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Internet hoax hoodwinks McNealy

At Oracle confab, Sun's CEO inadvertently illustrates how easy it is to fall for a high-tech hoax. Photo: Image that duped McNealy

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Scott McNealy showed a photo during a Wednesday speech to illustrate how rapidly technology improves--but instead illustrated another computing phenomenon: how easy it is to fall for an Internet hoax.

At a keynote address here at the Oracle OpenWorld show, McNealy displayed a picture supposedly from the magazine "Popular Mechanics" showing how people in 1954 envisioned the home computer. His point was to show how far computing has advanced beyond what was expected. Alas, in reality the photo he used is a doctored picture of a nuclear submarine control room mock-up, according to the myth-debunking site Snopes.com.

The black-and-white photo, which has circulated by e-mail and Web postings, shows a man in an Eisenhower-era suit standing before a long panel studded with dozens of gauges and a single steering wheel. A bulky monitor looms above, and a keyboard is placed in front.

According to Snopes, the original image is a U.S. Navy photograph taken of a Smithsonian exhibit. The modified version was submitted to an image modification contest.

Hoaxes are nothing new for the Internet. There have been bogus MP3 viruses, virus repairs and e-mail taxes.

McNealy might be a hornswoggled high-tech CEO, but he showed some rightly skeptical instincts. "Being from Detroit, I have to wonder: What is the steering wheel for?" he asked the audience of thousands at the show.

And his next point certainly made sense: "It's hard to imagine where we'll be 50 years from now," he said.

McNealy shouldn't feel too bad about his gaffe; he has good company. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor posted the same bogus photo to his blog in November, later noting his mistake.