Steve & Bill: A perfect time for *you* to reflect…

Steve Jobs & Bill Gates at All Things D Conference on July 8, 2007

Early this morning I watched the video of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at AllThingsD conference. So many people have written about this event — and many were hoping it would be a cage match between Bill and Steve — that I’m going to add a perspective and place this event into a different context. (Full video of the interview is here).

In January of 2005, I reminisced a bit about being in Hawaii in November of 1983 when Steve intro’ed the Macintosh to the company (I was with Apple’s manufacturer’s representative group in Minnesota at the time).

When I work on technology innovation with senior strategists in organizations through strategy and ideation work, it’s important to appreciate the revolutionary and evolutionary aspects of human creation without solely focusing on the past. But having a perspective on what it was like and where we are now can inform where we’re headed and help set expectations on how fast the future we invent will be adopted.

Listening to these guys talk about 128kb’s of memory in the first Macintosh with an operating system taking ~20kb’s of RAM is hilarious to me as I sit in front of a laptop with 3GB’s of memory that can run Mac, Windows and Linux OS’es; an 120GB hard drive (floppies at the time held 400kb which is less than half of one jpeg image from my digital camera!); and recipes were the killer app for personal computers while I now can do press layout and video editing while casually looking up almost any piece of data I need instantly with bits flying through the air to my wireless card. Add to that webcams, digital video and still cameras, software for blogging, social connections and even virtual spaces, searchable worldwide information and knowledge sets (e.g., Wikipedia) being delivered and the changes are incredible…and accelerating.

But there is SO MUCH change underway that the less than 30 years worth of changes in personal computing Steve and Bill have experienced will happen in years instead of decades and we’re already in a time of change that is thrilling and scary as hell at the same time.

As I’ve been re-reading parts of Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, I’m struck by the volume of his data, much of which I find sobering, exciting, frightening and mostly irrefutable. The takeaway, of course, is that the exponential rate of technological change will enable human intelligence to be trillions of times more powerful than it is today (and lots of other outcomes to numerous to mention). Since most of us can’t grasp the magnitude of exponential change coming (since we’re thinking about what’s up Saturday night or our own short time horizons), it’s useful to look back a bit and realize how far we’ve come in just the working lifetimes of these two key computer industry figures.

If you take nothing else away from this post make it this: consider the impact of ever-increasingly powerful tools in the hands of everyone from kids to grandparents globally and what that means to you, your work, your children, your community and to us all. When distance and geography are irrelevant to the dissemination of culture, ideas, relationships and creation. When global positioning system connected cameras and recognition software allows computers to “see”, map and know where things are while the semantic Web labels everything and companies like Google — compiling ever-increasing amounts of data about every single thing people do while connected — predict and deliver what you want before you even ask for it.

Most fascinating to me as I observe shifts and changes is how the majority of people — who can’t, won’t or are unable to grasp the magnitude of accelerating changes — may not even see or understand what’s happening and therefore won’t be able to yell, “STOP!” when developments we’d rather not have appear.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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