Monday, March 03, 2008

ETech: Unevenly distributing the future

I'm currently in San Diego for the 2008 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. I haven't even been in a session yet, but just paging through the programme guide I'm reminded of the quote, supposedly attributed to William Gibson, that "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed". In San Diego this week it'll be very unevenly distributed. We're going to be talking about ubiquitous computing, embedded devices, UAVs, crowd behavior, reality mining, brain imaging (for fun and for profit), green technology and DIY survival. The rest of the world will be going on as normal.

...there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s. - Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash p.26

When it comes down to it, I get paid to think about things. There really isn't that many of us, most people get paid to do things, produce things. Every once in a while I have to write things up, but it's amazing how long you can get away with not doing that. The reason I get paid to think is so that, if humanity ever needs a expert in whatever it is that I'm supposed to be expert in, they'll know where to send the black helicopters. Then I save the world... you watch movies, right?

A lot of the stuff we'll be talking about this week is interesting, but will never make it into the hands of consumers. Or if it does it'll be so diluted down that you'll barely recognise it. So I'm also reminded of the phrase "memento mori" whispered to Roman generals by a slave as they were paraded through the streets after a great victory. Whatever it is you're paid to think about probably isn't as important to the rest of the world as it is to you.

In fact, I can see that there may only be ten years or so left before all the interesting thinking about the stuff I'm working on now is done and it's relegated to making license plates.

With any job, there's some creative work that needs to be done -- new technology to be developed or whatever. Everything else -- ninety nine percent of it -- is making deals, raising capital, going to meetings, marketing and sales. We call that stuff making license plates. - Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon p.107

So I'm here because I need something new to think about, or I need a new way of looking at the things I'm already thinking about which means that there is more to think about. If you follow that...