What is IT?
(?) January 10th, 2001

This is the question on the lips (and fingers) of journalists, scientists and tech junkies all across the country.  Here is what we know:

Steve Jobs has invested in it, and he claims that cities will not have to be convinced to structure themselves around IT;
"it will just happen."

Harvard Business School Press executive editor Hollis Heimbouch has just paid $250,000 for a book about IT -- but neither the editor nor the agent, Dan Kois of The Sagalyn Literary Agency, knows what IT is.

If the book proposal written by the author of said book (Steve Kemper) is to be believed, then IT will "change the world."

One investor called the inventor, Dean Kamen, a combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.  Kamen has been the recipient of the nation's highest technology award, The National Medal of Technology.

Here are some tidbits of information about IT that have been released by the various (and few) sources on what IT is:

IT is not a medical invention.
In a private meeting with Bezos, Jobs and Doerr, Kamen assembled two Gingers -- or ITs -- in 10 minutes, using a screwdriver and hex wrenches from components that fit into a couple of large duffel bags and some cardboard boxes. The invention has a fun element to it, because once a Ginger was turned on, Bezos started laughing his ''loud, honking laugh.''
There are possibly two Ginger models, named Metro and Pro -- and the Metro may possibly cost less than $2,000. Bezos is quoted as saying that IT ''is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problem selling it. The question is, are people going to be allowed to use it?''
Kemper says the invention will ''sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking.''
The ''core technology and its implementations'' will, according to Kamen, ''have a big, broad impact not only on social institutions but some billion-dollar old-line companies.'' And the invention will ''profoundly affect our environment and the way people live worldwide. It will be an alternative to products that are dirty, expensive, sometimes dangerous and often frustrating, especially for people in the cities.''
IT will be a mass-market consumer product ''likely to run afoul of existing regulations and or inspire new ones,'' according to Kemper. The invention will also likely require ''meeting with city planners, regulators, legislators, large commercial companies and university presidents about how cities, companies and campuses can be retro-fitted for Ginger.''

A lot of people think that IT is some kind of transportation device, like a personal helicopter or something similar.  Some have even speculated that IT is an antigravity device or exotic new power source.  Even the kooks over at Sightings.com (and we use that term affectionately) are getting in on it, theorizing that it might be something derived from (you guessed it) UFOs.  

What is far more likely is that IT is simply a new version of the personal scooter based on Kamen's wheelchair design.  An anonymous fellow (going by the name Technology Man) has this to say to the imaginative dissenters to the scooter theory on the MSNBC message board:

An all-terrain electrically powered scooter-like device, using the technology the inventor has already developed for his wheelchairs to allow the device to balance on two wheels and ride over bumpy surfaces. I don't think people will be riding them up and down stairs though, that would probably be very slow, and rather dangerous, even with the scooters ability to balance itself. It would only require a small rechargeable battery, not a zero-point energy device or an antimatter converter.

"Yeah," say the nay-sayers.  "But his wheelchairs cost $20,000 each!"

He has an answer for that:

How expensive could six rubber wheels, a motor, a plastic case, some handlebars, a small computer, and a rechargeable battery cost anyhow?

Technology Man also reveals something new to us.  Kamen supposedly patented the concept! 

It seems rather cut and dry, now.  Sure, it
would be cool if we could all tool around on personal helicopters and anti-grav backpacks.  But we have to be skeptical.  It's our job! 



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