12 - Speeches
by BERNARD A HODSON
Being involved with computers from almost their beginning I was continually being asked to give talks, the assumption being made by those who asked that I was an expert in their field of work. I was asked to discuss computers in medicine, in law, in hospitals, in publishing, in banking, in nursing, in schools, in engineering and so on. While I was by no means an expert in all, if any, of these fields, I enjoyed the opportunity to research them and was usually able to come up with presentations which people seemed to find interesting, as I was asked time and time again. As the speeches more often than not involved travel on the North American continent or to Europe, I limited them to about two per month. I will in this chapter briefly summarise some of the invitations.
A later chapter discusses my involvement in medical and hospital applications in some depth and this topic was the subject for many invitations. An invitation was received from a member of the Medical Faculty at Birmingham University in the UK and for this I prepared a talk based on the several systems studies I had conducted at three hospitals and two clinics. The paper was well received and I stayed at the home of the person who had given me the invitation (Dr. Bishop). An adaptation of the talk was given at the University in Newcastle (where they had an elevator which went around in a loop, had no doors and never stopped, much to my concern). It was later followed by an invitation to address medical groups in Eindhoven in The Netherlands (more on this later). In Canada I addressed doctor groups in British Columbia, in Manitoba, and in several cities of Ontario. The talks covered the possible use of computers to assist in diagnosis, to accept the various treatment orders given by doctors, to produce test results, to monitor prescriptions and similar topics related to patient care.
Continuing with the medical side I was invited to give a session at the University of Michigan's Summer course in Hospital Administration, and was also asked to address several groups of nurses. One interesting group was in Montreal, at the International Quadrennial Congress of Nurses, where I outlined what role the computer might play in their profession, how it could assist with patient care, monitor the prescriptions given to patients, help with the preparation of nurse's patient notes, help maintain the patient record, and such items. My colleague from the hospital project described in a later chapter, Kathy McLaughlin (formerly Kathy Goos) spoke on the use of computers in the Nursing Service. At the end of my presentation a nurse from the UK by the name of Janet Singleton asked if she could talk to me at length on hospital systems. I suggested we talk at the site of all the amusements at the Montreal Expo 67 site, where we went on a number of "rides". Only afterwards did she tell me that she had a fear of heights, after we had been on several hair-raising rides such as the volcano, the aerial tram and similar items. On her return to England I was invited to her wedding, with the reception at the Royal Air Force Club in London. In the late nineties, through the ubiquitous Internet, I received a greeting from her (now called by her married name of Bureau), as she had seen my name during some Internet search. She and her husband now live in Cyprus and will be visiting the UK during the year 2000, at which time we hope to renew acquaintance.
Another interesting speech was to the Arthur Anderson consulting group in Chicago. They were having their annual get together of hospital consultants from around the world, meeting in Chicago, and I was invited to give one of their key addresses. Again I explained how hospital systems could be computerised and, in particular, how my ideas on generalised systems (the forerunner of GENETIX) could be used to keep the costs down. My estimates in those days were that a computer system based on the generalised systems software would cost about $2 per patient day, considerably less than rates being charged, even in those days, and would probably be even less today.
Generally my speeches did not include jokes and humour but a speech to the Manitoba Association of Dieticians started off humorously for some reason and continued in that vein for the entire speech. I would dearly have loved to know the secret of that talk, (but never did establish the reason), for it brought the audience real enjoyment, as it did me.
A talk to the American College of Hospital Administrators covered the topic of how all activities within a hospital, not just the administration aspects, could be aided by computers, from research to the routine handling of doctors' orders, pharmaceutical monitoring, patient records, laboratory test reporting, nurses notes. Much of the current thinking at that time was that computers would only be useful for such things as patient billing and insurance claims. Hospital Automation was also the topic for King's College Hospital in London, as well as to the International Computers and Tabulators company located in Putney Bridge, also in London.
For a talk to the life Insurance Institute of Canada I had to suggest how a computer might help in the production of policies, in actuarial calculations, and in the processing of sale force commissions. Modifications of that talk were made to the Life Insurance Underwriters. With the Winnipeg Club of Printing House Craftsmen I had to find out about the printing trade and suggest ways in which a computer could help. As we were doing early work in what became known as desktop publishing this was also mentioned, even though it could potentially have a major impact on their trade. Another talk to the Industrial-Vocational teachers group discussed the possible changes that in the future might be needed in technical training. A talk to Vincent Massey Collegiate gave an indication on the possible impact of computers in education Another to the Canadian Teachers federation covered the then popular topic of Office Automation, its potential and associated problems. Computers and Banking was the topic for the Institute of Canadian bankers.
In the early days automation tended to be a dirty word, as people thought erroneously that computers would destroy jobs. It is true that many types of job were eliminated, and many others drastically changed, but more jobs were generally created than lost. This led to the later discipline known as Management of Change. For a talk to the Institute of Public Administration I was asked to discuss the potential impact of computers on the Public Service and also on the recently developed Critical Path Method (CPM) for controlling projects (a strange mixture).
The University's Economics Department, along with the Extension Department, put on a series on the subject of Automation, and invited me to be the lead-off speaker, to set the tone for several papers to follow. The National Research Council (NRC) was also concerned about Man-Machine Communication, with its many attending issues, and I was asked to present my views to NRC in Ottawa. Another invitation was received from the Science Council at NRC, where I was asked to speak about Information Retrieval (IR). Having supervised the development of a major IR system for Imperial Oil, and then been a member of a Federal study on what the country should do with technical information, this was able to be done without too much time spent on research.
While many of the above talks took place in the sixties and seventies I was still getting invitations in the eighties and nineties. One such was again in Ottawa where I spoke to the Data Processing Institute in their Professional Development Week on the subject of the potential for optical disc technology. I was an early proponent of the use of optical disc and also served as an expert on the subject for Revenue Canada when they were assessing research grants claimed by Canadian companies. Another was at the Very Large Array site in Socorro, New Mexico, which has a large number of antennae scanning the heavens, where I spoke on generalised programs and on the use of array processors (these were some of the early devices which enabled parallel processing of complex arrays of scientific data). For those with little computer background an array is simply a string of numbers or letters. The site had twenty seven antennas spread over several miles in the shape of a Y, connected by wave guides. At University we had studied the theory of wave guides but I had never seen one, so was very intrigued by their use to receive signals from outer space. Previously my uncle Leslie, (who had worked with radar during WWII), and I were able to converse together, he from the practical side, me from the theoretical, but it was nevertheless interesting to see wave guides in operation. I have always felt that the University was lacking somewhat in not giving us a fuller picture of what we were learning in theory.
An intriguing invitation was to the Canadian Purchasing Officers Association. They wanted me to talk on what was known as "Just in Time Purchasing", a system where the inventory (stock) for a company is maintained by the supplier of that stock, and delivered "just in time". This allows the purchasing company to reduce operating costs by holding the minimum amount of stock, for which there is a storage, depreciation and wastage cost. I told them I knew nothing about the subject but they insisted that I talk about it. After a fair amount of research I was able to present a well accepted speech. One interesting aspect was that everyone was given a numbered ticket at the door, for a door prize. I was asked to make the draw for the prize and, when I announced the number, there was silence. Reaching in my pocket it turned out I had the number but, in spite of my protestations, they insisted I get the prize, a wine cooler bucket. There were many more invitations than those listed in this chapter, which took me all over Canada and to places in the United States and Europe, but I will conclude with two rather interesting ones.
A Western Canadian accounting group was holding its annual meeting in Jasper, in the heart of The Canadian Rockies. The meetings were held in Jasper Park Lodge, a resort hotel where room service was by bicycle to the lodges. My wife and I were both invited and I spoke on the subject of computing and accounting, being very well received. The setting was ideal, the food magnificent, and the company excellent.
The most interesting presentation I have ever made, however, was to a group of computer scientists from the University of London and the University of Cambridge, held at London University. I was asked to speak on the topic of generalised programs, later to become the current GENETIX. At this time it worked on main frames and was actually in use for accounting, hospital systems and data base applications.
The talk was scheduled for ten in the morning and was to last an hour. Following the talk discussion took place and I have never had a more interesting time. Questions were fired at me for five hours (the session skipping lunch and coffee breaks), until we concluded the talk at four in the afternoon. During all that time no one left. A very favourable report on my ideas was written up after the talk, a copy of which I received but no longer have in my possession.