Profile: Aaron E. Walsh

Name: Aaron E. Walsh

Title: Director; faculty member

Organization: Grid Institute (director); Boston College (faculty)

Age: 37

Industry: IT/computer-related services/consulting

Where to find him:

30-second biography: Walsh took his first college programming classes as a preteen, which led to summer jobs as a programmer. In 1988, he was hired by Boston College as a computer equipment coordinator. His interviewers didn't know he was only 18. "Thank you, teenage facial hair," he says. He eventually managed the Advanced Technology Center, where he was first exposed to 3-D graphics, multimedia, distributed computing and virtual reality.

At 23, he founded Mantis Development Corp., a software firm specializing in digital media and network computing, and since then, he has devoted a significant portion of his work to the development of open standards. In 1997, he donated important aspects of his research to the Web3D standards community, and he has worked on international standards as a chairman and developer for the Web3D Consortium, the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and the Media Grid. In 2005, he founded the Grid Institute to standardize the Media Grid public utility in cooperation with universities, companies, research institutes and governments. "Along the way," he says, "I learned a valuable lesson: Sleep is overrated; coffee is not."

Current project: The Media Grid consumes me. This public utility combines quality-of-service and broadcast features with distributed parallel processing capabilities to create a software development platform designed specifically for networked applications that produce and consume massive quantities of digital media. Applications enabled by the Media Grid include on-demand digital cinema and interactive movies; truly immersive multiplayer games; real-time visualization of complex data (weather and so forth); telepresence and telemedicine; and vehicle and aircraft design and simulation.

Early users of the Media Grid include businesses that are tapping into it for content delivery services and movie rendering services. Although the Media Grid is scheduled to open to the public this fall, we're already donating services to charities such as the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation.

But what interests and motivates me most is the Media Grid's Immersive Education learning system, a cutting-edge application of 3-D technology, voice over IP and digital media. It combines interactive virtual reality and sophisticated digital media with collaborative online course environments. With it, for instance, history students can explore the halls of the Forbidden City in Beijing from home, and a lecture on nanotechnology can include a lab session for participants to examine and manipulate molecular structures. Immersive Education can make a difference in ways that I didn't even expect. Last year, a student with brain damage took one of my Immersive Education courses at Boston College. He wanted personal contact with faculty and his fellow students, and assuming an avatar in Immersive Education gave him a measure of equality not possible in the real world.

Who in the technology industry most influenced your career? Paul Dupuis hired me at Boston College. He was a perfect manager, giving me enough direction to ensure I wasn't lost and enough space so that I could find my own way.

The technology you can't live without: Television. At the end of a long day, I have an hour or so to relax on the couch and talk with my wife while we share a bowl of ice cream and watch television. It's not a terribly advanced technology, but it matters to us.

Most critical technologies for IT this year: The extremes: mobile computing and supercomputing. Oh, and television. Mark my word, it's a keeper.

The best thing about today's technology: Its ability to connect, heal and protect people.

The worst thing about today's technology: Its tendency to be misused. The dark, unregulated side of the Internet that teems with unsavory and dangerous characters is a prime example.

Technology can . . . drive me crazy.

Read an Extended Profile of Aaron E. Walsh

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