Think really BIG…forever

supercomputerIBM is famous for having had signs around their offices in years past that said “THINK.” Evidently they need to modify the sign to say: “THINK BIG!”  According to a NY Times article the other day, Big Blue and other computing leaders like Google are  concerned that many students currently being trained in college are not being exposed to the tools that will enable them to imagine and execute projects that could be accomplished with the huge data sets and super-computing systems that will be available to them in their professional futures.

These days you can buy a terabyte drive for your PC for a couple hundred bucks. But fields like genomics, astronomy, geology, and medical imaging and modeling process petabytes of data already. And data is scaling exponentially.

But students typically deal with PCs or perhaps clusters of moderate performance. The concern is that those experiences will trap their thinking on that scale.

“If they imprint on these small systems, that becomes their frame of reference and what they’re always thinking about,” said Jim Spohrer, a director at I.B.M.’s Almaden Research Center.

The word “imprint” is what caught my eye. Since my last post about today’s tots living to be 100 I’ve been thinking: “How will this next generation remain flexible enough to be of value over a career that spans perhaps 50 or more years?” In my experience people tend to “imprint” on what they experience in their 20s and 30s. After that, perceiving and being open to change around them can become problematic. In a world that is likely to change at an exponential rate, how do people in their mid- to late-career years continue to be valuable? This has been a problem in highly technical fields like computing for quite a while already.

Living long is going to require more than being physically and mentally healthy; it’s going to call for qualities like creativity, perceptiveness, imagination, flexibility, and resilience over a l0nger span of time than for previous generations.

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