Good Morning Reddit!

My name is Dr. Mark Dean. I am a Fellow and Vice President of Technical Strategy for IBM Research at the Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Prior to this, I led the research team that created the first 1-gigahertz RISC processor chip, and was responsible for the group that developed the ISA Systems Bus, an integral component for making the first Personal Computers possible.

It seems like there are many kindred spirits here on Reddit, so I thought it’d be fun to come on today and answer any questions you might have about computer science, engineering, programming, your first PC -- you name it.

As tempting as it is, I still have a day job and can’t stay on all day, but I’ll be checking in for the next half-hour, again at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, and then later this afternoon at 4:30 to answer as many questions as I can.

So go ahead, ask me anything!

Edit: Hey everyone, I had no idea I'd get so many questions! This is great, and I'm going to try to answer as many as possible. I can only check in periodically throughout the day, though, so thanks for being patient with me. Keep 'em coming!

Comments: 1200 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

yonkeltron373 karma

  • What OS are you using right now? Which OS do you prefer?
  • What are your favorite programming languages?

MarkDeanIBM171 karma

I believe the exposure of the OS to the user has disappeared. The user is only exposed to an environment and set of applications which is often independent of the OS. I think we have reached a point were the specific OS is irrelevant.

MarkDeanIBM103 karma

As for programming languages, we are working on a new highly distributed and scalable programming language called X10.

gsxr113 karma

What do you think about defensive patents? How about the general state of patents in the software industry? Do you think it's getting out of hand with what all gets patented?

What's the one technology you saw come a long and simply fall away that you wish had caught on?

MarkDeanIBM124 karma

display integrated into eye-glasses with a speech-recognition interface. Unfortunately there are still some issues with an active display positioned this close to your eyes. Speaker independent continuous speech recognition accuracy still needs to be improved.

DwayneBenzey100 karma

How many years can we expect to still have keyboards and mice? Do you think they will just improve in style, form and portability?

MarkDeanIBM181 karma

From what I can tell, forever. I thought the keyboard would have been replaced by now. But no device has yet be created that has the necessary features.

vanbacon99 karma

Just curious what do you hold the patents on?

MarkDeanIBM155 karma

3 of the original 9 nine PC patents. Most are on graphics controller, device interfaces and the ISA Bus.

marx05167 karma

So we've gone from storage devices like the floppy, cd-rom, zip drive, SD card, to usb thumbdrives with a matter of a few decades. What is the next big portable storage that will make usb thumbdrives as laughable and nostalgic as seeing a Floppy disk these days?

MarkDeanIBM176 karma

I believe we will produce a digital wallet -- a device that will replace everything you carry in your wallet (drivers license, credit cards, money, pictures, passports, medical records, bank cards, loyalty cards, etc.). It will also hold all your class work, emails, heath records and be your phone and real time language translator.

Argord58 karma

How would you keep these safe? <from a security standpoint>

MarkDeanIBM81 karma

I can make a digital wallet only accessible to a single person and make it much safer than my present wallet. I can know exactly at what time the wallet has been lost or compromise and eliminate access to its contents before anything is lost or stolen.

IBMerthrowaway63 karma

IBMer here working in the newer delivery centers in the Midwest. At what level did you start with IBM? How different is it today vs years when you started. Ever heard anyone from the low level moving his way up to a decent level within the company?

MarkDeanIBM75 karma

I started when we had Junior Engineers. Today we don't start people with degrees at this low of level. Everyone of my peers (technical executive leaders) started at the lower level and moved up. You typically need this experience to support sustained success in the company.

LeejSm1th62 karma

How much of the current pc hardware is dependant on ideas from the original pc's to keep compatibility.

MarkDeanIBM73 karma

a small amount

MonsieurLeGimp42 karma


MarkDeanIBM56 karma

the IBM PC, first CMOS gigahertz microprocessor (lead to the design of game processors in the three major game consoles), BlueGene

paperzach34 karma

What area do you think offers the most opportunity for innovation over the next ten years?

MarkDeanIBM73 karma

computer science, analytics, bio-engineering, nano-engineering, energy, services science

maybenextweek29 karma

In terms of the life and development of personal computing, if it had all been up to you, what would you have done differently. AKA- What did we get wrong?

MarkDeanIBM117 karma

I would do everything exactly the same way. the mistakes I made created actions and opportunities that yielded other discoveries. If I don't make some mistakes I am not reaching far enough.

Yserbius21 karma

  • Do you still enjoy computer programming and building circuits? If so, what sort of things do you work on for recreation?
  • What was the field like for African Americans then? How does it compare to now?

MarkDeanIBM37 karma

Yes I will always enjoy anything to do with technology and building new things. My hobby is building cars & motorcycles, especial cars from the 1960s. The field is great for everyone with the passion and presented great opportunities to me and my friends with a passion for technology discovery and innovation. The field is even better today than when I started, with must more opportunity and potential for making a difference.

Insuranceisboring21 karma

Will Moore's Law breakdown at some point? In terms of tunneling in the semiconductors? Or will silicon be replaced with something else? If so, what do you foresee it being replaced with?

Thanks for the AMA!

MarkDeanIBM25 karma

You're welcome! Silicon and CMOS will be replaced by something else. Scientist are working on many possibilities - carbon nano-tubes, phase-change materials, bio-transistors, graphine, quantum computing devices, spintronics, cognitive computing devices...

imhalfpirate18 karma

Did you believe that technology would be where it is now? Who did you look up to for inspiration at IBM?

MarkDeanIBM30 karma

I believe technology would be further than it is now (I am always a little ahead of the reality of deployment of technology). Given the skills and leadership at IBM, there were many people that inspired me....The most recent are Nick Donofrio & Ted Childs.

kimhari15 karma

What was the most futuristic device you got to try out? Thanks for doing this AMA! :)

MarkDeanIBM22 karma

A virtual immersive environment called a "cave" which gives you a feeling you're in a holo-deck on star trek.

[deleted]15 karma


MarkDeanIBM60 karma

a computer is a accumulation of components and structures. Its hard to give only one person credit for the development of the individual components and the architecture used to tie them together. But there are some key people that pushed things in the right direction and established the basics (eg Von Neumann)

hexenduction14 karma

What sort of concepts/strategies/things do you think more computer science students/grads should know, but usually don't?

MarkDeanIBM18 karma

Analytics, usability, formal programming methods, security & privacy, software efficiencies, and data management & analysis.

FreezerB10 karma

Is the 31-bit architecture one of your patents? What was the reason for creating such an unorthodox architecture?

MarkDeanIBM11 karma

Yes...I developed the 31-bit arch. We needed to increase the addressable capacity and data performance of the system.

Lorsen3 karma

What made you go into this line of work? I am trying to decide on a career and I have always been curious about computer hardware. What would you consider qualities important to that field of study?

MarkDeanIBM6 karma

My father was the largest influence on my life and interest in technology. The major quality in this field is the level of impact one can have on society. The amount of impact one can have from developing new technologies is unlimited, especially in developing and growth markets.