TR: The pursuit of this kind of storage capacity raises the question of the future of computing, which is the subject of this special issue of TR. Where does the company believe computing is heading-over the next few years and farther down the road-and what will HP’s own role be in fulfilling this vision?
FIORINA: Well, we are really playing now at the intersection of three technology vectors-the infrastructure or computing utility, information appliances and e-services. We believe that the vision of pervasive computing-an idea, by the way, that HP Chief Scientist Joel Birnbaum promoted back in the early 90s-is finally going to become a reality. In the next five years, there are going to be 50 million new hand-held computers and a billion cell phones. You’re already seeing a lot of new services popping up to serve this market. Well, that’s just the beginning. When computing becomes truly pervasive, it’s going to change the way we work, play, become educated, get medical treatment, deal with the government-in fact, the way we live our lives.
For this to happen, you’re going to need an infrastructure that works, regardless of product, platform or program. And you’re going to need a wide variety of smart information appliances that can be tied together. Once those two vectors are in place, it opens up an absolutely unlimited number of e-service opportunities. At HP Labs, we have a research project called “Cool Town,” which we think provides the practical infrastructure that’s needed. Every person, place and thing in “Cool Town” has a Web presence. They can all be tied together. We’re also working on “context-aware” appliances-tools that know who you are, where you are and what’s going on around you. Imagine a phone that knows-by some biometric means, for example-who you are and uses GPS to determine where you are. It can know all of the numbers you call, your passwords, access codes and so on. All you have to do is say, “Call Bob Buderi,” and it will know exactly how to reach you, whether you’re calling from Palo Alto or Cambridge.
Of course, there’s a tremendous amount of work to do to make this vision a reality. But we’re getting there. And the payoff for HP and its customers is tremendous.
TR: HP scientist Stan Williams is working on basic nanocomputer technologies that may not bear fruit for 10 years or longer. Can a company really afford to support this kind of basic research, given the extreme pressures of the here and now?
FIORINA: We can’t afford not to. Ten years may sound like a lot in “Internet time,” but it’s not in reality-not when you’re talking about something as fundamental as replacing a technology, like silicon, that will finally reach its physical and financial limits. You’ve got to start now or risk being left behind or missing out altogether.
Basically, high-tech companies have to do both: continue their efforts to extend current technologies, and to work on “disruptive” technologies that show great promise for the future. There are very few companies in the world that have the resources to do both successfully. HP is one of them.