Asked to dream big, tech execs seek travel cures
SAN FRANCISCO, May 25 — Ask the top minds in the technology industry to dream up the next cutting-edge 22nd-century gadget, and rather than visualise a super race car or an ultra-tiny computer, they turn to home and family.
Like George Clooney’s character in the 2009 film “Up in The Air,” travel-weary executives can log tens of thousands of miles each year as they seek deals and check on operations in far-flung locations around the world.
Executives attending a Reuters Global Technology Summit shared a love of home and a loathing for airports, and several said they wished for technology to zip them around the world and stay in touch with their family and employees.
“I think the world is in desperate need of a much faster airplane,” Harold Hughes, chief executive of chip design company Rambus Inc, said at the San Francisco leg of the summit. “I just flew back from Boston — six hours beating into the wind. That’s no fun.”
Adam Klaber from International Business Machines Corp’s global business services unit agrees. He wants a Star Trek-styled teleporter.
“It pushes a button and puts you in another place,” Klaber, IBM’s general manager of consulting and analytics, said at the summit in New York. “If we can do that, my life will be a lot better. Push, and we’re in Madrid, and I get Sunday night dinner at my house with my family.”
A teleporter certainly could help Tom Kilroy, Intel Corp’s sales and marketing chief, who is often slowed down by the airport checkpoint ritual of putting one’s shoes, mobile phone and belt buckle in a bucket and answering the question “Are you wearing any metal?”
“The capability to clear security and be more productive in airports — I think down the road that would make my life a lot easier,” he said. “Instead of having to wait in a long line ... to be able to have some kind of technology device for me to zap right through. I don’t think it’s that far off. “
And once you are on the plane, craving some peace and quiet, sometimes there is a need for technology that undoes other technology.
“I’d love to be in an airplane seat and block out all the noise without headsets — an inverse white noise blockout device,” said Tod Nielsen, chief operating officer of software maker VMware Inc, who suffered through a recent trip to Frankfurt, elbow to elbow with a chatty passenger.
“There was WiFi on the plane ... While I’m trying to sleep, he’s on a two-hour Skype call. Talk about a terrible use of technology. At that point my white-noise-blocker-outer would have been my dream device,” Nielsen said.
Gadget wishes don’t stop when executives get home. Take David Weiden, a partner with venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, which is invested in mobile device Jawbone and popular iPhone app Tapulous. He ponders a solution for parents with curious young children.
After all, executives travel across the globe to see their family, only to find them missing, even if momentarily, in a department store or mall — frightening for any parent.
“I want a kid-tracker,” said Weiden, who has preschool-aged children. “Almost anyone who has kids has experienced a moment where you are at a shopping mall and you look around and you don’t see the kid. It was probably a minute — it felt like 10 minutes, and I was getting into complete panic mode.”
“Right now everybody does everything on their phones, and I think you will see more and more small remote devices like a headset, or a kid tracker, or a medical monitoring device.”
Not all the executives tripped out on travel. Johan Wibergh, head of business unit networks for Ericsson, wants to invent a way to use his mobile phone to peer remotely into his home refrigerator when he goes shopping so he can check if he needs milk or eggs, for example.
“Sometimes I come home and I forget to buy something and I have to run out again. That (gadget) I would like to have,” he said in Shanghai.
Still, most executives shared an understanding of Clooney’s workaholic character in “Up in the Air,” whose goal in life is to top 10 million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines.
The film depicts the life of a successful businessman living a solitary existence amidst crowds of travellers — a life that most of the guests at the summit would gladly bypass, if they could just conjure up the right gadget.
“For business consultants, that movie hit a little close to home,” said IBM’s Klaber. “I have not received that platinum number or whatever. I’m close — closer than I’d like to be.” — Reuters