Bizarre and inexplicable visions

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

– The narrator in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

A recent story in The New York Times, “News Analysis: The Internet, Act II: A clash between titans,” noted that last year Sam Palmisano, the CEO of IBM, outlined the company’s vision called on-demand computing, and at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference a few weeks ago, “Bill Gates . . . was set to present his company’s notion of . . . seamless computing.”

The story went on to say that, “Behind the marketing shorthand is a kind of war of ideas over what can be thought of as the Internet, Act II, a technological evolution that has been gathering pace.” The Internet, Act II? You mean Act I finished and I missed it? Darn.

According to this same story, Act I was all about e-mail and the Web and data downloads such as music and video. OK, I’ll buy that. Act II “should bring all kinds of automated transactions among businesses and individuals. And those transactions will be able to include a hint of computer-aided intelligence.”

I’m not sure where exactly the Times got these ideas about Act I and II, but much of the stuff supposedly arriving is arguably already in place. For example, I just purchased airline tickets using an automated online transaction, and there was a hint of machine intelligence involved.

Why is it that so many commentators, pundits and analysts want to try to peg down trends based on the flimsiest shreds of evidence? Is it for bragging rights, to be able to say, “I spotted that first”? Or is it an attempt to buy a ticket on the gravy train of consulting and writing?

Anyway, where things in the story get back on the rails of relevance is in pointing out that Microsoft thinks IBM’s model is flawed (relevant but not a surprise). Gates is quoted as saying in a recent interview that, “IBM is talking about taking all the things we do now and outsourcing it….The utility model suggests that it is not about empowerment.”

The idea that Microsoft has a better model on the basis of a bucketful of marketing hype and some stage displays of its next operating system release is nonsense. It’s just as nonsensical as IBM trying to convince us that we can outsource on the scale the company would like us to.

While this kind of outsourcing could theoretically be done, the issues of performance, reliability and security are nowhere near resolved. This makes the idea of serious relevance to the market meaningless for a long time to come.

But Gates’s assertion that “the utility model suggests that it is not about empowerment” is just as meaningless.

Empowerment? What kind of black hole of logic have we just barely missed being swallowed by? The idea that Microsoft offers empowerment in some more profound way than IBM is so silly that we have to forgo using the word “nonsense” and resort to “ludicrous.”

I have a theory that whenever we, the great unwashed that are the technology marketplace, get too close to understanding exactly what Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Sun, HP and all the other big technology players are talking about with their “visions” (also known as spins), the visions instantly disappear and are replaced with something even more bizarre and inexplicable. I have another theory that says this already has happened. Over and over and over again.

Repeat your thoughts, repeat your thoughts to