IBM Chief Scientist to Launch TV Series on Computing

Grady Booch, a chief scientist at IBM Research, and his wife Jan have launched a project to tell the story of computing in an 11-episode TV series similar to Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

IBM's chief scientist for software engineering research has launched a new project to bring computing into the lives and living rooms of people all over the world.

Remember Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, which unlocked the secrets of the universe for mere mortals? Well, this project, known as "Computing: The Human Experience," is aimed at doing the same thing for the computer industry.

Grady and Jan Booch launched the project and recently introduced a Kickstarter site to raise money to kick start it. Grady Booch, chief software engineering scientist at IBM Research, is Computing's head writer and narrator. Jan Booch, Grady's spouse, is co-creator and writer for the project. She is a psychologist, social worker and theologian. Her role on the core team is to ensure that the human issues that inform the story are included.

I've known Grady for many years (and I've covered the IT industry for many more) and he is the real deal - a true computer scientist who relishes sharing his craft and his knowledge with others. I can think of no other person I've met in the industry who would be better suited to narrate the story of computing. Grady has been involved with the Computer History Museum as a board member and has worked to preserve classic software. So the field is a part of him; he lives and breathes it. He also has the perfect temperament and voice. And he is a consummate story teller, able to hold audiences both technical and layman rapt with his talks.

About four years ago, Booch said he approached John Hollar, president and CEO of the Computer History Museum, and said the museum ought to do something like Sagan's Cosmos except for computing. Hollar said "Why don't you be our Sagan?" Grady gave it some thought and soon after the effort began.

When Grady and Jan first mentioned the project to me, I found it interesting and challenging. I thought, "how could I write about it and do it justice?" But I don't have to. They did it for me. Claiming the story of computing is the story of humanity, the Computing project's Kickstarter site says:

""Computing is a story of ambition, passion, invention, creativity, vision, avarice, and serendipity, powered by a refusal to accept the limits of our bodies and our minds. From the abacus to the iPad, from Gutenberg to Google, from Enigma to GPS, we have created computers to count the uncountable, remember beyond our own experiences, and see the invisible as well as the unforeseeable. To explore computing is the 21st century equivalent of Cousteau exploring the sea, of Hughes exploring modern art and of Burns exploring the American experience through the Civil War, baseball and jazz.""

Moreover, the Kickstarter site said: "Computing will eventually become a multi-part documentary series. It will be broadcast (via traditional media as well as Web streaming, if all goes as planned), but also online: on your iPad in an interactive format; as an e-book on your Kindle or phone; as a social network and Website, getting people connected to their interests and to each other; as a series of educational games for kids and teens; and as a platform for getting more girls and minorities excited about becoming our next generation's Mark Zuckerberg-ses and Steve Jobs-es."

Grady brings the technical chops to the project. He is a world-renowned computer scientist who is recognized for his innovative work in software engineering. In addition to his role in IBM Research, Grady also is an IBM Fellow - IBM's highest technical position. Grady is co-author of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and was instrumental in the development of object-oriented programming (OOP). Grady holds a long list of achievements, including being a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). And though he is loath to admit or discuss it, Grady was approached by Microsoft to succeed Bill Gates as chief software architect.

Before ascending to such lofty positions, Grady taught himself to program with a Fortran manual he was able to get his hands on by constantly harassing an IBM salesman as a technologically precocious 13 year-old - a feat much rarer in his day as a teenager than today. Better yet, Grady says he was 12 when he built his first computer.

Meanwhile, Jan's role on the project is multi-faceted. As a social worker, she attends to issues of multiculturalism, inclusivism and the impact computing has had on society. As a psychotherapist, her focus is on how human desires and needs have shaped and continue to shape the development of computing technology. As a theologian, her focus is on the moral and ethical issues found in the story of computing. Finally, as a non-technical person, she assures that the stories will be approachable, understandable and interesting to the general public.

"One of my jobs on this is to make Grady interesting to the non-technical people out there," Jan said.

The general public is one of three primary audiences the Booches want to reach with Computing; the other two are middle school-aged kids and the people who help make the technology that shapes the industry, Jan said.