I think the year was 1983. My boss at NCR Corporation introduced me to a small, round gentleman with thinning hair and dark rimmed glasses named Gary. He was nearing the age of retirement and was considered to be one of the brightest minds in the company.
Most guys at that age that didn’t have the moniker of VP — but were deemed a requirement for the company — were considered “level 4’s” i.e., “really smart, creative and efficient people you pay well and keep them away from other people.” In other words, think of a kind, non-judgmental “Sheldon” on the BIG BANG THEORY.
When I read about Kroger in this article I thought of Gary and the product he was developing. My job was to write and produce a video for NCR’s executive team to better explain Gary’s vision.
The product was a device, about the size of a credit card called the PAL/PIM. Keep in mind, Gary was an engineer. Branding was not his forte.
PAL/PIM could identify products and their price when a user placed them in a cart; total the amount including tax and ring out the customer without any interaction with store personnel.
In 1983, Gary predicted these ubiquitous wireless networks; super powerful computing chips; small, long-lasting batteries and optical readers that could interact with a “credit card sized” device that all Americans would carry.
I asked him, “Does this stuff really exist?” He said, “Heck no. But it will. My job is to envision what is possible and try to make it happen.”
I don’t know what became of Gary. Companies such as Microsoft and APPLE were still in their infancy. This concept was years ahead of anything Gates or Jobs we’re considering. But here I was, a young man from the west-side of Cincinnati having no idea of the genius behind this small, unremarkable looking engineer.
Almost 36 years later, Amazon, Kroger and WalMart are all working on such products. But in 1983, in the basement of an aging building in Dayton, Ohio “A really smart, creative and efficient person that was paid well and kept away from other people” envisioned such a world.
How, I wish I could find the 1983 video I wrote and produced about the PAL/PIM. I didn’t think it was that important when I left the company in the late 1980’s.
But I never forgot what Gary so matter-of-factly told me, “My job is to envision what is possible and to try and make it happen”
Shouldn’t we all?
The Consumer Electronics Show is having its annual convention again this year in Las Vegas. The new products have been developed in great part by the “Garys” of this generation. Some will make life more convenient. Others will provide entertainment in our home on a grand scale. Still others will test the values that we have taught our children.
In the past, consumer electronics were limited in scope — perhaps a TV, radio or stereo system. However today, the lines between technology used by business, professionals and consumers has been blurred.
For example: the quality of video recorded on an iPhone is greater today than what I could record for a TV spot in the 1990’s when I was in the media business. For all intents, that’s generally a good thing for society.
Yet, I often tell parents in my presentations, “If you don’t understand the technology available to your children today, you’ll never understand the technology of tomorrow.” Well, for many of us, tomorrow was here yesterday.
It took Gary’s vision over 30 years to become reality. However, Moore’s Law — the idea that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years has changed the speed of what is possible and the rate of technology adoption among families. Computing power continues to change our lives and capabilities in profound ways.
In truth, much of tomorrow’s technology is already here. Most of it is positive. Some is not.
As parents, we must understand the difference and move forward with our eyes wide open… and try not to blink.
As I mentioned, most of the new technology at CES is likely a good thing. As this article suggests, you’ll see 8K TV sets, the integration of voice assistants into more products, the growth of VR and AR technologies, and of courses the predicted explosion of 5G networks. However, below are some disconcerting technologies such as sex robots and others such toys that might make for challenging conversations around the dinner table.
Now, to put it the language of Gary, “Our job is to envision what is possible and to try to protect our kids.”