Attention to Details: How Police Academy Hurt Technology Demo

Recently Hitachi demonstrated a technology that allows data to be stored in blocks of glass that could last 100 million years. The concept was appealing and the demo very impressive. Up to a point. What undermined the entire event was the choice of sample data for the public technology demonstration. The data they chose to preserve for 100 million years was the entire series of Police Academy movies, in all their 1080p high-definition magnificence.

You might think that this choice might lead to some ridicule in the media and you would be right. Even the pro-business magazine Business Week mocked the choice in Live Blogging Hitachi's 100 Million Year Data Test in the 26 September 2012 issue.

Having worked in large organizations I can see how this could happen. First of all the people who arranged the demo might be technical experts who have a deep understanding of the technologies involved but understandably don't know how the media and other observers might view their efforts. It's also possible that they would have liked to have the Complete Works of Shakespeare but corporate cost cutting made that impossible. Most likely they just didn't ask themselves what might be the downside of the decision and nobody questioned their choice.

This teaches an important lesson: details matter. You might have an awesome technology, the public demonstration might be flawless but if the content you chose to use in the demo is tainted by ridicule in any way you are going to have a problem. People might have been entertained by Police Academy movies, but they are not going to win any major awards nor will they pass unnoticed. Hitachi might have had better results saving the complete works of the Beatles, the collected plays of William Shakespeare or any number of other things. But to chose the Police Academy series sent the wrong message because they distracted from the original goal of the demo. Details like this matter and they should not be left to the person who makes the initial technical demo. Once the decision is taken to make a public demo someone has to screen the content choices to weed out dubious images and videos that might be OK in the lab but are less than optimal in a public event.

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