I want to pass along a story about a Cray supercomputer and your computer — a story that’s partly about change but mostly about our inability to keep up with it.
First, though, some context. In the new Spring 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review you’ll find five loosely linked stories that spring from one far-reaching trend: the smart-tech explosion. The continued exponential increases in computing power, storage capacity, communications speed and, now, “smart-world” instrumentation have produced both a flood of new data and also new ways to analyze and use the data in that flood.
The collective intelligence genome is one consequence of the phenomenon. So are the emerging management practices described by Chris Dellarocas (“Online Reputation Systems”), Erik Brynjolfsson (“Revolutionizing Innovation”), Michael Schrage (“Why IT Does Matter”) and Jim Fister (“Digital Natives”).
How fast are things changing? This fast: Listen to Andrew McAfee, author of Enterprise 2.0 and a friend of MIT SMR (his pieces include “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration” from our Spring 2006 issue and “Connecting the Dots in the Enterprise” from our Winter 2010 issue):
Let me tell a quick story about how hard it is to keep on top of this pace of change, even if, like me, you’re supposed to do it for a living.
I had the chance a while back to visit the Deutsches Museum in Munich, which is one of the world’s great science and engineering museums. It’s a geek paradise. They have a whole wing devoted to calculating devices — and they walk you through the entire history of mechanical ones, electro-mechanical ones, finally the digital ones. It’s a beautiful display.
Right at the end of it is one of the crown jewels of their collection, an original Cray supercomputer. As you may remember, these things cost easily millions of dollars. It had the famously interwired components that minimized total wiring distance because that would speed up the processing. It even had a built-in bench that you sit on that was part of the processor — like a weird modernist piece of furniture. Just an absolutely iconic piece of computing.
I found myself wondering if today’s PCs were faster or slower than a Cray supercomputer. I honestly didn’t know the answer. So when I got home, I did a little bit of Googling around and I learned pretty quickly that the computer that you and I have access to now — for something on the order of $1,000 as opposed to the Cray’s $1 million or $10 million — is, I believe, at least 100 times more powerful than that Cray supercomputer.
Point is, even those of us who are supposed to stay on top of these trends for a living can lose sight of how far we’ve come. And how quickly.
You can find more from McAfee at this Web site, in both video and text form.
And in our special report on IT-driven innovation, you’ll find more insight from other thought leaders on the smart-tech transformation and the opportunities and threats it presents to managers.