Get Your Geek On--IDF San Francisco
It's always hard to write about your own family. It can be kind of embarrassing. When I was about four my sister, who was seven at the time, decided she was going to teach me to read. The only problem was when I got it wrong she used to beat me up. I learned to read earlier than most kids. (Thanks, Tammy!)
That's why I really wasn't planning on writing about Intel's Developer Forum (aka IDF). I've been at Intel for a while now and they are, whether I like it or not, pretty much like my family. So when I was talking to the force-of-nature that is Tracy Swedlow about my next column, I offhandedly said that I was skipping writing about IDF. Turns out that wasn't a good idea.
"Why?" she chided me. "Why would you NOT write about IDF? Do you realize, Brian, that no one really knows what goes on inside Intel? They know it's this big company that does all this really great stuff, but we don't know what does on at IDF. It's like a secret. You have to tell us!!"
Well, what could I say? I learned early not to argue with strong determined women. (Thanks, Tammy!)
For Three Days...The Center of the Computing Universe
For three days every year, IDF takes over San Francisco's Moscone Center West. You can't miss it if you are in the neighborhood. When you come up on the intersection of 4th and Howard Street, the outside of the blocky glass convention center is festooned with a particular shade of Intel blue and our sweeping logo. Everywhere you see slogans like: "Where Quantum Leaps Take Their First Step" and "The Status Quo Is Starting to Feel Uncomfortable." I have to tell you, if you are into technology, it's kind of exciting and pretty cool to see.
Outside the Intel Developer Forum (Photo: Intel)
The three floors of Moscone are packed with over 7000 attendees from around the world and they all seem to be on the move. For me, one of my favorite people-watching spots between meetings or interviews is directly opposite the bank of escalators on the second floor. There are two that go up and two that come down, and they are always packed with people; lines and lines of people carrying IDF 2010 bags, chatting, studying their programs for the next event. They just don't stop. There's just too much to see.
The three days were packed back to back. In the mornings we had keynotes from our executives. The boss himself, Paul Otellini, kicked it off, talking about smartphones, smart TV and Intel's expanding software business in the main auditorium. After the head of our product groups, Dadi Perlmutter, talked about pervasive computing and the architecture needed to make it happen, everyone streamed out and made their way through the building.
There's a lot going on at the same time, and constantly in the background there is surprisingly hip music coming from a DJ spinning throughout the entire event on the third floor in one of the ultra-hip lounges.
Get Your Geek On
The most popular items on the agenda are what we call technical sessions on the second floor. These are 150 lectures, interactive panels, hands-on labs and Q&A's led by Intel employees and industry experts. Right after Paul's keynote, we had sessions like Interactions and Experiences Research: A New Intel Lab with a Bold Vision, taught by Horst Haussecker and Michael Payne (these two are my colleagues at Intel and they gave out a few copies of Screen Future at the session--thanks fellas!). But you also had some very specific sessions like Hands-on Lab: Optimization Techniques and Tools for Achieving Power Efficiency on Intel® Servers, led by William Hines and Jennifer Sanati, or something like Efficient and Productive C++ Data Parallelism: Ct Technology and C/C++ Extensions for Array Notation, taught by Noah Clemons and CJ Lin.
Now I picked all three of these technical sessions for a reason. If you want a full list we still have them up on the Web site. If the titles of these sessions got you interested and excited, you can proudly call yourself a true geek and you really belong at IDF. Year after year, people tell me that they get the most out of these sessions. They are hardcore technical people, rolling up their sleeves and talking tech. That's the real crux of the three days: constructive, practical and action-oriented conversation about what's coming in the world of computing.
Where the action is...IDF Technical Sessions (Photo: Intel)
But that's just the beginning. Probably the next most popular spot on floors two and three is the technology pavilions. This year these were basically buildings inside the convention center that showed off the latest Intel technology and some really awesome products. Wireless Display was a hopping pavilion. It's a technology that allows you to take whatever you're watching on your laptop and, with the press of a button, watch it on your TV. It's simple and amazing and a real solid step towards ubiquitous computing.
LeVar Burton and the Future of TV--Live and in Person
But the place to be was the Smart TV pavilion. OK, maybe I'm a little biased on this one, but come on, it's the future of TV. They had previews of smart TV products like Google TV and the Boxee Box from D-Link. Basically you could take a walk around the horseshoe-shaped building and see some the newest and most exciting advances in TV. You could really see the pages of Screen Future coming alive all around you. It was wonderful to see.
I was at IDF and the Smart TV pavilion for an event on the second night, hosted by LeVar Burton. I was doing a signing for Screen Future and it gave the guests a chance to chat with us and get more information about the products and demos.
BDJ signing at the Smart TV event (Photo: Bo)
Before the event, however, I stole away some time and interviewed LeVar and his business partners Mark Wolf (producer and founder of Burton/Wolf Entertainment) and Asra Rasheed (CEO of RRkidz) about their thoughts on the future of TV. I felt lucky to get this time to chat with LeVar. Most people know him from his role in the mini-series Roots, from his character of Jordie LaForge on Star Trek, and from his role as the host of the children's educational show Reading Rainbow. But what many people don't know is that he's also an award-winning director, producer and author. LeVar's experience made him a great person to chat with. His understanding of the entertainment business and the power of storytelling was quite unique. I won't recount the entire interview, but you can watch it here (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bbpiC0Tn3c). I will tell you that LeVar and his collaborators have a very lofty and admirable goal. They truly believe that if we can bring about this future of TV then we can change the world.
Star Trek TNG's LeVar Burton opens the third day of the Intel Developer Forum by reminding attendees to keep dreaming. (Photo: Intel)
The TV Chip
On day two, in his packed keynote, Doug Davis our VP from the Embedded and Communications Group announced the Intel Atom Processor CE4200--or, as many people have called it, the "TV Chip." This is the SoC (system-on-a-chip) that we've been working on for years. The capabilities of this chip were based on what people wanted from their TV's and what the entertainment and TV industry said they needed. The CE4200 is really well suited for the cable industry, and Doug announced that ADB, Technicolor, Samsung and Sagemcon are all developing STB's (set-top boxes) that use the chip.
Doug Davis shows off the wafers that contain the new chips. The CE4200 is the one all the way to the right. (Photo: Intel)
You might be asking: OK, so what does the chip really do?
Well, four years ago when we were working on the specification for the CE4200, we saw that people wanted TV not just on the TV in their living rooms but throughout the house and across all their devices. So the 4200 has an increased transport stream that allows your STB or home gateway to deliver video throughout your home and to all your devices. It does it with H.264 encoding, which is a standard for video encoding that delivers a good-quality picture at a lower bit rate.
The chip also has some new power management features that will allow CE device manufacturers to meet new regulatory requirements around power consumption, while at the same time being able to deliver new Internet and TV experiences. The more we talked to people, the more it became clear that the future of TV was simple: It's the Internet, stupid. The Internet doesn't kill TV, it makes it that much better, and for most people the Internet means personalization. They can get what they when they want it. This could be a TV show, information about a movie, a game or a connection to their friends and family.
The Smartest Guys and Gals in the Room
The final day of the show had a keynote from our CTO Justin Rattner all about how context in computing really will change everything. Context really is the ability for our devices to know who we are, where we are and what we are doing. Of course, this information must remain safe and secure, but once we have this level of data, then we can do some really amazing things with it. We can use it for healthcare, vacation guides and better TV!
In between all this, you need to make time to take a long, slow stroll through the Technology Showcase. When you imagine this, think the show floor at CES--just a little smaller and a whole lot more techy. I got to see over 150 companies showing hands-on demos of everything from multicore to Internet-connected devices. There's a lot to see, and a whole lot of really eager people who want to talk to you about it. I'll admit that, about half way through the showcase, my brain became full. I could not pack any more innovation into it. But that was OK, because I had to leave for my most favorite part of IDF...
The Technology Showcase (Photo: Intel)
If you do end up going to IDF one thing you have to see is something called "Intel Fellows Live!" At Intel we have what we call fellows. There are men and women whose contribution to technology is so great that they are pretty much as important as you can get. When you turn on your computer or use the Internet, you are guaranteed to be using something these folks invented. They are that smart--crazy smart.
I don't know who originally had the idea for "Intel Fellows Live!" but they are a genius. The idea is simple. You get as many of the fellows as you can into one room, set up two microphones, and let any attendee from IDF ask the fellows anything they want. Anything! Now, you must be warned: the fellows do not suffer fools lightly or take stupid questions. Sometimes it can be like intellectual blood sport. But the real reason I like the fellows event is that it epitomizes to me what IDF is all about: Really smart people talking to really smart people in an open and frank discussion about the future of technology. Like I said before, if technology is your game, what could be better then that!
That's IDF from the inside. Tracy, there's your glimpse into the secret world of geeks. I look forward to it every year and now maybe you'll come too. Writing from the plane, I'm headed back to New York. When I was in San Francisco I learned that I was going to be on Pimm Fox's radio show Taking Stock. What do the future of TV and a financial channel have to do with each other? Everything! If we are going to bring about this screen future, then the business of the future of TV is often more important than the technology. I'm going to the source. I'm going to Bloomberg!
Brian David Johnson
Futurist and Director, Future Casting and Experience Research
The future is Brian David Johnson's business. As a futurist at Intel Corporation his charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020. His work is called "future casting" - using ethnographic field studies, technology research, trend data and even science fiction to provide Intel with a pragmatic vision of consumers and computing. Along with reinventing TV, Johnson has been pioneering development in artificial intelligence, robotics, and using science fiction as a design tool. He speaks and writes extensively about future technologies in articles and scientific papers as well as science fiction short stories and novels (Fake Plastic Love, Nebulous Mechanisms: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories and the forthcoming This Is Planet Earth). He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter.