EDS at Comdex: '2001' and 2001
Legendary sci-fi author appears via satellite
By Daniel Sieberg
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- The chief of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) drew on the unifying vision of science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke on Tuesday as he delivered his keynote address at Comdex Fall 2001.
Indeed, the chairman and chief executive officer, Dick Brown, began his comments following a live Las Vegas Philharmonic performance of the thunderous overture from Richard Strauss' 1896 "Also sprach Zarathustra" -- better known as the apocalyptic opening and closing theme heard in Stanley Kubrick's film soundtrack for Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Brown then showed a humorous video takeoff on the film -- and announced to the three-quarter-capacity Hilton ballroom audience that the legendary Clarke, himself, would be making a special appearance.
"Our version of '2001' this morning," Brown said, "found humor with some of the visions of the future as portrayed in 1968 (the year the film was released), such as Velcro tags on floors and Tang-packaged drinks.
"But we also acknowledge the reality of Clarke's vision -- a network of satellite communications enabling us to converse in real time around the globe."
Brown went on to say that although there have been many advances in technology, the world is still at the dawn of human intelligence.
"Arthur C. Clarke was not afraid to dream, to question, and, in so doing, to help create the future," Brown said.
Brown noted that the focus of Comdex this year is once again on interconnectivity and interoperability. But he cautioned that making devices work together is only the beginning. He stressed the importance of asking the right questions and meeting human needs.
Founded in 1962, EDS is based near Dallas, Texas, and provides a number of services including data hosting, information storage and data security.
As an example of providing those needs for people, Brown said EDS helped American Express relocate its headquarters within hours of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and managed to restore its technology backbone.
"We helped American Express keep its customers' trust so they could access money, manage investments, continue to travel, live life -- just what the terrorists sought to take away."
In addition, Brown noted the importance of maintaining a stronger digital infrastructure in light of the events of September 11. He said data security has suddenly become a much higher priority, and he called on the United States government to focus spending accordingly.
He said the majority of federal dollars have been spent on military strength and a show of might. "This is ironic, given it was this infrastructure that kept America working following the attacks on our physical assets," Brown said.
Foretelling the future?
Brown also spoke about EDS' work with General Motors in a Web-based project called OnStar, which allows drivers to access data through voice-recognition software, and he gave a brief demonstration of the company's biometric identification machine.
Placing a hand on the machine's surface and inserting a "smart card" containing personal information, Brown said, would prompt the device to confirm a subject's identity within seconds. It could be set to read the palm of the hand, or to scan an iris, fingerprint or other identifying feature. EDS is touting the machine as a way to reduce waiting at immigration from two hours to a matter of minutes.
A similar instrument was installed three years ago at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and other airports around the world have considered comparable technology since September 11.
But the undoubted highlight of the EDS' presentation was an appearance by Clarke.
At first, it seemed that Clarke and Brown would only be speaking from a recently taped interview. But after the tape finished, Brown announced that Clarke would be speaking live via satellite from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he makes his home.
The projection of the 83-year-old Clarke -- he turns 84 next month -- was positioned atop a small "2001" monolith-shaped structure, and the Nebula, Hugo and Campbell award-winning writer appeared alert and lively despite the hour in local time: "I'm not terribly active at midnight in Sri Lanka . . . normally, I might say," Clarke said, smiling.
"But I'm making an effort to be with you now."
Clarke went on to say that while he's no longer writing, he's in the process of developing several film projects.
During the taped portion of the interview, Clarke said his science fiction seldom tries to predict the future. Instead, he said, he and other science fiction authors often aim to prevent certain disastrous futures from occurring.
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