Cisco tech guru: ‘Smart everything’ looms

Howard Charney spoke to the Northern Nevada Business Authority about the limitless possibiiities of smart technology in the 21st century.

Howard Charney spoke to the Northern Nevada Business Authority about the limitless possibiiities of smart technology in the 21st century.

The Cisco kidder entertained with quips but bedazzled with serious stuff Thursday as he warned the 21st century was going to ratchet the pace of change toward warp speed.

Howard Charney, who actually goes by the title senior vice president of Cisco Systems, Inc., wasn’t kidding when he kidded his listeners at a Northern Nevada Development Authority breakfast meeting in Carson City’s Carson Nugget casino downtown. He cherry-picked others’ amusing outlooks on change and technology’s impact, making the point disruptive combinations are bringing future whirlwinds with breathtaking speed.

A big audience guffaw came when he said work will get down to a man and his dog, with the dog to keep the man away from the machines. Though he interspersed his power point talk with amusing illustrations and such joshing, Charney bore a more sobering message about the pace of change and necessity to work at keeping abreast of it.

Unlike the Cisco Kid, his sidekick wasn’t named Poncho, but Seneca. Quoting the Roman philosopher, Charney hammered home his point at the end: “The fates guide those who go willingly; those who do not, they drag.”

He cited a projection from Ray Kurzweil, author and computer scientist with Google, that the 21st century could spur the equivalent of 20,000 years worth of progress. Kurzweil wrote “The Singularity is Near” and “How to Create a Mind,” among other books. Charney said Kurzweil estimates hardware to make a “mind” is going to be on hand by 2029, the software by 2034. Such an artificial intelligence projection caught audience attention and was discussed a great deal afterwards by those who stuck around to chat with each other. Charney’s own opinion during his talk was sweeping.

“It’s all going to change,” he said.

He cited changes from the revolution that began in the 1970s with Microsoft and evolved with advancing technology to what goes on today. Another of his joking points came by asking how you would best explain advances today to someone from the past. One way, he said, would be to say you have something in your pocket with access to all the world’s information, but it’s used to look at images of cats and talk to strangers.

Smart phone humor aside, Charney ran the gamut of recent technological innovations and their impacts by using such examples as medical advances moving from hospitals to homes, Copenhagen re-engineering itself into a “smart city” that in the future won’t flood, education, business and other matters moving forward with alacrity. Business examples he cited are Uber, Airbnb and 3D printing disrupting taxi, hotel and engineering firms.

“Business as usual simply doesn’t work,” he said. “If you think that businesses that have existed for decades are secure, you are wrong.”

He said at their hearts, Cisco Systems and other business concerns are software companies.

Businesses and other societal organizations, he said, collect data that’s either stagnant or in motion. He said sometimes data becomes information, which becomes knowledge, which turns into wisdom. “Soon everything on our planet is going to be smart,” he said.


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