Hacking Autism: 5 Ideas for CTO Phil McKinney


Hacking Autism is both a new and promising initiative from HP.   Their mission is both noble and inspiring.   They describe it as Technology and Hope.

Technology and Hope

When touch-enabled computing was introduced to the world, no one could have anticipated that this technology might help open up a new world of communication, learning and social possibilities for autistic children. Yet it has.

Hacking Autism is a story of technology and hope and the difference it’s making in the lives of some people who need it most.

Hacking Autism doesn’t seek to cure autism, but rather it aims to facilitate and accelerate technology-based ideas to help give those with autism a voice.

The power and precision of these words has given hope to people throughout the autism community.   It has also given inspiration to those in the technology community.  This is an accidental partnership with extraordinary possibilities, but how will HP take this big vision and turn it into a reality?

I am no expert, but as a parent of a son with autism, and member of the technology community called Silicon Valley, it is easy for me to believe the world is about to change.  Yet my membership in these communities makes me acutely aware of the obstacles we face, in our effort to turn this dream into a reality.

This is just the beginning of my digital scribbles about Hacking Autism.   My plan is to write a few posts that will allow me to play with some ideas, and make a contribution to the success of Hacking Autism.

What then are my first 5 ideas for Mr. McKinney and his amazing team at HP?


There are innumerable voices in the autistic community.   Everyone represents multiple needs, therapies, and beliefs about the best path for success.  This is by no means a bad thing for parents, because we have choice.   On the other hand, it poses a significant challenge for software development.  So, my first suggestion to the Hacking Autism team is to focus.  I am biased, but the mission statement can be a great guide – “help give those with autism a voice”.  Start by focusing on communication software for those who are verbally challenged, because they generally receive the least from the software community.


Starting with communication software should not be allowed to discourage those who experience different needs.  While building great communication software as the foundation of your efforts, develop a set of teams to build the next waves of additional software.  These teams could partner with the various autism communities, determine their needs, and create the application(s) that would best fulfill them.  I understand that this is a daunting task, which is why HP should consider partnering with their competitors.  If Google, Facebook, Intel, and Apple would devote software engineers to this effort these teams could truly hack autism.


  1. Make every piece of software developed run on every mobile device possible.  This is especially important for the communication software.  Any verbally challenged child anywhere should be able to get his or her device of choice to find their voice.
  2. Get out in front and make HP webOS the most autism friendly device in the world.  Make it and the webOS phones the first with communication software for verbally challenged autistic children and adults.
  3. Announce a discount for those families who have children with an autism diagnosis.  Allow them to purchase any webOS device at a 10 or 20 percent discount, and challenge every other company to do the same with their mobile devices.

Remember The TouchSmart

When it hit the market, the TouchSmart was one of the most creative and innovative products I had seen from HP in years.  At the time, I felt they had a sizable lead and advantage.   Some, if not much of that first mover advantage has been lost, but Hacking Autism provides a significant new breakthrough opportunity.   What would happen if the TouchSmart received the HP webOS, and could run all these applications developed for those with autism?   I think it would be amazing, and provide families with a home computer to compliment and hopefully connect with their mobile devices.

Leave A Legacy

HP is one of the largest companies in the world.  Once you get Hacking Autism off the ground, how will you sustain the effort?   I believe HP must create or support companies that will continue to develop this software.  These companies should be of the type that will sell their software for ten dollars or less.   This would be social entrepreneurship at its best, as families of special needs children are rescued from exorbitant hardware and software prices.

So there you have it–5 ideas for Phil McKinney and his Hacking Autism team.