Friday, March 13, 2015

It was hard to watch the Apple Watch announcements without a certain sense of déjà vu. Our longtime members saw just about every part of this coming. 

First came a prescient presentation by Advisory Board member Peter Cochrane. His “Wearing Your Office” (Cambridge, Mass., May 1996) envisioned a wrist-based computer-and-mobile-phone device that sported a touch pad and could be used for video conversations as well as messaging. To be sure, Peter had office efficiency more in mind, but for a talk that came a decade before the first smartphones and almost twenty years before this week’s announcements, he pretty much nailed it. 

Whatever Peter didn’t get to, another Advisory Board member, Nicholas Negroponte, did a year later. In his “Why Things Should Think and Link” (Marina del Rey, Calif., January 1997), he pointed out that things like watches should think, enhance personality, do unexpected things, and link to create a society of minds and machines. The Apple Watch is intended to do all that.

Oh, and Nicholas also pointed out that smart devices should ”hide ugliness”; that fashion should play a large role, something Apple has long understood. Watches that are beautiful and fun was the founding charter of Swatch, who we heard from three years later. In “Time Is Everything” (San Diego, February 2000), Swatch’s creative director Carlo Giordanetti and ergonomist Andrea Caputo described how the company bucked the trend of clunky, multifunction, digital watches to make what were, at least from a design point of view, the Apple Watch’s progenitors. 

Apple also gave a lot of design attention to the fitness and biomedical benefits that can accrue from masses of data. So did David Kil, a decade ago. In his talk ”Harvesting and Integrating Data from Multiple-Sensor Networks in Health Care” (San Francisco, February 2005), he described health monitoring devices, which he described as ”the iPod of health-care gadgets.” Later that year, Vanderbilt University physician Dan Masy laid out the remaining piece of the puzzle: crowdsourced biometric data in his “21st-Century Biomedical Informatics” (Washington, D.C., December, 2005)

Former TTI/Vanguard Advisory Board member Deborah Estrin (Jersey City, Oct 2013 and Oct 2009) has been exploring the use of smartphones to collect health data to benefit the individual as well as society by accumulating data sets for use by the research community, as did Thomas Plagemann (Paris, July 2011). On a personal level, Advisory Board members Gordon Bell and John Perry Barlow have engaged in deep dives into their own health profiles (e.g., Bell, and Mark Liponis, both in Atlanta, Dec 2004), as has former Advisory Board member Larry Smarr (San Jose, Feb 2012).

Of course, there have been many precursors to the Apple Watch, and it’s not like they’re going to leave the field to Apple. Perhaps the most sophisticated of them is the Basis watch, which was described for us by the company’s founder, Marco Della Torre, in “A Better Fitness Monitor” (San Francisco, December 2013)—the first wrist-based fitness monitor that captured every heartbeat, along with more conventional metrics. 

Enough about the Apple announcement. We’ve got plenty of other interesting news on our minds. But if gambling were legal in TTI/Vanguard’s home state, we’d start a pool for the number of Apple Watches we’ll see at the Detroit meeting. (And yes, we are looking at you Mike Hawley, Steve DeAngelis, and Miles Elsden). 

A species of bird from Burma/Myanmar, thought to be extinct since 1941, has just resurfaced, putting us in mind of the black-footed ferret, which we heard about from Ryan Phelan at Biotech & Beyond (San Diego, February 2015).  Might Revive & Restore step up here as well?

Also at Biotech & Beyond (San Diego, Feb 2015) Melissa Lechner described the effectiveness of an immunological assay to sniff out the presence of thyroid (and other) cancer, but University of Arkansas researchers have demonstrated comparable results with an actual sniff test by a trained dog, as Catherine Mohr (Boston, Apr 2014) suggested last year.

In case the Raspberry Pi, at $35, is still too expensive, it’s getting bumped from below by its initial benefactor, BBC, which is launching an even barer-bones device for children, dubbed the Micro Bit, due to fall into the hands of 1M kids this fall. It is just a chip and some LEDs, powered by a watch battery and equipped with a micro-USB port. The topic of empowering children with technology has a long history with us, including talks by Advisory Board members Alan Kay (Cambridge, September 1993; McLean, November 1995; Los Angeles, April 2001), Nicholas Negroponte (San Francisco, Feb 2005; Beijing, Jul 2006; Singapore, July 2009; London, July 2010; Washington, D.C., May 2012; Jersey City, Oct 2013), and Eben Upton (Vienna, July 2014), Mitchel Resnick (Los Angeles, November 1998; Chicago, May 2011), and Vikas Gupta (Washington, D.C., September 2014).

Lastly, Intel announced the 2015 results of its Intel Science Talent Search. Interestingly, the projects of the top nine winners were all in mathematics, biomedicine, or biomaterials. They join an ever-growing roster of past winners, including two who presented at the last-but-one [next], Ari Dyckovsky and Clara Fannjiang (San Francisco, December 2013).’s-highest-awarding

Speaking of math, happy Pi Day on Saturday—and it’s a special one: 3.14.15

The TTI/Vanguard Team

Author: Steven Cherry

Director of TTI/Vanguard, “a unique forum for senior-level executives that links strategic technology planning to business success. In private conferences that are part classroom, part think-tank, and part laboratory, its members—corporate and government leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and academics—explore emerging and potentially disruptive technologies.”

Twenty years experience as a technology journalist and editor, at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Founded the award-winning podcast series, Techwise Conversations covering tech news, tech careers and education, and the engineering lifestyle. Teaches an intensive writing class as an adjunct instructor at NYU. Previously taught essay writing and creative writing at The College of New Rochelle.