vegas as a hotbed of innovation

Yes, it is possible to learn something constructive in Las Vegas beyond when to split a pair against a Pai Gow dealer, or beyond how many kinds of vodka there are in the world. There’s also much to learn about what drives innovation in computing.

Those lessons were driven home to me when I spent a very non-traditional Thanksgiving in Sin City.

So what does drive innovation and experimentation? Money. If there’s not money to be made in advancing a computing technology, and call me an old curmudgeon if you will, then there ain’t nobody gonna do it.

Look to Vegas, that city of no sleep, oxygenated casinos, and escorts “delivered within 30 minutes” to see the connection writ large. Fact is, the IT folks there have, in many ways, left the rest of us in the dust. Photo recognition? Old news in Vegas. They needed a way to ensure that the big-winning card counter they kicked out of their casino last week wasn’t making his way back in this week. If you’re not playing by the rules, they want to make sure you don’t come back, disguised or not, so the “eyes in the sky” cameras you see everywhere have enhanced capability to pick up the undesirables based on computer programs that can recognize you from a previous picture.

Speaking of cameras — how high a resolution do you want? Digital enhancement technology means that the cameras that watch every move on the casino floor can probably pick out the serial number on the camera you carry around your touristy neck if they wanted to.

Large-screen anything? Plasma screens? Old news in Vegas. Just look at every place on the strip trying to outshine every other place on the strip. Nineteen of the 20 largest hotels in the world are in Vegas, and if you don’t notice them by their bulk, they surely want you to by the computer-driven mega screens. How much computing power drives those babies?

Pure programming talent and computing horsepower? Check out how hotels assess occupancy and price rooms accordingly. Many hotels do it now, as do airlines, but where do you think they got started? These programs consider what rooms are available when, what events are on the go in town at any point in time, what conventions are on, how much money they can make from a gambler who stays in the hotel at a discount, and mix it all together to compute a room rate that maximizes revenue. As an example, the computers determined that my room should go for $229 on Friday, $269 on Saturday, and $129 on Sunday. Check back tomorrow and you’ll get different rates, as those big processors chew through dozens of variables in pricing the room.

Money — there’s much of it to be made in Vegas, and they know that computing power goes a long way in making them even more. So they experiment with new stuff like we never would.

But maybe I’m cynical — maybe there is someone else pioneering new computing technologies beyond those who empty our wallets.

Now that I think about it, sure there is: the military. Somebody tell me that the coolest experiments in computing are not being undertaken just by those who are trying to make money of us, or figure out the most efficient way to kill people. Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at