CTOs From Microsoft, Sony, And Yahoo Say There's Lots To Fret About - InformationWeek

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5/18/2005
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CTOs From Microsoft, Sony, And Yahoo Say There's Lots To Fret About

At a Silicon Valley dinner Tuesday night, chief technologists from Microsoft, Sony, and Yahoo lamented about the dangers of posting content online and the lack of technology standardization.

Those who came to a dinner Tuesday night hosted by Silicon Valley's Churchill Club hoping to hear three leading technologists discuss the mind-bending innovations they expect over the next few years may have walked away disappointed. The panel of chief technology officers--Microsoft's Craig Mundie, Yahoo's Farzad Nazem, and Sony America's Phil Wiser--instead focused on the continuing evolution of media and entertainment, and the challenges related to broadband penetration and digital-content access.

They also expressed concerns following a question about the impact technological advances might have on society. Mundie, for one, worried that placing so much financial data, corporate information, and details about the U.S. populace on the Internet might backfire. "The more connected we all get, the more we create a command control center for those who want to harm us," he said. Wiser, meanwhile, said he's concerned about our ability to respond to the Internet's impact on traditional power structures. "I worry that the traditional forms of government won't be able to keep up with the new forms," he said.

But Mundie, Nazem, and Wiser saved their more detailed thoughts for other issues. The younger generation has completely accepted the digital culture and is ready to consume movies, music, and anything else they can get their hands on via portable devices, if only the infrastructure would cooperate with more standardization, Mundie said. "The thing that keeps me up at night is that the missing piece is not the same everywhere in the world," he said. For instance, he's frustrated that "despite all of our efforts, the U.S. is so far behind in terms of cost-effective broadband."

Wiser, meanwhile, said he's particularly concerned about the tenuous state of wireless connectivity and the incompatibility of content formats that prevent consumers from easy access to movies, music, and other media from any device. Single-company successes such as Apple Computer's iPod complicate matters because they're based on proprietary technology, Nazem suggested. "Industry hasn't learned yet that it's stifling innovation by not having a single standard," he said. The combination of seamless connectivity and compatible formats, they all agreed, is key to allowing content providers to deliver personalized content

All of which spurred moderator Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future, to proclaim, "This is a really depressing evening."

To be fair, the CTOs did give a nod to some pie-in-the-sky wishes toward the end of the evening. Nazem said he hoped to see conversational human-computer interfaces within the next five years. Mundie expects major improvements in the use of technology to bolster the educational system. And Wiser expressed his wish for big advances in prosthetics and the treatment of brain and spinal-cord injuries.

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