Will IBM's Mad Scientist Survive Reality TV?
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I've never made it out to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, but it always struck me as sort of post-Apocalpytic.
As in, what happens when we reach the near end of the world, and we're all reduced to bartering and drawing upon our own individual skills to improvise and ensure we adapt to our newfound Malthusian reality.
The closest I ever came to such a scenario was on a couple of outdoor trips, one a river journey on the Texas Rio Grande, and another climbing Mount Whitney in the Sierras of California.
I did pretty well on the river trip, and was even able to ration out my beer for the full trip (some of which was even still cold by week's end!).
Hey, some of us have different definitions of survival than others.
In any case, when I stumbled across the fact that IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist John Cohn was participating in a new survivalist reality TV show, "The Colony," I became quite fascinated and ran to the Discovery Web site to check out the first episode.
Let me set the scene: The Colony is a controlled experiment to see exactly what it would take to survive and rebuild under extreme circumstances.
For 10 weeks, a group of 10 volunteers, whose backgrounds and expertise represent a cross-section of modern society, are isolated in an urban environment outside Los Angeles and tasked with creating a livable society.
They have no electricity from the grid, no running water, and no communication with the outside world, and the environment and "world" that has been set up for them was designed by experts from the fields of homeland security, engineering, and psychology to reflect what the future could like look after a global viral outbreak.
Uh, swine flu, anybody? Anybody?
During the course of the 10 weeks, the Colonists have to learn how to band together to build the necessities of survival.
Think of it as reality TV with a lesson.
In the first episode, our own "Mad Scientist" Cohn takes the lead on building an ingenious water filtration system, so know that you could do worse than to get stuck with a IBM research scientist in the midst of a breakdown in global order (At least know that you won't go thirsty!)
Turns out, John is an expert in a number of areas, including fixing, making or hacking anything electronic, building structures out of natural materials, tying knots, growing edible plants, mechanical fabrication, welding, sculpting and fire building.
Back here at IBM, John helps build the chips at the heart of IBM’s mainframe computers as well as the chip brains in video game consoles.
Tragically, in 2006, John and his wife Diane’s 14 year old son, Sam, was killed in a traffic accident.
Since then, John has dedicated all of his education outreach work to Sam’s memory, and he is eager to share his love for science and engineering with anyone who will listen, including his experience on "The Colony."
In the first episode, at one point a weary and exhausted John is interviewed on camera about his experience thus far:
"There are a lot of people out there who are just trying to stake out their own turf. And maybe they're good people and maybe they're not. It's just not something I'm used to thinking about."
He's clearly thinking about it in "The Colony."
His fellow IBMers wish him well and hope he survives!