Hi there. John Cohn here. You may have recently seen me on IBM's tumblr, IBMblr ,where we constructed a physical machine to react to real-time data. Watch me explain how that works here.

PROOF: http://imgur.com/g0I5zhW

But I’ve also got 65+ patents in the field of design automation, methodology and circuits and am deeply passionate about science and engineering. I’ve given a TEDx talk, traveled to over 300 schools and even spent 58 days living in an abandoned steel mill as part of Discovery Channel’s technical survival show The Colony. In a past life, I worked on the “brains” that went into Sony and Microsoft’s video game chips. Nowadays, when I’m not thinking about microelectronics, I'm tinkering with Internet of Things gadgetry or building physical objects like a Burning Man Ferris wheel car and a giant, 30-foot light-up keyboard for Phish’s Mike Gordon at his shows.

But this bio’s gone on long enough…I’m eager to chat about science, engineering, making, Internet of Things and the importance of innovation through PLAY! Ask me anything. Victoria's helping me with getting started.

UPDATE*: We're going for 15 more minutes! Ask me anything!

UPDATE* 2PM EST: Okay all! I've gotta run now. But keep firing away and I'll check back and answer later. Special thanks to Victoria for helping me out!

Have a geeky holiday everyone. Make something cool.

Comments: 161 • Responses: 70  • Date: 

John_Cohn11 karma

Someone asked about why I journal:

I started writing every day when Sam died. And it became a way of communicating with people who cared about us. And then it became a very important way to work out what I was thinking. And then it became an obsession. And I've written every night except for the nights i was on THE COLONY. And it is a really nice way to be able to reach back in time and see how I was doing.

I realize that sometimes it's stupid stuff, like what i had for breakfast, or self-indulgent. But it's a great way to work things out.

I can't believe people read it.

IcePackNiceCat6 karma

Hi John. I've been following your journal for some time. It may seem silly to you, but it has been an awesome experience, following you and your experiences around the globe. I've never travelled much myself, but I certainly feel like I've seen more of the world, having followed your blog. I don't have a question, I just wanted to say that you and your family seem like really good people. There are times where I've found your journal to be really inspiring. Thank you for sharing your exploits around the globe.

John_Cohn6 karma

Thanks very much, I really appreciate it!

KCCO79139 karma

Hi John!

This past year IBM announced that they plan to spend $3 billion over the next five years to develop technologies for the post-silicon era. The areas of interest are quantum computing, carbon nanotubes, silicon photonics, III-V technologies, and neurosynaptic computing.

In your opinion, which do you think holds the most promise for becoming commercialized over the next decade?

John_Cohn10 karma

I am particularly interested in neurosynaptic computing. Our synapse computer chip & I met each other 2 years ago, and it complimented my handwriting. No, it liked my handwriting.

I believe that systems that learn are going to change the world.

And I like euro-synaptic because it learns sort of like we do.

KCCO79135 karma

Awesome! Thanks for the reply.

If I may...I've been following silicon photonic technologies for the past several years...more specifically electro-optic polymers.

George Lauro was a former director of technology commercialization at IBM, maybe you know him. But he recently joined a small startup working on high performance EO polymers. The company is called Lightwave Logic.

I wouldn't be surprised if Lightwave's polymers have made their way into IBM R&D labs.

John_Cohn3 karma

I'm not in that area but we've done work in electro-optic polymers, and I'm a big believer as them for the next wave of communication. Let me check that out.

Theraft908 karma

Do you have any advice for a 24 year old looking for what to do in life?

thanks for doing the AMA!

John_Cohn5 karma

I would say double down on what you love and don't sweat what you're not good at. We spend so much time worrying about the stuff that we suck at. The people I know who enjoy life the most concentrate most on what they love.

I also think it's good not to worry so much about figuring it all out at once. Don't be so afraid to make mistakes (I need to take that advice too... because I always sweat it).

What are you into now?

3AlarmLampscooter2 karma

Not /u/Theraft90, but...

I'm actually really into tesla coils and coilguns (we've chatted on 4HV years before) and sort in the same situation. For me academia is just too damn boring with too little hands-on time and I'm sort of "spinning my wheels" training as a pilot. I'll probably work on test pilot training next. But I know there isn't much future in it beyond flying someone else's really cool aircraft prototype.

John_Cohn4 karma

so everyone knows.... 4HV: http://4hv.org/news.php

John_Cohn4 karma

I'm glad you mentioned 4HV. It's one of my favorite geek hangouts. There's something for everyone out there on the Internet!

John_Cohn2 karma

Great to hear from you... I love tesla coils. I have 4 of them now. Are you putting much energy into your coiling? I think there's something magical about big sparks. It's a great way to turn kids on to science.... and it makes my hair SPARKLE.

two_off7 karma

Being someone with a lot of patents, do you think they are a positive or a negative for new innovation?

John_Cohn13 karma

I would say, I think patents on something you're intending to use are a good way to protect an invention. BUT I don't believe in patenting just for the sake of patenting. I'm also a HUGE believer in open-source and contribute a lot to open-source. I think patents have their place.

paperchaseguy7 karma

I loved The Colony (both seasons). Any behind the scenes interesting stuff you could tell us about?

John_Cohn6 karma

Well, one thing I would say is most people don't know this, but I was a technical advisor on the second season. The thing I think most people don't know is that it was a LOT more real than it looked.

We really did sleep on the floor, eat rats and anything you saw working really worked.

And speaking from season 1, we're all still really good friends. You can ask me anything about 'em.

Dr_Herbert_Wangus2 karma

Was Mike from season 1 really as much of a D bag as he was shown to be?

John_Cohn3 karma

Here is the duality of Mike.. he's just like that in rel life.. AND he's awesome. I love working with him... we worked really well together which we wern't supposed to be able to do. It freaked out the producers a bit. Mike and I are still good friends. All of us from the first show are still in touch.. we talk several times a week via email.

miss_muckles6 karma

Thoughts on the Global Foundries/ IBM merger? And have you done the electricity show recently? I used to help with it with my mother but haven't done it in a while.

John_Cohn4 karma

Global Foundry = big fan. I think it will be fun for the people who go.

And electricity show - did one last week. For 68 kids.

dragonfly19935 karma

favorite snack?

John_Cohn3 karma

You know what I really like?

I like... hummus, capers, feta cheese on a corn tortilla, swilled down with cold coffee.

chrispoole5 karma

As an IBMer, when are you next in Hursley? Your talk last year was great :)

And, what project are you working on now that's got you motivated most, that makes you want to get into the office each day?

John_Cohn8 karma

I want to come there early in the New Year. I have so many friends there, and I miss the beer so much.

And I say hey Chris!

Internet of things. Totally love it. Trying to keep the world safe for internet of things. Trying to prevent our refrigerators from spying on us. Go read Device Democracy.

chrispoole2 karma

Yes it is pretty good beer here—favourite American craft beer?

John_Cohn3 karma

Heddy Topper. It's made down the street from me - rated best beer in the US! 8%. Check it out: http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/27039/16814/ World class, I'm not kidding! Take it from me, longtime home brewer and moonshine maker.

Bar was destroyed in Hurricane Irene and out of the ashes came this great beer. People fly in from NY to get it!

AbraxasWasADragon4 karma

do you have any favorite movies or anime?

John_Cohn7 karma


Oh, THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME. You should see that.

Anime, gosh, I like Ryoga. I really like the old-school stuff like Astroboy. And Tobor the Ape Man. No one knew he was "robot" spelled backwards. I'm a big Manga fan.

My favorite movie of all time is LOST IN TRANSLATION, I don't know why. I watched it 9 times in one year, going over the Pacific. I am a huge fan of Bill Murray.

FlareG1 karma

(if u got a little time between travels to take a look) there 2 anime japanese movies that i recommend:

The girl who leapt through time(Toki wo Kakeru Shōjo), and Summer Wars (Samā Wōzu);

give it a try, it wont hurt (ofc, only if you wish).

John_Cohn2 karma

I'm in Japan a lot and I'm gonna go check that out!

lula24884 karma

If you had not ended up in the world of Science/Technology, what would you have wanted to do with your life?

John_Cohn10 karma

I would have wanted to be... what would I have wanted to do? I can't imagine another life. I like my life.

But I think I would have wanted to be a comedian. A physical comedian, like a puppet guy or something.

I wanted to be a muppet.

MozeltovCocktail3 karma

If you had unlimited access to funds and resources, what technology, science or industry would you put them to use to better mankind?

John_Cohn6 karma

I think I would help my brother on his artificial heart project. He's creating the first fully implantable, practical artificial heart.

wakaba2 karma

Oh wow, does he have a blog or anything that we can follow this news on?

John_Cohn3 karma

He doesn't have a blog but you can check out his Ted Med talk here: http://www.tedmed.com/speakers/show?id=6645

(he's soo handsome)

Frajer3 karma

What's harder making tiny things or giant things ?

John_Cohn7 karma

I think tiny things.

Tiny things are really hard, because BIG things, you can get lots of people, lots of hands, lots of experience.

Tiny things, you're struggling just to get one set of eyeballs in there. And the stuff that i worked on for years, micro-electronics, some of it is so tiny you can't even see it with a microscope. You almost need to view it indirectly, or use atomic-force microscope.

So nobody saw atoms before 1998.

And right now, we're doing chip structures that are only 14-15 atoms across. They are so small, that there's no such thing as a microscope that can see them.

Go check out A Boy And His Atom - those are individual atoms, a technology that we developed to help make the world's most advanced chips.

On a sad (but interesting) note: when we lost my middle son in an accident a few years ago, I made the world's smallest memorial for him using that same machine. 33 carbon monoxide molecules (http://johncohn.org/base/2011/06/04/friday-night-atom-sam/). The whole thing is only 10 nanometers across.

Mutt12233 karma

What are your thoughts on the controversial new lightsaber design?

John_Cohn3 karma

I was kind of fond of the old lightsaber design.

LinkTheTimeHero3 karma

Have you seen Steins;Gate?

John_Cohn1 karma

uh-uh.. what is it ?

courtiebabe4203 karma


John_Cohn8 karma

I would have to say my kids on both counts.

The hardest project that I've ever worked on was a 20 foot carousel car for Burning Man. And it wasn't hard technically, it was hard people-wise. Because they were all nut jobs, like me. It was created. Go look up "Time Cycle Burning Man" on Google.

EDIT: there are naked people in this movie about the Time Cycle. Don't watch if you don't like naked engineers.

chooter3 karma

Do you read a lot of scifi?

John_Cohn10 karma

I don't read a lot of science fiction. I actually read books where my wife says "nothing happens." Murakami is my favorite author - wait, actually, things happen! I like magical realism - I like Gunter Grass, Jorge Amado, I like poetry, I'm a Billy Collins fan (guilty pleasure) - a bunch of David James Duncan right now. Chuck Palahniuk, but I'm getting tired of him. Phillip K. Dick. Wait, I guess that's sci-fi. Nabokov! Michael Chabon! Cavalier & Clay, Did you guys read that? Oh you have to read that!

looking at iPad

GOD I have a lot of Murakami on here... I think "Wind-Up Bird" is my favorite. Did you read his book about what he thinks about when he's running?

Dave Eggers! Did you read "Heartbreaking Work"?

Jonathan Franzen - read "Freedom!" Borges...

Lots of Billy Collins. It's kind of cheesy poetry, but I like it. It's really clever.

OH! ISHIGURO! I like Ishiguro!

A.S. Byatt I really like...

fugelot113 karma

Thanks for doing an AMA :). Can you explain to me as a simpleton, what is an Organic Computer?

John_Cohn9 karma


The organic computers that i know use organic processes like biology to do simple calculations. Like you can train bacteria to do factoring.

The only ones that i know of are pure research. But I've seen people try to use them to factor to crack codes, big numbers. But as far as I know, it's just a laboratory thing right now. But I believe it's coming.

troyer3 karma

What thing, when it's hooked up to the Internet of Things, is going to surprise us the most?

John_Cohn7 karma

I think the most amazing thing that's going to surprise us is the MAILBOX.

Because it's the opposite end of your garbage can.

It's what you eat - sort of - inspiration wise.

The post office is trying to figure out how they can make the mail interesting again. So maybe that's a stretch, but...

The interesting thing about online groceries is that they could GIVE AWAY the product. The information that they glean is more valuable for advertisers than anything else.

My job is to make sure the devices don't spy on you. I'm a big privacy advocate.

tjoena3 karma

Dear John, I love the way you inspire people with being 'playful'. I watched the Colony and it looked like you were truly enjoying the proper nerding stuff you did. That solarpanel system was epic! I was one of the privileged to see your TEDx Talk in Delft and I truly enjoyed it. You are quite an inspiration and I was wonder how you liked the grasshopper? Thanks a lot!

John_Cohn3 karma

You know, I had two.

And I liked them.

And I was trying to figure out a way to cook with them.

For those who weren't there, there were 2000 people in the room, and as they filed in, we were each given a little golden box, and after my talk, every one was instructed to open the box and eat what was inside - which was a grasshopper. I don't recommend laughing with dry grasshopper in your mouth, by the way.

Seriously, though, they are good and cheap and a good source of protein.

I've had escamole - ant larvae.

As an almost-lifelong pescatarian, it has expanded my vision of what is and isn't meat.

tjoena2 karma

Thanks for the answer! I'm amazed you still know all this! It was a fun day indeed and the grasshopper wasn't as bad as I expected it too be indeed. Thanks again and keep the jacket and lights-thingie on for every talk in the future. It looked like you were from out of space!

John_Cohn3 karma

I'm wearing the lights right now!

heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey3 karma

What is it about you that makes you so successful with inventions? How would someone like me acquire the mindset and knowledge needed to invent and patent something like you have?

John_Cohn6 karma

The first thing is to turn that switch on... that "I'm an inventor" switch. Kids have it naturally... but somewhere along the line it gets turned off in many people.

So believe in your ability to invent. Then, you have to fight like hell for your ideas because people sometimes resist ideas that aren't their own. You have to test your idea out and refine it. But the idea is the easy part... improving and tuning it is what it really takes to put it into reality.

heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey2 karma

Thanks for the response! I have two more questions, if you would be so kind:

1) Where did you get most of your knowledge from? Class? Textbooks? Or articles and studies on current research?

2) And what is the source of inspiration for your inventions? Do you just come across something and an idea suddenly pops into your head, or do you isolate a known problem/topic/area of research and then sit and actively ponder about a creative solution until you come up with something?

John_Cohn5 karma

1) I seriously got most of my knowledge from goofing around and trying stuff. And from talking to friends, seriously.

2) I tend to be more of the first type, and I'm trying to learn how to be more like the second. Most of my ideas come to me when I'm procrastinating just doing something else. Usually comes in waves... you know you've got something when you can't put it out of your head. I often think about inventions when i'm asleep, and I wake up with the idea framed out. I don't know how that works but it does...

cmsonger3 karma

You've been at IBM over 30 years and IBM has changed a lot in that time. What are the best and worst things about the IBM of today as compared to the IBM you joined?

John_Cohn3 karma

That's something I think about all the time. between me, my wife Diane and her dad Gabe (who died last Feb) we have 77 years of IBM experience ! I'm doing a bunch of speaking now on reinvention .. which is one thing IBM has done many times in our 100 year history. What allows that to happen is the breadth of people we have.. the company has folks in every discipline you can imagine from particle physics to anthropology. When we bring that to bear on stuff.. we really can do anything.. that's what i love.. We are a technology company at our heart. i don't like it when the complexities of being a publicly traded company move the needle to be more about money.. . IBM's not unique in that.. it's one of the essential tradeoffs of capitalism.. I'm really encouraged about the reinvention i see going on inside now.. I have huge confidence in our ability to reinvent ourselves .. we always do !.. thats why we're still making cool stuff after a 100 years !

Vonsharkington2 karma

Hey John,

as some one who found a love and passion for engineering a bit later than most, what do you think a good starting place would be?

John_Cohn3 karma

I think two areas that are really exciting are environmental engineering (for energy production and conservation) and also bioengineering...I love the idea of using engineering to help with health. These are two areas that have infinite potential for innovation and can make a HUGE difference in our world.

And the chicks love it.

John_Cohn3 karma

ok.. that was a dumb comment.. let me say.. 'others love it ' ..

ciaodanielle2 karma

What kind of criticism do you receive and how do you handle it?

John_Cohn3 karma


just kidding..

Appearing naked on a reality TV show and being called "The naked Santa Claus" did bruise my ego but my career has only improved since then...

Spoonsy2 karma

What was working with Phish on the keyboard like?

John_Cohn2 karma

Working on Phish's keyboard was an interesting challenge. Mike Gordon was a genius. It was fun keeping up with him.

You can see the keyboard - which was called "The Eel" - that toured 26 cities this spring, and worked perfectly at each show (Hallelujah!).

We're trying to think of what to do with it next. Any ideas?

Really enjoyed working with Mike.

Bretgreenstein2 karma

What is the best pizza topping to eat while doing engineering work?

John_Cohn2 karma

feta and spinach (with anchovies for inspiration)

FlareG2 karma

What was your most excentrical situation as a IBMer?

John_Cohn2 karma

I remember when I was a new hire seeing weird old guys wandering around at work and wondering who they are and what they're doing.

And now I am one! How's that?

clockwork_jesus2 karma

If you could transform into a bird, what kind of bird would you be?

John_Cohn12 karma

A squidbird. It's not real. But I didn't think that reality was a boundary condition.

aaychat2 karma

As of today, would you call the internet a democratic and fair place for all or do we need to change things?

John_Cohn2 karma

I think it's democratic and fair, but I also think it's being destroyed by spam. I think we need to find ways of filtering spam so it doesn't drive controversy.

It's only going to get stranger when THINGS are on there as well

paulg20002 karma

Hi John! How do you remain so positive and curious in a industry/world/life that changes, and not always for the better?

Also, would you ever consider having an understudy? ;-)

John_Cohn6 karma

Oh, I would love an understudy!

How do I stay so positive? I'm a huge believer in the power of people, and the power of people to shape technology. I think technology can be an amazingly good force in the world. But I really do believe in people. I really do.

chase985842 karma

What is the nicest thing someone has done for you throughout your life?

John_Cohn10 karma

Someone married me.

(hi Diane, I love you!)

OhLizaJane2 karma

Hello darling! Elsa here :) It's a slow day at work, so when I saw you were doing an AMA I had to jump in.

I would love love love to go to Burning Man one day, but I feel like I would be WAY over my head. How would one plan such an adventure?!

John_Cohn2 karma

Go with someone that's already been. Take your first time there just to look around. LOTS to take in. So many friendly people.

Get used to dirt first!

acangiano2 karma

What's your secret for being so productive/prolific?

John_Cohn5 karma


wakaba2 karma

Hi Mr. Cohn! Can you tell us about that one thing that you are totally passionate about that we'll need an entire week just to talk about it?

Also, you are my favorite Colonist! I also love the solidarity behind SamStones.

John_Cohn3 karma

I think that would have be the Maker Movement. I'm so psyched that so many people are using their hands and brains to make stuff. It had kind of gone out of style for awhile. But now it's back with a vengeance.

I love Maker spaces like the generator in Vermont (hi ya'll!) So much creative content in one space: artists, engineers actually working together.

ythey2 karma

How were you able to keep such a level head in the environment of the Colony? Seeing you treat everyone there with love and respect, even when times were stressful, was really inspiring for me!

John_Cohn4 karma

It was stressful.. but it was so much fun, too.. I loved the ability to make stuff 18 hours a day. i loved the people (all of them !).. and learned tons working with them.. it was easy to be levelheaded.. That said.. I did yell once.. and felt bad for doing it..

esmiralha2 karma

John, you are truly an inspiration to me. Do you think cognitive computing will make human programmers obsolete in the near future?

John_Cohn2 karma

No, absolutely not. Because the more complicated computers become, the more they need care and feeding.

I am prepared to be an amusing pet.

SchrodingersDeadKat2 karma

How much longer will it be before consumers can have access to Watson?

John_Cohn2 karma

You can right now !.. go check out the Watson API's on http://bluemix.net . I love Bluemix. It's our Platform as a service offering.. great IBM tools as well a a great selection of 3rd party and open source stuff. I use it for work and my own hacking projects.. for example Check out http://floorish.mybluemix.net .. it's an interface to an interactive light up floor piece in burlington city arts museum. see here http://vimeo.com/108411855

Kilazur2 karma

How comes it's such a pain to write DB2 queries for IBM Content Manager?

tease tease

John_Cohn3 karma

Hey... I'm of the NoSQL generation :-)

NickRebootPlz2 karma

As a soon-to-be professional tech writer (I hope) I love watching your presentations. You are fantastic at making the complicated simple to understand.

Do you have any advice on how to "geek whisper"? That is to say, how can I best make someone in the tech/design world comfortable and patient enough with me to explain their work to me as though I'm a 5 year old, without making them angry that I am taking up their time/

John_Cohn3 karma

'Geek whisper'.. I LOVE it ..a couple of things that work for me.. first .. i find if you want to teach, it' easiest to tell a story.. hitting folks over the head with data and facts sometimes doesn't sink in.. while stories do. A little humor always helps as does some humility. People tend to listen more when they realize that even you (the speaker) doesn't have all the answers.. My freind Paul Zaloom (aka Beekman) once told me that you need to make your soundman (or woman) laugh... even though they see your shtick every day. Finally do a demo... nothing cements a concept like seeing things glow, spark or explode (safely(

MaddingMumbaikar2 karma

How do you think should an engineer,with minimum practical exposure, who wants to build something from the scratch, go about his idea ? And what kind of inspiration will make such a person keep going even after repeated failures ?

John_Cohn2 karma

Is there a makerspace or hackerspace in your area ? If so.. that's where I'd start. THere would be tools, classes.. and best of all helpful folks who could help you learn this stuff and encourage you. If you're in Vermont.. come check out our Makerspace at http://generatorvermont.com/ .. if you're somewhere else.. let me know where.. and I'll find you one close !

Orcinus24x52 karma

Hi John! I sure hope you come back and answer this!

In The Colony, when you and the others were making the wood gasifier and Mike complained that "you've got a BOMB here!", how much more of the scene did we not see? Was it ever explained to him that you knew what you were doing and how it works, and that even a barrel full of flammable vapor is not a bomb without oxygen? I practically screamed at the TV because Mike sounded like such an idiot with that declaration. I really wanted to see him put in his place so much more.

John_Cohn3 karma

Funny question.. I'm kinda cautious.. and when someone else asks me a question about safety, i actually stopped and thought about it. As you point out.. if there is no air in the vessel, there's little chance of flash back.. but we weren't exactly air tight. I did a thorough safety check before we sparked it up. Regarding 'behind the scenes'.. there was a lot of trial in error there that was edited out.. but what I liked about that build .. and most of the others is that they showed when things did NOT work.. In that case.. my original design didn't get enough heat into the wood bin. Vlad had the idea of lowering the steel fire box (a surplus steel fuel gerry can) into the fire directly. They showed the first design not working.. then the second design actually working well. Engineering is like that

Mcginnis2 karma

Do you ever get mistaken for the guy from terminator?

John_Cohn3 karma

come with me if you want to live

ilovecomputers2 karma

When you take on these big art and tech projects, where do you get funding or is it all out of pocket? What kind of resources can someone look into for funding for their art and tech projects?

John_Cohn2 karma

it varies.. usually there's one person with the vision and the funds.. I like those projects because there are clear goals. I also like 'collective' projects where we all donate time, stuff and money... those are more challenging because they involve fusing a bunch of folks evolving visions.. but thats fun too. One thing that always keeps it somewhat easier with me is that I never charge for my services on art/fun projects.. I figure I make a good living working in industry.. so my art stuff is 'giveback' of sorts. because of that , I try to pick projects that glorify (right word ?) science, bring folks joy/fun and/or are for a good cause (eg political).

NickRebootPlz2 karma

I think there are a lot of people in the world who would like to better understand tech computers, the internet, wi-fi, ect) work, but feel left behind, like they can't catch up. People may be scared or confused, or just think the pursuit to understand will be fruitless.

For me, I admit to struggling with the concept of electric currents, and how energy through a small, thin wire can light up my laptop screen and power something the "brain" of the computer to give me most of the knowledge in the history of human kind in an instant.

Any tips on how to how to adjust this thinking/fear and "catch up"?

John_Cohn4 karma

My wife reminds we we always come from either love or fear.. I'd suggest you think about the word 'fear' in your question.. fear makes us run away from stuff o resist it. Tech stuff can be scary.. but it's also really cool. I'd suggest you turn on the love and let it fuel your curiosity.. that will get you over the hump in learning this stuff. know what i mean ?

nightslayer782 karma

I have been a big fan of yours since "The Colony". If things were to actually go down like in "The Colony" what would you do?

John_Cohn2 karma

I would collect old cars and use 'em for parts. Cars are like a hardware store on wheels

icanhasreclaims2 karma

Hey. You're one of my heroes. My girlfriend has been to your place. Bonnie ring a bell? Friends with (Rae)chel. Anyway. You are an inspiration to me, and I'm glad to have benefitted by your knowledge of things. I can't wait to do my best to emulate you in about 20-30 years. Thanks.

John_Cohn3 karma

Bonnie D ? Rae B ? .. Her dad Homer is my best builder buddy !

Itisfuninthesun2 karma

Beyond the Internet of Things and cognitive computing, what do you think the next major breakthrough in technology/computing will be?

John_Cohn3 karma

I think human machine interfaces... I'm really fascinated with how we can interface machines like prothesis to our bodies to replace or enhance function. I think this is going to be an amazing part of our evolution, honestly. I really do.

Itisfuninthesun1 karma

That is an interesting perspective. I am also interested in human/machine interfaces, but it can be somewhat concerning. If we merge the human brain and machines to much, and knowledge can be obtained by a simple download what would the true measure of intelligence be? In my opinion at that point it would be creativity and artistic expression because advanced book/technical knowledge will be everyone's starting point.

John_Cohn3 karma

That's heavy. Can I ask a question: do you think creativity is only in the realm of humans?

The thing about creativity is it has an aspect of randomness. Computers can be made good at randomness, too.

But I'm sure computers will start to exhibit signs of creativity... we already have Watson creating recipes... you should check out the stuff they did on the IBMblr here: http://ibmblr.tumblr.com/tagged/cognitivecooking

FlareG1 karma

Hi, just for a quick brainstorm, if a tree could send information, what information could be usefull and what information could be useless? ;)

just for start, trees on litoral could send information about wind, so well have a whole frontline with little space between trees to get an information.

your turn.

John_Cohn3 karma

I think passing information about environment would be pretty cool. And you might say, from what we understand they already do this - a distressed tree can communicate with other trees at a distance.

It might be hormones, it might be electrical waves.

Anybody out there know?

Vonsharkington1 karma

Is there any one thing about what you do that you endlessly cool?

John_Cohn1 karma

i wish :-)

John_Cohn1 karma

ok.. here's one.. I'm a technical optimist.. I know that i can make anything work.. as long as we can decide what it has to do

ChemNewbie1 karma

Hey there Mr. Cohn,

First off, thanks for doing an AMA.

I am currently a recent M.S. graduate in Chemistry, and haven't been successful in looking for work in the science industry for the past 6 months (applied to over 400 jobs and only landing an interview with no response as of yet). I have a first author paper (submitted and hopefully published soon) from my time doing my Master's, am highly hard working and science IS my life. I have no connection with anyone working in the science industry, as I am the first-generation in my family with a college degree.

As you are a person with lots of experience in the science industry, do you have any tips that may help me with my job search? Any companies you may recommend? I currently have a background in inorganic/materials chemistry and am willing to reshape and quickly pick up new skills to be able to work in my dream career.

I would really love to land a job and start a career doing what I love, but being without a job for 6 months (almost 7 months) is heartwrenching.

John_Cohn1 karma

Yow.. my thoughts are with you.. this is a tough job market in some areas. The one advice i would give you is to not give up !!!..What kind of material stuff are you in to ? What region of the country are you in ? It might be good to look 'between' your interests to find a passion/specialty that sets you apart from other chemists.. What are you in to ?

madscience121 karma

What's the first invention/innovation that you ever received a patent for?

John_Cohn8 karma

Oh gosh.

I honestly can't remember.

I can tell you my favorite patent was a mistake. I had gotten math wrong, when I was trying to describe something, and I realized the math solved a problem we didn't know how to solve. It was really cool. It was this crazy thing about getting a wrong minus sign. And we saved... $100 million dollars because of that minus sign, over time.

MovieTheaterHead1 karma

Is...is your grandpa's name Robert?

John_Cohn2 karma

Nope.. i had a David and a Max . My mom's dad was Max and her mom was Min...... how cool is that ?

flunkymunky1 karma

What do you think about the future of processors? What's the next step once we've hit the atomic soon-to-be limit for conventional silicon-based cpu's?

John_Cohn1 karma

i think that new architectures are going to emerge that allow us to continue to scale throughput without always needing to go smaller and faster at the device level. Look at our brains for example.. meat-based processing using basic components that are pretty big and slow and yet we do pretty well. .. I think computing will be composed of more flexible, distributed and specialized computation components that will be configured to meet the load. some of those will be general purpose, some will be array base, some on storage.. some will be based on models from biological systems..

mihilmy1 karma

Big time computer enthusiast, tips on how to make it to silicon valley ? I have already a solid base of data structures as well as several programming languages. I want to start developing and start working on side projects on the Internet. I know I have the ability to do that on GitHub, but never go the gist of it. I have amazing ideas that get stolen everyday, I really wana catch up to what I am missing !

John_Cohn1 karma

Actually.. the cool thing about open source is that nothing is really stolen.. it' given freely.. Put some cool stuff out there.. there's no better tech-cred than showing that you contributed cool stuff to open source and it's being used. Do that and your geek super powers will start to get recognized by everyone !

Swailem951 karma


John_Cohn1 karma

lots of places now have 'physical computing' majors.. that's a spicy synthesis of hardware and software engineering , design and a little art thrown in for good measure. it's basically the 'maker major' . see if the school you are interested has that major.

beernerd0 karma

The Watson food truck was absolutely brilliant. What's challenges will Watson be tackling next?

John_Cohn1 karma

oh-man.. they are cooking up so many things !> I've heard of watson projects for law, medicine, shopping, security.. just had a great conversation about using Watn to help study climate change !

TJzzz0 karma

whats your thoughts on potato salad?



John_Cohn1 karma

I love PS.. don't like any sweetness (none at all).. not a big fan of eggs.. My favorite secret ingredient is (ready for it ... ?) capers !!!!