2013 Summer President’s Message

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Message From the President’s Desk – Michael Olin

Summer 2013

Waiting for Oracle 12c

At our Summer General Meeting in early June, NYOUG members were treated to their second presentation about the forthcoming major release of the Oracle RDBMS. At our December 2012 meeting, Oracle’s Charlie Garry first introduced us to the concept of “Pluggable Databases”. In June, during his “Oracle Database 12c – New Features” keynote, Rich Niemiec covered as many topics as the Oracle Product and Legal teams would let him (“If it’s on the slides, I can talk about it”), including Pluggable Databases.

Rich also spent quite a bit of time speaking about the vast amounts of data that could be addressed, not only by Oracle 12c in particular, but by a 64-bit address space generally, and, anticipating the next logical development, a 128-bit address space. Rich went on to reference the work of inventor/entrepreneur/futurist Ray Kurzwiel, including a short video clip from the 2009 documentary “Transcendent Man”. I was happy to see Rich reference Kurzweil and his work. I have been following Kurzweil for almost 20 years, ever since he gave a keynote speech at the 1993 International Oracle Users Week conference in Orlando.

“The Singularity is Near”

Kurzweil’s talk was entitled “The Sixty-Four Squares of the Chessboard”. IOUW was not the only venue where he delivered this address, and I was able to find a transcript online in the January 1994 issue of “The Braille Monitor”. Kurzweil begins by talking about the ability of information to transform society and explains how the increasing ability to leverage and increase the density of that information becomes evolutionary and leads to what he called in his 1992 book “The Age of Intelligent Machines”.

A brief digression about inventing follows, with helpful hints regarding the process that had served Kurzweil well in several of his ventures. This process included the following steps:

  • Designing the product brochure
  • Sharing the brochure with potential customers
  • Having those customers actually design and test the product

This struck many of the Oracle professionals in the audience as revolutionary. Kurzweil then segues into a discussion of Moore’s Law and the corresponding graph that Rich showed in the clip from “Transcendent Man”, relaying one version of the tale that is referenced in the title of his talk:

The emperor of China is so impressed by the game of chess that he offers the inventor anything he would ask for as a reward. The inventor asks for a single grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard. When asked by the emperor if that was all he desired, the inventor then asked for two grains of rice on the second square, four on the third, eight on the fourth, and so on, leading to eighteen million trillion grains of rice in total. 

Kurzweil’s talk continues, using the grains of rice on the chessboard as a metaphor for the advances in computing power that we have already seen due to Moore’s Law (about half of the chessboard), and he then speculates as to where things will go as we navigate the second half.

This is where Kurzweil begins to discuss the merging of biology and technology and things really start to get interesting. In 2040, he posits, “In accordance with Moore’s law, your state-of-the-art personal computer will be able to simulate a society of 10,000 human brains, each of which would be operating at a speed 10,000 times faster than a human brain.” Rather than focus on Kurzweil’s vision of the near-future, I’ll simply recommend two of his subsequent books, “The Age of Spiritual Machines” and “The Singularity is Near”, and navigate back to Oracle 12c.

Capacity is not Destiny

I think that where Kurzweil gets a bit ahead of himself is in assuming that simply having the capacity alone to compute on a scale that approaches or surpasses the human brain implies that evolutionary change will occur. While I have no doubts that this capacity will certainly facilitate great advances in artificial intelligence, we still need some people who can get the programming details right. We don’t get from today to Star Trek just because we have the capacity to do nano-scale computing. The same can be said for the “Big Data” revolution that is expected to be unleashed with the availability of software like Oracle 12c. Now that the existence of the NSA’s vast store of phone call metadata has been made public, it is only a matter of time before someone, with 20/20 hindsight, discovers that the information needed to discern that the Boston Marathon bombers were planning their attack has been sitting in a government database all along. The point is that even though the data may have been collected, the conclusion was not inevitable. Who knows what insight can be gleaned from a review of billions of Google searches, Facebook status updates, tweets on Twitter or YouTube videos? We have the capacity to store all of this information now. Perhaps with software such as Oracle 12c, we will have a practical way to wade through all of that data and start to make some important inferences. However, I am convinced that it is going to take more than just the available computing capacity to get to evolutionary change. It is going to take visionaries. People like Ray Kurzweil and, as Rich suggested in his keynote, Larry Ellison, who (along with many others) have imagined what the exponential growth of computing power promised by Moore’s Law can lead to. I’m looking forward to hearing about the next generation of visionaries who figure out how to harness this capacity for something more transformative than internet search or movie recommendations.

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