'Technically Incorrect' lightens up Comdex
November 19, 1998
by Rebecca Sykes
(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS Craig Barrett probably doesn't hear the "F" word very often, but then it's not every day the Intel president and CEO is on stage with a magician, an industry pundit, a televised teacher known as the Science Guy and a man whose current claim to fame is that he is "politically incorrect."
At the "Technically Incorrect" keynote session at Comdex Tuesday, the host of the TV show Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher apologized for the language of the magician, Penn Jillette, but not before two screens on either side of the stage projected a giant reaction shot of a distinctly uncomfortable Barrett.
And the roast began.
Maher maintained that pornography is more "nefarious" today, because the shame factor of buying a pornographic magazine or going to a peep show used to prevent some people from seeking that form of entertainment.
"When you're twelve years old and you've just learned to spell 'bestiality'," with computers it's now possible to look that up on the Internet, Maher said.
But Jillette the magician dismissed the idea that computers permit anonymity which encourages harmful smut. Visitors to pornographic Web sites or those who hand over their credit cards in a skin shop may well find themselves on smut-oriented mailing lists, according to Jillette.
"The fact of the matter is, if you want to be anonymous, you're still better off at the peep show," Jillette said.
Maher then lamented the expansion of technology to ordinary consumer goods, saying that his car window is stuck because the computer which controls it isn't working. People used to be able to roll up their windows manually, but now a stuck window means a trip to the service station, he complained.
"Now I've got to get the computer fixed to get my goddamn windows up," Maher said.
Industry pundit Esther Dyson, also on the panel, saw an opening.
"There are also computers with Windows that stick," Dyson said, to great cheers from the crowded audience floor.
But other mentions of Microsoft elicited cheers and boos in about equal measure. Science Guy Bill Nye, who has a TV show geared towards getting kids excited about science, said that Microsoft is in trouble with U.S. regulators because politicians are irritated that Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser doesn't always function as advertised.
"I hope I'm not shocking anybody here," Nye said. "I think congresspeople just resent it."
Around half the audience cheered, but the other half shouted assent a few minutes later when Jillette said that Gates attracted government attention because of his achievements.
"I do think they're going after him just because he was too successful," Jillette said.
Intel's Barrett said that Microsoft and Gates "create value and ought to be rewarded."
"If Microsoft broke some laws..." Barrett began, but then switched gears, noting that the charges against Microsoft have been levied but not yet proven. Barrett then shrugged when Maher tried to pin him down on whether Gates is a robber baron or a victim of an unfair investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"As one who is facing an FTC issue, I will refrain from comment," Barrett said.
In June the FTC alleged that Intel illegally withheld technological information from three vendors who are also competitors.
Maher proved that he is politically incorrect in correctly equal-opportunity measure by mocking the audience of computer professionals as well as Barrett and the panelists. The glitz and girls of Las Vegas make it a perfect venue for a computer industry conference, he said.
"If nothing else, you'll understand that there's another use for silicone," Maher said.
Rebecca Sykes writes for the IDG News Service, Boston Bureau.
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