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Tim O'Reilly

CEO, O'Reilly Media

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William Gibson said "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." What futures have you seen that are here, but unrecognized?

In the late 70s, when the Homebrew Computer Club was meeting, its members were beginning to experience the world that we all now take for granted. In 1992, when I published the Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog, there were only 200 websites, but we featured the WWW in the book because it was so clearly the shape of things to come. When Jeff Han demoed his multi-touch screen at TED in February 2006, he prefigured the iPhone launch a year later. When the kids at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition are modifying bacteria, they are showing us homebrew genetic engineering around the corner. Make Magazine's enthusiasts are becoming tomorrow's industrialists, with companies like Makerbot, DIY Drones, and Willow Garage Robotics turning what once seemed like an curiosity into real businesses.

In each case, these people were already living in a future that was soon to rush upon us all.

What have you seen lately that has made you stand up and say "Whoa! That person knows something I don't, is living in a world I haven't seen yet?" The answers can be from technology, but can also be new social forms, and can be positive or negative.

Point me to companies and individuals who tell you something about the shape of the future by the way they are living or the work they are doing.

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  • Feb 17 2011: What is of concern to me is that really intelligent people do not realize what the machines are doing to their own natural abilities and nature given gifts. Why are we so seduced by the antics of machines? Who invented them? We did of course from our own "machines"-- our own minds( unless like Tesla there was a UFO connection!). Why is technology so seductive when we have the most amazing abilities of our own, far superior and deeper than the machines can fathom? This is my puzzle. Anyone can find out so much about the universe, the nature of reality, the sources of everything by focusing within themselves and leaving the rather limited mind behind. This is a way bigger adventure, a more satisfying and profound direction that actually improves humanity and provides answers to those age-old questions like "Why am I here?"
    So watching Watson the computer win on "Jeopardy" was chilling. This is seducing one more generation into believing that this is the direction they need to go with their precious lives. Heaven forfend. What a waste of a human life!@
    So thank goodness there is a future with those who understand my message here, for these are the beings who will be around when the machines are rustied and shattered on the heap of history's detritus.
    • Feb 18 2011: You are taking it the wrong way. kids these days using computers is not a waste of human life, it allows for greater things to happen. Yes, they will probably miss out on a lot of really amazing things, but look at all the other things that people from the 40's and 50's couldn't even dream of that are now obsolete. Our mind is still infinitely better than a computer, but a computer can also do things that our mind can not. Using them together creates even more amazing things.

      Another way to put it.
      Knowledge is growing at such a pace, that doctors and engineers and scientists keep having to specialize more and more to keep up with the growing knowledge, and still have trouble. Machines are just another example of that happening. Kids no longer have the breadth of the experiences of living life that older people had growing up (I am only 30 and have to put myself in that category when it comes to computers), but the things they can already do are way beyond anything that I would even have dreamt of just a few years ago.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that it is progress, it is just the usually change from one generation to the next.
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      Feb 19 2011: The best short story ever for me in relation to this theme was Isaac Asimov's on how everyone took a test at 18 to see which of the machines they would serve, and the "stupid" disappeared. When one such "stupid" person woke up, he was on the moon, where all of the programmers were kept secretly to avoid busting the myth of the man-machine complex. Two of my book reviews summarize competing schools of thought:

      Review: The Singularity Is Near–When Humans Transcend Biology (Hardcover)
      http://www.phibetaiota.net/2009/01/?p=8142

      Review: Radical Evolution–The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies — and What It Means to Be Human (Hardcover)
      http://www.phibetaiota.net/2009/01/?p=8231

      For broader coverage, see;

      Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Technology & Web 2.0 to 4.0
      http://www.phibetaiota.net/2009/01/worth-a-look-book-reviews-on-technology-web-2-0-to-4-0/

      Worth a Look: Book Reviews on the War on Science
      http://www.phibetaiota.net/2008/07/worth-a-look-book-reviews-on-the-war-on-science/

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