Technology stars decry state of industry innovation

The direction of technological innovation has gone off track by focusing on overly complex systems, losing sight of the goal widespread adoption, a panel of experts said Tuesday evening.

Speaking at the InfoWorld CTO Forum in San Francisco, the group agreed that both enterprises and consumers are turned off by systems that are simply too hard to understand.

“Everybody today has to be a systems administrator in his own home and I think that’s a tragedy,” said James Gosling, vice-president and fellow with Sun Microsystems Inc. and a founder of Java.

“The real problem with technology today is that it’s unusable,” said Don Norman, president of LLC Learning Systems.

For the most part, consumers have shunned the bells and whistles offered by fancy products, said William Raduchel, executive vice-president and CTO of AOL Time Warner Inc.

“A lot of the things we dream up on the Net aren’t going to stick,” Raduchel said. “People sit down and have a routine [using the Internet]. They may check stocks, travel, and reservations. They do the same thing night after night.”

In addition, enterprises that once required employees to learn new, state-of-the art software systems now must use more accessible systems that promote interaction with customers, partners, and suppliers. “CTOs,” Raduchel said, are “now more focused on how to get partners and suppliers on board.”

David Ditzel, CTO and founder of Transmeta Corp., maker of cutting-edge processors, said the mixed success of the development of mobile phones points to the need for accessible technology.

“People want common sense, common interfaces [on phones] that are easy to use,” Ditzel said.

Speaking in general of the adoption of new products, Ditzel said, “Getting simplicity back is going to be a very big challenge.”

To be sure, complexity is not going to be removed from technology, UNext’s Norman said. “Cars are more complex than ever, to make it simpler to drive them,” he said.

But systems and devices need to be focused on users. “You need to look at technology and say, ‘What service does it offer?’ and maybe you can offer a better service.”

The InfoWorld CTO Forum continues through Thursday.