Nils Newman oral history interview, 2019-02-28

Georgia Institute of Technology Library
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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: RICHA VIRMANI: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Segment Synopsis: Newman was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. After graduating high school, he applied and was accepted Georgia Tech, where he began attending for undergrad. He was Mechanical Engineering major in the class of 1989. He worked as a mechanical engineer making bearings in Peachtree for a few years. He soon returned to Tech to get his MS in Technology and Science Policy, which is when he met Dr. Alan Porter. He spent the next few years working on developing the Technology Opportunities Analysis Knowbot (TOAK) with Porter. In 1995, Newman and Porter worked to set up a company to commercialize their software.
Initially, Newman intended to go into mechanical engineering, but throughout college, he worked in repairing PCs and soon became passionate about computing. He emphasized that Porter influenced his career growth and accomplishments.

00:08:11 - Information on the Technology Opportunities Analysis Knowbot

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Partial Transcript: RICHA VIRMANI: So what was the purpose or function of Knowbot?

Segment Synopsis: Nils Newman discusses Porter's work with the Technology Policy and Assessment Center. Their prime concern was doing technology benchmarking and forecasting. The work began before Nils got involved. At one point, Porter said, "There's got to be a way to expedite this process." He delegated this task to Nils; he gave him some data, some software, and told him to write a report. The goal was to create a technology that would help facilitate research. Nils's involvement in this software began in 1993, while he was a graduate student.
It's worth noting that this software was the first of its kind.
The initial hardware/software used to create TOAK was quite rudimentary. Pascal was the software used.

00:14:40 - Collaborators

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Partial Transcript: VIRMANI: Were there other collaborators involved in this project aside from you and Dr. Porter?

Segment Synopsis: Doug Porter, Dr. Porter's son, was involved and still is today. There was also a constant stream of graduate students involved. Many of these students went on to become professors in computing and engineering in top colleges around the world.
Currently, Georgia Tech maintains ownership of the intellectual property underlying this software. In 1995, Tech licensed the software for commercial use.
The software was initially run on a mainframe in 1993. Newman discusses the reception of the software and how novel it was at the time.

00:21:19 - Applying Knowbot to the current day and future

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Partial Transcript: VIRMANI: How do you think this software could be used today?

Segment Synopsis: The biggest shift, according to Nils, came when the conversion of data sources went from paper to technology. Suddenly, it became more common to have search technology accessible to the public. For example, a student could go into a library and run their own query.
The software in its original form (Pascal code) no longer exists. Newman discusses how the rise of artificial intelligence may affect the future of the software.