majority report

you’ve seen it, i’m sure. and you thought “wow! this is the future!” and then “i want one of those!” i’m talking about a type of computer that appears in the 2002 science-fiction movie Minority Report. infact i’m talking specifically about the mind-blowing interface to that computer. if you haven’t seen (or somehow you’ve forgotten it) this youtube vid should give you an idea.

as you can see, the user interface just rocks. frankly though, isn’t it about time the way we interface with IT moved on? the two-dimensional pointing device we call a mouse is around 30 years old already. the keyboard with its QWERTY layout dates back to the 19th century. and more recently motion-sensing controllers like the Wii Remote have revolutionized the way people play games (and the people who want to play them!)

when i watch the vision of the future of computing portrayed in Minority Report though, something isn’t quite right. something about it doesn’t seem so cool and advanced and futuristic. infact something seems rather silly, old-fashioned and lame. it’s not the cool UI that’s bugging me. if you check out the youtube vid i referred to, you’ll see it 44 seconds in. it’s the bit where a character removes a transparent card shaped like a SIM-card from one machine and inserts it into another.

presumably these cards represent some futuristic form of data storage akin to a USB memory key. see-through memory keys? cool! two futuristic computers that can’t automatically exchange data files without requiring a human to move the data between them? not cool! is this the way we’ll be sharing data between IT systems in 2054? i sincerely hope not.

the computing interface in this movie is seen as revolutionary and many pioneering innovators are desperately trying to make it a reality (Oblong is one of those). but what about the future of integration between those IT systems? should we aspire to a future where we need to manually eject and re-insert transparent discs between computers then? no. clearly not. this primitive form of integration has been called “swivel chair” integration, refering to the way that humans have to swivel back and forth between machines, rekeying data, and has been universally derided as error-prone and archaic since at least the late 1980s.

so why on earth should “swivel chair” integration appear in a vision of the future over 40 years from now? perhaps there’s a good reason. so much manual, swivel chair style integration is still going on today decades after better solutions had emerged and even amongst the most technologically advanced and progressive organizations. it’s not the minority. today archaic, unreliable forms of data movement between IT systems makes up the Majority Report.

the proliferation of USB memory keys is just one example. how often have you had to resort to this method, even though it can be inconvenient and quite impossible to secure and audit? how easily could those transparent memory cards from Minority Report go missing or get duplicated even though these contain very sensitive information about past (and future) criminals? like Cruise’s character, John Anderton, we now live in the world of “pre-crime”. auditors that want to be convinced that our organizations won’t break compliance in the future, in addition to checking we haven’t in the past. how we move data between IT systems is a crucial part of that analysis.

if Minority Report showed us the future of the computer user interface that we now aspire to, what is the future of integration, of file transfer between systems? well, i’ve seen it, and it’s not an illusion created by Hollywood’s green screens. it’s real and it’s emerged from only slightly less glamorous origins – IBM’s Hursley Labs in Winchester, UK.

the future is managed file transfer. and we’re helping companies around the world realize their aspirations right now. meanwhile it’s time for me to slip on some gloves, connect a bank of flat screens up to my Thinkpad and pretend i’m fighting pre-crime from my desk in hursley.

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