Innovation in technology means rethinking how we do things — looking for opportunities to add something that wasn’t there before or inventing something new. Watch (the late) Chief Scientist Peter Jackson and Global Head of Mobile Bob Schukai improvise on electric guitars while sharing how innovation in music creates new experiences — and how we can do the same for our customers.
(updated August 9, 2011)
The sudden death this week of Peter Jackson, our Chief Scientist and head of R&D, came as a sad shock to the entire Thomson Reuters family. Peter was a man of immense talents, both professionally and personally, and his passing is a great loss. In his 15+ years here, Peter had a significant impact on the business and an important and meaningful effect on those who worked with him. He will be greatly missed. In honor of Peter, we wanted to share some memories from a few of Peter’s many colleagues and our blog’s contributors. We hope others will share their fondest memories of Peter here as well.
Memories from James Powell
Peter was the obvious choice for the position of Chief Scientist when we became Thomson Reuters in 2008, and it was a role he fulfilled with exceptional results, forming a 40-strong R&D group as a corporate-wide resource, and aligning our Research & Development capabilities with the major platform and strategy initiatives of recent years. Peter’s legacy at Thomson Reuters is significant and lasting. He oversaw the advanced technologies, such as CaRE, Concord and Results Plus, that enabled us to launch radical and successful new product platforms such as WestlawNext and PeopleMap. He was also integral to the development of our innovative Reuters Insider channel. On top of that he represented Thomson Reuters with great professionalism — and considerable personality and panache — in the wider world of conferences, academia and professional associations. He was a great ambassador for Thomson Reuters in his role overseeing university liaison with regards to joint research projects with institutions of the caliber of MIT, NYU and CMU. These achievements give some sense of Peter’s abilities and drive. Peter, though, had many more strings to his bow. He published three books and about 40 papers on his fields of expertise (artificial intelligence and natural language processing), and invented four US patents.
Above all, when it came to his work, Peter was proudest of the group that he built and worked with side-by-side every day. If this wasn’t enough for one man, he was also a talented musician and a serious music fan, serving for a number of years on the Board of Directors for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In recent times, he traveled to Chicago, New York and Ojai to support the SPCO on tour. The many of us who worked with Peter will miss greatly his enthusiasm, the clarity of his thinking, his wisdom and his wit.
Memories from Bob Schukai
Peter was one of the first people I met when I joined the company. Like so many others, he listened to my questions, was very candid about the things he was doing and had hoped to accomplish, and was incredibly proud of the achievements of his team. (more…)
Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) lived 122 years in Arles, France, and died as the oldest documented person. Reporters would often ask her to what she attributed her surprising health and longevity, and her answers varied. She smoked (probably lightly) until she was over 100.
Can aging be slowed, arrested or reversed? This was the fascinating topic addressed by Dr. Thomas Rando of Stanford University on Sunday. In a highly entertaining talk, he gave us reason to believe that there could be affirmative answers to each of these questions.
Aging versus Longevity
In an unscheduled appearance, former US President Bill Clinton appeared at the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday afternoon and talked about jobs, the debt ceiling, and Medicare.
On jobs, he pointed out that 3 million jobs are posted for hire, but are being filled at about half the rate of previous recessions. It’s important to bring back construction and manufacturing, not just service jobs. Banks need to lend and companies need to borrow to accelerate this. IT was the job growth engine of the 1990s, but not now. In the 2000s, jobs could have come from the energy sector but there was a lack of investment in alternative energy, and this was a lost opportunity.
In the 2010s, President Clinton seemed to feel that the US is even less well-placed. Many people have swallowed the GOP message that government is the problem, while corporations feel no responsibility towards the state, only their shareholders. Business schools have certainly followed Friedman in teaching this view, stressing the claims of fiduciary responsibility, while in the US and much of the Western World, corporations are increasingly treated as persons under the law.
The debt ceiling debate was clearly a source of ire. Congress has already voted to incur debt by spending money, so how can it now refuse to raise the ceiling? (more…)
This panel addressed a critical issue in US foreign policy, namely how do we promote freedom in closed societies? The Aspen Ideas Festival assembled a highly distinguished panel to address this issue: John Negroponte, Jane Harman, and surprise guest Sir Nigel Sheinwald, UK Ambassador to the US. The moderator was Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post.
John Negroponte asserted that America has always stood for freedom in the rest of the world, at least since Woodrow Wilson. Furthermore, the direction of history is towards ‘the universalization of Western liberal democracy,’ as Francis Fukuyama says. FDR, anxious not to repeat some of the mistakes of Wilson after World War I, used Bretton Woods to create institutions like the IMF to promote financial stability. Today, the best thing that America can do is ‘foster a secure and prosperous international system.’ (One wonders if Wall Street ever got this memo.) (more…)
This panel was moderated by Jerry Murdock and included Pete Cashmore, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Arianna Huffington, Vivian Schiller, Orville Schell, and Mark Whitaker. It took place on stage at the Belly Up as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival. The ostensible theme was “Is Social Media Good For Journalism?”
The quote of the night goes to Arianne Huffington. In trying to explain the value of social media, she noted that it sometimes plays a significant role in keeping stories alive that traditional media might otherwise abandon. Painting with a broad brush, she suggested that old media has ADD, while new media has OCD. In other words, old media tends to move on to the next story, no matter how trivial (“Squirrel!”), while new media sometimes latches onto some piece of prey, like a shark, and shakes it obsessively until it’s dead.
The panel as a whole eventually admitted that citizen journalism doesn’t really work, regardless of the occasional ‘scoop’ (plane crash in the Hudson River) or alerting function (Osama Bin Laden raid). Yes, first-hand tweets and pictorials can be good, but real reporting is more than that. Joe and Josephine Public aren’t trained to interview and investigate, nor should they, for the most part. Crowdsourcing the analysis of Sarah Palin’s emails was a dumb idea; even Rush Limbaugh is right sometimes.
Pete Cashmore reinforced a perception I have been forming about his generation when he said that all news can be regarded as biased. One might judge this to be cynicism, but it really isn’t. It just means that you take everything you read under advisement, considering the source, and factor it into everything else that you see and hear and know.
After several days of financial angst and counter-terrorism, I made time today to attend two musical interludes at the Aspen Ideas Festival that I found to be very restorative.
“The Global Breadth of Cuban Music” featured Orlando “Maraca” Valle and his band in a session that was part lecture, part concert. Integral parts of the Cuban sound, particularly rhythm, were explained and demonstrated. The main unit of rhythm is the clave, with song forms like son, rumba, and timba all having different claves, each admitting of many variations and embellishments. The audience was encouraged the clap the basic figure while instrument upon instrument layered on pattern after pattern, until it was hard to tell where the bars began or ended. The sheer complexity and ingenuity of the resulting structure was exhilarating, making you want to laugh out loud. Musicians tend to be capable in many instruments, so the rotation of band members can add yet another layer of richness to the proceedings.
“School of Rock” by Graeme Boone (part professor, part DJ) took us on a lightning tour through the world of rock ’n’ roll, from the Beatles to Nirvana to Danger Mouse and beyond. Taking syncopation from jazz, scales from the blues, and even discords from modern classical music, rock ’n’ roll went through a modernist period of innovation in the 50s and 60s that ultimately settled into a ‘common practice’, albeit with disruptive excursions, such as punk rock, which attempted to break the mold. We are now living in a post-modern period in which remixes, re-recordings and multiple directions seem to be the norm. Music is as likely to be created using a computer, rather than by wrestling with a real instrument, thanks to technological advances in music software, giving composers a richer palette of sounds, timbres and textures than ever before.
These two sessions reminded me how essential music is to the human soul, or at least to my soul.
Peter Jackson is chief scientist and vice president of Thomson Reuters, where he’s been since 1995. He has built a group of 40 research staff with expertise in the areas of document search, text and data mining, and machine learning. Jackson is also responsible for university collaboration with respect to joint research projects. His most recent book, Natural Language Processing for Online Applications, came out in a second edition in 2007. From 1992 to 1995, Jackson taught post-graduate classes in artificial intelligence and parallel computing at Clarkson University in New York and was a visiting professor at Singapore Polytechnic. In 1988, he moved to the US and became a principal scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratories. Before coming to the US, he taught in the Department of Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University from 1983 to 1988 and wrote the textbook Introduction to Expert Systems.
Robert Rubin, co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and formerly of the Clinton administration, was interviewed by Chrystia Freeland of Thomson Reuters at the Aspen Ideas Festival this morning. Rubin stated that the US is at a ‘historic crossroads’ and that the ultimate challenge is political, not technical. Washington needs to address the debt crisis, finance public investment, and reform education and healthcare, but ideology and opinion are getting in the way of facts and analysis, and the media isn’t helping much.
Political analysts often focus on structural issues, such as gerrymandering and campaign finance, but Rubin suggested that the media needs to play a larger role in educating the electorate, as well as airing scandal, conflict and ideological issues. People don’t understand the trade-offs; if they did, they would hold their representatives more accountable. Meanwhile, politicians could learn from other countries on topics like education and employment, and starting trying out ideas instead of arguing.
At question time, Rubin said he was ‘really worried’ about the current impasse over the debt ceiling, and thought the situation was ‘horrendously risky.’ Making the debate about debt a debate solely about spending, is completely wrong, in his view. If the deficit is greater than discretionary spending, how can you cut your way to a balanced budget? The issues have not been framed properly, and there is no sensible discussion. I find it hard to disagree.
Some of the most interesting, provocative and salient quotes we heard around the Aspen Ideas Festival today:
“Social media is the greatest boon to journalism since the printing press.”
-Vivian Schiller, chief digital officer of NBC News and former president and CEO of NPR
“Loneliness is failed solitude. If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely.”
-Sherry Turkle, Professor at MIT
“Google is changing the way we think.”
“It’s no longer a work-life balance. It’s a work-life blur.”
-Peter Jackson, Chief Scientist and Vice President of Thomson Reuters
“There are situations where presence is overrated. Through social media, you have a lot more options.”
In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Peter Jackson, Chief Scientist for Thomson Reuters, MIT’s Andrew McAfee and John Seely Brown [JSB] from the Deloitte Center for the Edge explored the impact of technology on the workspace and global workforce.
The face of work is changing rapidly, not only due to globalization but also because companies are becoming more data-driven and analytic, as ever-more immense amounts of information become available along with new tools to make sense of it all. At the same time, Web 2.0 technologies are making work and the workspace more collaborative.
The potential for increasing productivity is immense, and the panelists debated what these trends will mean for employment levels. For McAfee, “this is the one area where I’m pessimistic. The flip side of our incredible gains in productivity is that fewer jobs are needed.” JSB felt more hopeful, pointing out that in a relatively stable world you run out of new things to do and scalable efficiency comes into play. In a constantly changing world, not so much.
In either case, it will be essential for workers to constantly learn new skills, not just to keep up with their jobs but perhaps to reinvent their jobs and themselves many times during the course of a career. So, as JSB put it, how do we transform the workscape into a learning scape? How can we structure the partnerships within an organization to learn?
If, as Nelson Mandela observed, the job of a leader is to find the spark of genius in each person – the good news is that we now have the social tools to enable that. Unfortunately, many corporate leaders are still reticent to deploy them despite the fact that myriad corporate mission statements talk about “empowerment” and “people being the company’s greatest asset.” Claiming that the company’s top priority is its people but failing to develop them is what JSB calls the Dilbert Paradox. “If you believe your own mission statement,” McAfee challenged business leaders, “then you must deploy the tools that let your people interact with their colleagues.”
“The marriage of virtual and physical is the key,” according to Jackson. It’s about using the virtual to amplify the power of connections in the physical world. That’s essential for the growing mobility of ideas and jobs. Critical also, according to McAfee, because of “greater geographic mobility, which is hard because humans are sticky. People need to flow where the economic activity is, so they need to become good at hopscotching.” (more…)