CNBC
updated 6/30/2006 4:11:42 PM ET 2006-06-30T20:11:42

MICHAEL EISNER:
So Bran it is a treat having you on my show. We know each other well. You worked as the head of technology at Disney for a decade. You're doing amazing things now and I just wanted to talk to you about technology, about your life-- growing up in New York. Your father a fantastic artist right?

BRAN FERREN:
Absolutely. My mother's an artist. My father was an artist and so I assumed that was normal growing up in art and the art world and spending our time around the world seeing art, experiencing things. It was great.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Yeah but then you got into an of-- an alive field in that-- that-- creating a special effects for rock concerts, for—

BRAN FERREN:
I-- I think I—

MICHAEL EISNER:
--Broadway shows, lighting and all that?

BRAN FERREN:
I think I was attracted to things that combined art and science equally. I've always been equally interested in art design, science and engineering. And fields like effects, lighting, product design all kind of let you combine those things together.

MICHAEL EISNER:
When I came to visit you when-- early on at Disney and I was looking for somebody to revitalize our-- our imaginary and to bring spark to it I s-- I-- I visited your operations in East Hampton and I said to you at some point, "How do we do a tower of terror where -- there's an elevator." and you said...

BRAN FERREN:
Well, IT was interesting, because I took on that assignment and went to meet with our partners at the time at the Otis Elevator. Sat down in a meeting... explained to them what we were trying to do, which is basically drop people from the top of the building. And, in fact, they -- travel a little faster than if they had jumped. It's the elevator will beat them down. And there was this deer in the headlights look by most of the people in the room. Where they explained that what we were trying to do is what they've spent the last 100 years of the history of their company making sure never happens. That was the starting point. And then the challenge is how do you find the technology solutions that's fun, exciting, gives people an experience that tells the Disney story in a way that's compelling? But at the same time can do it for 16 hours a day, 365 days at year and do that for 20 to 30 years.

MICHAEL EISNER:
and when you're the CEO saying faster, harder scarier.

BRAN FERREN:
Right..

MICHAEL EISNER:
and you're trying to make sure that faster, harder, scarier in the confines of total safety.

BRAN FERREN:
Well, complete safety because again with the number of people who go through the Disney them park for example, if you only kill one tenth of one percent of them its not good for business.

MICHAEL EISNER:
You then -- have moved on and you have a -- a new company and I just want to read -- and I'll pick up the paper ‘cause I just don't want to get it wrong. The people that you are now advising, and then I have a point. "The National Security Agency NSA, National Reconnaissance Office, Army Science Board, Defense Science Board, Chief of Naval Operations, Executive Committee, Senate Select Committee on intelligence technology, Securities Exchange Commission. FCC, National Imaging and Mapping. So you obviously a spy or—

BRAN FERREN:
Absolutely.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--or--

BRAN FERREN:
Yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Are you telling our government how to make all these things work so we can find out what's going on around the world? Is that what basically you're doing?

BRAN FERREN:
Well I mean our-- its a little portion of what our company does. But we're in the innovation and creativity business. We invent things for people. Those things can be business models. They can be products, they can be ideas and whether it's working with the General Motors or a Sony innovating, developing ideas and concepts that can help transform their business this same things apply to the government. We're in a complicated time and working on innovative ideas of how to transform the way we do the business of being government.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I know-- you're also advising some big American companies. One of the companies has a thing that has four wheels on it. I can't name the company. But one thing I saw when I was visiting you which I thought was amazing was building technology that the steering wheel that if you're moving over to a left lane the left side of your steer wheel lights up and it starts to buffer or something touches your shoulder. If you're going into the right lane you're trying to develop for the automobile industry generally a car that actually can't have an accident?

BRAN FERREN:
Well here-- here is the issue. The unnamed company, General Motors--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Oh.

BRAN FERREN:
--is-- basically hiring us to help them think through new ideas. One of the new ideas is situational awareness. How can you make the driver aware of what's going on around them. Now whether that's a goal like getting to a destination or whether that's something that could hurt you such as a car that's cutting you off or about to cut you off it's the same general problem. And so we're developing technologies that are designed to make it more intuitive and natural for you to know the things you need to know when you're driving. Result should be saver vehicles and the ability to keep you out of trouble.

MICHAEL EISNER:
But does the guard of the gate listen to you? Does middle management listen to you? Do the CEO's and the executive vice presidents listen to you. Do they see you in your-- in your technology clothes you-- you've worn that same type of jacket since I've known you--

BRAN FERREN:
Oh this actual jacket. Its--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well no I know it's been cleaned. It's like Steve Jobs wears black. You wear gray. So that's kind of the technology thing right?

BRAN FERREN:
Well yeah. You know I-- I started originally by leasing a tie but I found in the long run it wasn't useful.

MICHAEL EISNER:
So your clients, 'cause I used to be a client, sometimes you found it necessary to go above everybody in the organization 'cause nobody would listen to a technologist, listen to things that could make stuff better. Don't you find-- I know you don't want to burn the bridges of the people you're in business with but isn't that an issue in business that-- that--

BRAN FERREN:
It's a continuous issue but I think its-- it's part of a different issue and that is technology transfer. And it's something the United States, which has been brilliant at innovating, is terrible at. We do a terrible job as a country of taking ideas from the research and development and creative stage and putting them into products. Why? The people who do the creation are considered whackos and not part of the main organization. And let's suffice to say that the creative people think that the business people drain the life force out of the room by merely showing up. They don't have to say a word but it precludes the possibility of a creative idea. The only way this get fixed in big companies is that both sides beginning to realize they need each other and that they will in fact fail with half and without the rest.

MICHAEL EISNER:
you've written about and we've talked about the idea of implants that as we go forward and be-- over the next 25 years and over the next 100 years you'll just be able to implant what in your body? How is that?

BRAN FERREN:
Well we're at the beginning of a really interesting moment in time and--what we now think is the revolution of computers and technology connected wireless et cetera. It-- We're just seeing the very beginning little ripples of the impact it'll have on our lives. And technology such as implants and by that connectivity, computing, database access, built into you is probably 20, 25 years off conservatively.

MICHAEL EISNER:
But little robots in your body that take the plaque out of your heart?

BRAN FERREN:
Well that's certainly some--

MICHAEL EISNER:
You told me that was coming. I have to live long enough for that.

BRAN FERREN:
It will and hopefully you'll get there. And so will I. But-- But yes the idea that you'll take a pill and using MEMS-- or nanotechnology a system will circulate through your system, perform a task that you wish it to do. Whether it's a one-time task such a cleaning out your arteries today or do it an ongoing basis or monitor your health or even just connect you to the internet so that you'll always have a funny joke-- you always know the right answer. You know where a person grew up. All of that information is immediately available to you and I guarantee you that within 25 years kids will terrify and torture their parents rather than by getting a piercing or a tattoo by getting a net job and they'll just be wired all the time.

MICHAEL EISNER:
So is the US over? Is-- Are we so far behind technologically to the rest of the world? Are our lives threatened with the-- exit of privacy-- the combination of privacy, no privacy, other countries concentrating more on R and D? Should we be looking to this century as a time that America's losing its edge and it's not going to be America's century because of this?

BRAN FERREN:
I'm not sure there's one answer to those five questions. But here's the thing.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I just want to get it all into one question.

BRAN FERREN:
I understand. Well it sounds good. No problem. I-- I think here's the issue. We have been draining the research and development pipeline in this country for 30 years. Thirty years ago, 20 years ago we set grand goals for society, put a man on the moon by the end of the decade for example. But--

MICHAEL EISNER:
We being the government, not private industry.

BRAN FERREN:
Right. And at the same time private industry: Bell Labs, General Motors, you look at the great American corporations as defined by any set of ways you would define that. And research and development was considered the core engine along with design and innovation that drove the future. The problem is we're not going that any more. The base of invention and innovation for the United States in this area, (You might say this area. I mean ideas that need innovation.), is rapidly disappearing as is the ability to have role models, projects, ideals and visions that get kids excited in science, math or new areas.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well you also are an optimist though. I mean if that's said I've had many conversationswith you where you think you know this is the best of all possible worlds--

BRAN FERREN:
Um-hm

MICHAEL EISNER:
At the same time as like most things.

BRAN FERREN:
It-- It's certainly the best world I've experienced.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Great. Well I obviously from my experience love your point of view-- love the fact that you pushed me against the wall and you pushed management. You-- You make it clear that creativity counts and I thank you for coming and talking about it. Thank you Bran.

BRAN FERREN:
Pleasure. Thanks.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.71%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.26%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.70%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.42%
13.42%
Cash Back Cards 17.94%
17.94%
Rewards Cards 17.14%
17.14%
Source: Bankrate.com