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 16 2011: I believe that the foundation technologies for seamless Augmented Reality are here, though a lot of it still needs stitching together. Wearable inertial motion capture interface technology is something that is here (I'd point you to myself, but self-promotion is frowned upon here) but not widely accessible where developed to the point of consumer-grade robustness. Optically see-through head-mounted display technology is another piece of that puzzle that exists but is not yet consumer-accessible.

    Another technology ripe for mass adoption is mobile remote health monitoring and diagnosis by telemetry.

    3D printing is also obviously a technology that is on the cusp of wide adoption and mass accessibility, as you pointed to with Makerbot.
    • Feb 20 2011: Augmented Reality seems to be a significant part of the future to me. It will allow us to turn all this data we have into real-time actionable information, not just information. The possibilities, I feel, are truly inspiring. I would love to learn more, if you have some good sources and/or the time.

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