The future ain't what it used to be

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"The future ain't what it used to be", Yogi Berra

In 1990, I was honored with a GE Coolidge Fellowship, the highest scientific award at the GE Corporate Research and Development Laboratory (CRD). At that point, I had been at GE for 17 years after spending 10 years in the Watervliet Arsenal Research Lab. I had 27 years of experience in computer graphics and software engineering.

In 1995 I was able to spend six months at Stanford as part of my Coolidge Award (see background).

My visit to the Stanford Graphics Lab was a great opportunity to share my experience with the young graduate students and, more importantly, to stimulate and rejuvenate me.

I spent a lot of time interacting with the students and exploring the, then new, Internet. I created a number of web pages at Stanford that were related to the Visible Man, the Visible Woman, and Decimation and Smoothing. The Visible Human web pages were very popular. As a guest at Stanford, I was a bit embarrassed that my Visible Human pages were getting many more internet hits than any other Stanford Graphics Lab pages.

Due, in part to my Internet interests, I met a young Ph.D. student who was working on a new way to search for web pages. At this time, there was Yahoo, which was really an index of web pages, not a search engine. There was Inktomi, a search engine developed at Berkeley, and Altavista. Altavista was a great search engine and dominated most searches on the Internet. This Ph.D. student described how his search engine differed from the simple keyword search of Altavista and Inktomi. His engine ordered the returned searches depending on the "popularity" of the sites. He called the system BackRub.

Here is where my recollection of the details may be fuzzy. I either told this Ph.D. student or thought that I should tell him, "Why waste time on a search engine when we already have Altavista"?

Fast-forward a year. I'm back at GE. A colleague, Chris, comes to my office to ask a question about some new technology. I say, "No problem, we'll look it up on Altavista". Chris says, "You're still using Altavista? I use Google." I check it out and say, "Oh no, not Google".

Backrub was now called Google and the Ph.D. student was Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

So much for using my experience to predict the future...