How often have you been standing in the shower or hiking somewhere and come across the breakthrough idea? That's the product of a relaxed mind, which is a topic of another conversation. But when those illuminations burst from off the beaten path, a train idled on a hidden siding that just slipped onto the main line, they are orthogonal to your usual thought patterns.
I started to chew on this as I was listening to Brad McCredie, chief technology officer for IBM’s systems and technology group, give a talk at the Design Automation Conference this summer in Austin.
McCredie was trying to give us a handle on where IT spending would go in the coming years. He was frank in showing how the shift in design priorities in the past 20 years has moved from high-performance computing and high-performance microprocessors to more efficient designs and power-aware solutions.
One of the consequences is clear: The cloud has exploded as a computing paradigm not only because it's a way for corporations to consolidate compute operations and save large amounts of money and energy, but it's also a way for mobile devices to enhance their own compute power by leveraging nearly infinite CPUs in the cloud.
Cloud computing is changing society in ways we’re just starting to appreciate. But no one woke up a few years ago and said, “We’re going to change the world by building cloud computing.” No one said, “You remember those pastel-colored days when we had to line up with our punch cards to share compute time on big iron to get our programs done? Let’s make that better.”
No one said that.
What they said was, “We have an idea to leverage the Internet to revolutionize retailing” (Amazon). “We have an idea to leverage the Internet to disrupt advertising” (Google). “We have an idea to leverage the Internet to disrupt the music record industry” (Apple).
The only way to do that was, in McCredie’s words, to build a pile of low-cost computers to do it. That became the cloud, which became a “thing” when Amazon starting selling compute time on its server farms.
Today, people look and say, “Holy cow! I can buy a pile of low-cost computers and disrupt an industry and make a whole lot of money,” McCredie said. “At that point IT is viewed as a business weapon to go kick somebody’s butt.”
The journey from disruptive concept to implementation is that orthogonal awakening, and it’s considered that when the implementation is extraordinary -- in some cases, accidentally extraordinary. By contrast, to consider disrupting retail by tweaking an existing distribution or manufacturing model is not orthogonal thinking.
The challenge for us now is to consider the dominant paradigm -- cloud computing -- and look for an orthogonal awakening from it. It starts with big data and data analysis, but I have no idea where to go from there. If I did, my last name would be Bezos or Brin or Jobs.