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 20 2011: Are we being too paranoid or we are truly loosing our privacy?

      I was surprised that Disney World and SeaWorld are asking their visitors to scan their finger in order to be admitted (thou one has the option to use ID instead) and 99% of them comply without hesitation. Is this a dangerous trend?
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      Feb 20 2011: I recommend to you a series of books by Aries and Duby called "A History of Private Life". It's a long series, and not light reading; if you are only going to read one I personally like the one about the Middle Ages, but you can pick your poison. The series traces the changes in private lifestyle, behavior, beliefs and attitudes from the Roman Empire to the early 20th century; that is, its focus is on people who were not generals, heads of state, leaders of society. You know, everybody else.

      One of the takeaways from the series is that notions of what is private and what is public do change very greatly. I think you are right that such a change is happening right now; I am not at all sure that this change will destroy the fabric of America -- or anywhere else for that matter. It will certainly change it but I have faith that we will as usual make ourselves over again in response.

      I have not however had my 15 minutes of fame yet, despite having a Facebook account -- and a TED profile for that matter. Possibly it's an alphabetical list, in which case I expect they will get around to me.
      • Feb 22 2011: Thank you for your recommendation. Yes we will have to see where all this goes. Luckily we have organizations like EFF that ensure some degree of privacy and security on the Internet.

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