It was in comments at
that Foxgoose first revealed Emmott’s earlier claim to fame as the inventor of the internet surfing microwave oven.
He has a comment on my last post which is too good to leave there in obscurity. Here is Foxgoose’s comment in full, with a fascinating footnote by Alex Cull.
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Emmott’s prime talent seems to be self promotion.
He shares with Paul Nurse and Steve Jones a desperate need to leverage his specialised narrow scientific credentials – so that he can climb onto the world stage as philosopher prince and bedazzle the scientifically clueless with bullshit.
He differs from Jones and Nurse however, in that he doesn’t appear to have had a particularly stellar scientific career in the first place.
I believe he was originally a neuroscientist who got involved in computer design at Bell Labs. He was then head hunted by NCR business machines to set up a UK research unit called “The Knowledge Lab”. It was described thus in the MIT Technology Review:-
“The Knowledge Lab boasts an eclectic mix of twenty- and thirtysomething staffers. Computer scientist works alongside technical engineer, artist, jewelry designer, graphics/industrial designer, biophysicist, mathematician, economist, psychologist and philosopher. The 25-member team’s mission is broad: focus on tomorrow’s consumer”. Or, as the Knowledge Lab’s glossy launch brochure declared: “To create foresight-to get a grasp of the future before it happens. To start to lead the way in challenging established assumptions.” Housed in a stylish open-plan studio space in central London, the lab is separated from Financial Solutions’ reception by a wall of frosted glass, perforated with portholes to give visitors a glimpse of this future.
The Knowledge Lab’s director, neuroscientist Stephen Emmott, sums up the lab’s fundamental focus within the rather loose bounds set by its parent company with two words: relationship technology. “The context for everything we do is the networked economy,” Emmott says, “and the central purpose of networks is to establish and maintain relationships.”
The relationships that interest Emmott and his lab are those between consumer and consumer and between consumer and supplier-the demands and preferences of the consumer and how the supplier serves and stimulates these demands. By exploring and exploiting these relationships, NCR hopes to find ways to reposition itself after a troubled time in the 115-year-old company’s history. And in setting up the lab, NCR has forged unusual relationships of its own, recruiting its own customers (banks) to help fund and advise the new center and even contribute their research to its projects-much as MIT’s Media Lab is funded through its relationship with technology firms. The verdict is still out on how successful this project will be. While observers express praise for the lab’s boldness, they also voice skepticism about the originality of some of its ideas. And some question whether the ultimate aim of the lab is more PR than R&D.”
I think the journalist nailed Steve & his magic microwave in the last sentence there.
Another one of Steve’s world shaking inventions was the intelligent financial cufflink:-
“Emmott’s idea of invisible computing extends well beyond the kitchen. There’s a prototype secure system enabling micro-payments and communication via either the Internet or phone using everyday objects-rings or cufflinks might serve as tokens, increasing or decreasing in monetary value when waved at a point-of-sale device or ATM”
The piece finishes with another fairly damning critique:-
“Michael Bove, head of the MIT Media Lab’s Object-Based Media Group, is one observer who has his doubts. “There have only been a handful [of technology projects] announced so far,” he notes, “and a number of these sound as if they were created to make NCR a good press release.”
Clearly Stevie baby was surfing on a tidal wave of bullshit from an early age and using his background to play the “science futurologist” to gullible business people.
It doesn’t appear that any of his futuristic notions ever made anybody any profit.
All that seems to have happened is – he’s found an even more gullible audience in the Graun reading “climate concerned arts community”.
and Alex Cull adds:
Here’s an AP news article from 1999 which has NCR’s Prof. Emmott describing an Intelligent Bin, which would scan our rubbish for RFID tags in packaging and compile a personalised shopping list (which it could then send to retailers over the internet) based on what we chuck away.
“The trash cans could be on the market within five to 10 years, but it will require the industry to move away from bar codes, Emmott said.”
Strangely, the Intelligent Bin concept doesn’t seem to have caught on, yet.
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I found Emmott doomsaying back in in 2006, in Spiked, of all places.
(Spiked-on-line is the rather good, quirky, in-yer-face Marxist news site where Ben Pile of Climate Resistance frequently writes)
His article was part of a “major survey of experts, opinion formers and interesting thinkers” its aim being “to identify some key questions facing the next generation – those born this year, who will reach the age of 18 in 2024”.
Bizarrely, Spiked carried out the survey in collaboration with Orange, who say about themselves:
“Orange is an optimistic company. Our business is about enabling people to get the most out of life: today, and in the future. Enlightening the Future 2024 asks important questions about how humanity will fulfil the promise of the future. While the views expressed in Enlightening the Future 2024 do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Orange, we are proud to partner with spiked to create a forum for those views”.
(Orange didn’t subsidise Emmott’s cry of despair at the Royal Court. That was financed by the European Union).
Here’s Emmott in 2006:
“I believe the greatest challenge we face for the 21st Century is the rapid changes in, and alarming loss of, Earth’s life support systems – most notably climate and biodiversity. I am not alone. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that this issue is of such fundamental importance and urgency, and so vast in its scale, that it is likely to determine whether our species, and millions of other species, will have sufficient natural systems able to support life in the 22nd Century.
“Enter science. This unprecedented challenge to all life on Earth brings a huge scientific challenge: understanding Earth’s life support systems and changes to them and finding ways to help address this problem. This will require powerful predictive computational models simply not possible today. I say this because this is the one area of science where ‘observation’ is simply not feasible. We can’t wait and observe for the next 50 years what happens to the climate and to Earth’s biodiversity because by then, we will almost certainly have crossed an irreversible tipping point with unimaginably catastrophic global consequences.
“Scientists from a wide range of disciplines – computer science, biology, earth science, ecosystem science, climatology to name but a few – must work together to build powerful, robust, predictive computational models of Earth’s life support systems and changes to these systems that will occur under given global conditions. But most important of all, they, together with the rest of the citizens of the world, will need to ensure we, and the politicians we elect, use this knowledge to ensure we have a planet able to sustain all life on Earth.”
Seven years on, Emmott and his team of a new kind of scientist have built such a model. According to Emmott in his talk at NESTA, it demonstrates that we’re doomed. According to an article in Nature co-authored by Emmott and ten others, the model doesn’t work yet. The whole article is couched in the conditional, about what it might be able to do one day.
Forecasting the future on the basis of computer models is a hazardous business. Doing so on the basis of models which haven’t been developed yet, even more so. If Emmott was working for a private enterprise, his job would be on the line.