Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rational Conference Report 5

Another day, another keynote. This morning the Rational Conference provided a platform for Thomas Dolby, whose most recent contribution to civilization has been the polyphonic ringtone.

Dolby described himself as a geek, a popstar who wanted to be a software programmer. (I thought of the late Douglas Adams who once articulated a similar wish.)

Remember Sam Palmisano's aphorism "innovation occurs at the intersection of invention and insight", quoted by Grady in his keynote yesterday. In today's keynote, Dolby described himself as someone who invents in order to innovate. In other words, he has always tried to invent new tools for producing music (including building new hardware and software), which enables him to produce music that is different to what everyone else is producing. I think there are some important lessons for business computing here.

(Historical note: One of the pioneers of electronic music in the twentieth century was Karlheinz Stockhausen. In the 1950s, he painstakingly constructed sounds by hand that subsequent technologies would be able to produce in an instant. In so far as Stockhausen and others provided a "proof of concept" of electronic music, they were the true inventors of the synthesizer. See my post on Art and the Enterprise.)

Dolby also stated some regret for the fact that technology leads to a mass-produced experience, and stated a desire for interactive or context-sensitive music. This led a member of the audience to remark on the apparent contradiction - that these irritating ringtones are not interactive or context-sensitive.

But the direction of the software industry is towards software that is capable of much greater levels of user-interactivity and context-sensitivity. There is no reason in principle why my phone could not learn to adapt the ringtone to be appropriate to the context - for example ringing louder in a noisy bar and quieter in a library. Let us hope that Dolby and his associates pick up some ideas while they are here.

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