston Churchill, which is history is written by the victors.  My take from John’s talk is that history is written by people that write it down.  John gave many examples of how he researches subjects and provides citing. He talked about the credibility of the sources.  He states one of the most credible historical research sources is a personal letter, while diaries provide a rich source of information that might be misleading since the writer maybe telling you want he or she wants you to think and not how things might have really been during the actual events.

William Shakespeare said that the past is prologue. There are many events in history that are truly factual, but most are open to interpretation. John Cumbler said there are three distinct times when writing about history, there is the time the event occurred, there is the time the event was recorded, and the time the event is read.  In each of the occurrences there is a perception bias layered on top.  The example he gave was Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography in his 60s, about his life when he was 16.  As hobby historian, I would now read his account in the present-day environment and write from my current view.  Now Bruce Welty provided at the CTO meeting his expert opinion about the future of robots. As a futurist, I may or may not agree with Bruce or I might agree with some of his predictions, but not others.  As I write this blog the only thing I know for sure is the past is questionable and the future is uncertain.

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About the Author:


Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

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