TED Conversations

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 15 2011: 1) Places in Finland, Afghanistan where they use phones as their wallet and bank.

    2) Toddlers using an iPad.

    3) Street food trucks and Twitter.

    4) Robot battles, battle bots, robot olympics.

    5) Obsessive quantified self monitoring, fitbit, zeo

    6) Embryonic genetic screening

    7) Ultra performance techniques for athletes

    8) Laser fusion power

    9) Auto pilot cars now on the road

    10) Google translation
    • Feb 16 2011: Google Translation is a good example of a broader current in machine intelligence & recognition. Machines, in general, are not just becoming network-aware but are also becoming aware of the world around them. Simultaneously, our interface with machines is increasingly hands-free, driven by natural language, gestures, and active sensing.

      Developments pushing this larger trend include augmented reality, biometrics, mobile health monitoring, automated cars, personal & enterprise-scale robotics, chemical sniffers & environmental sensors, mobile accelerometers & GPS, and the ever-increasing dependence of humans on machines as extensions of our cognitive and analytic framework.
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      Feb 19 2011: To which I would add:

      a) You nailed it with Out of Control, a hugely important book very badly marketed

      b) Also compassion, empathy, teamwork, the return of the arts and finally, we earn our way out of quarentine and get to play in the inter-galactic sandbox.

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