Steve Jobs Leaves the Future of Invention to the Rest of Us


October 5, 2011 marks a sad milestone in information technology innovation history.  Steve Jobs passed away at age 56.  Jobs drove the innovation that changed our lives in so many ways not only at Apple, but he pushed his competitors to a higher standard as well.  From the Mac to iPods, the iPhone and iPad, whether you use Apple devices or not, to a large degree the technological advances each of us enjoy every day were heavily influenced by Steve Jobs. On top of that, at the same time, he led Pixar to become the leader in feature-length animated films.  Steve Jobs was truly a rare visionary.  

Jobs founded Apple with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (Wayne had worked with Jobs at Atari). Wayne was 20 years older and couldn't take the breakneck pace set by Jobs and Wozniak, so he sold his 10% stake a few days later for a few hundred dollars. If he had kept his stock, today it would be worth $35 billion!

In 1980 Apple went public increasing Jobs' net worth to $200 million.  In 1983 Jobs recruited John Sculley from Pepsi as CEO.  The Macintosh was introduced in January of 1984 to much fanfare with the famous Super Bowl commercial:  

Just one year later Jobs was ousted in a coup by Sculley and Apple's board.  In the following years Jobs created NeXT Computer and bought a division of International Light and Magic from George Lucas and incorporated it as Pixar which later produced Toy Story.  One week after Toy Story was released Pixar went public making Jobs' personal net worth $1.5 billion.  

In 1997 Apple bought NeXT for $400 million bringing Jobs back to Apple as CEO.  When Jobs returned to Apple he wanted a new message for the brand, one that equated it with nothing less than changing the world.  He made this statement in one of his presentations:  "What we're about isn't making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well.  Apple at the core, its core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better."  From that value the slogan "Think Different" developed, and buyers were inspired.

In 1998 Jobs brought Tim Cook to Apple from Compaq as COO and began launching Apple's life-changing products.  Cook would become interim CEO while Jobs was being treated for cancer and later having a liver transplant and then CEO in August, 2011 when Jobs stepped down due to health reasons. 

In a keynote just the day before Jobs' death, Tim Cook led a series of announcements of new products and enhancements.  The "One Last Thing" that was announced in Steve Jobs' dramatic style was the voice technology acquired from Siri and integrated into the new iPhone 4S.  The demonstration by Scott Forstall (master of Apple software who came with Jobs to Apple from NeXT) was truly inspirational.  It had everything you'd expect:  voice dialing, messaging, and command.  But it also showed so much more, like built-in intelligence that enables natural speech input and learning capabilities.

It is so powerful, in fact, that it reminded me of the recent IBM "Watson" competition against the top two all-time winners at Jeopardy.  Watson was able to use its unparalleled processing power to interpret the voiced question (even with slang and colloquialisms), search vast knowledge databases and derive several potential answers rated in order of probability, and then signal a tone before "his" rivals could. 

Apple has integrated Siri with the WolframAlpha databases to deliver the same kind of voice query access to massive intelligence.  We can imagine a series of future iterations of this technology adding surprising capabilities next year and beyond.  Suddenly, comprehensive Knowledge Management is a much closer reality for everyone.   

This is of special interest to us at Digital Designs because we have been planning to introduce voice command and response in a near future release of DocAgent.  We'll all enjoy more mobility in the future because we'll be able to be as productive away from the office as we are when there thanks to our increasingly intelligent mobile devices.  Imagine asking for details about a business transaction, approving an invoice, getting the specifics about your latest payroll deductions, all by just asking a question or issuing a voice command.  

After his 2004 pancreatic cancer diagnosis Steve Jobs delivered the 2005 graduation address at Stanford:  

In one of the most moving commencement speeches of all time he concluded:

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

After that Steve went on to introduce the iPod Touch, iPhone, MacBook Air, and iPad.  Steve's vision will be further revealed over the next couple of years as planned products and services are brought to market, but who will step forward to lead us to the next breakthroughs beyond that?

Thanks, Steve, for the inspiration and showing us the way to a better future!  Now, the rest is up to us.

Until next time,

John Queen