Friday, August 03, 2012

They promised us flying cars

This article was originally published on the O'Reilly Radar.

We may be living in the future, but it hasn't entirely worked out how we were promised. I remember the predictions clearly. The twenty first century was supposed to be full of self driving cars, personal communicators, replicators and private space ships.


Google has received Nevada's first autonomous-designated license plate. Credit: Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

Except of course all that has come true. Google just got the first license to drive their cars entirely autonomously on public highways, Apple came along with the iPhone and changed everything, three dimensional printers have come out of the laboratories and into the home, and in a few short years, and from a standing start, Elon Musk and SpaceX has achieved what might otherwise have been thought impossible. Late last year they launched a spacecraft and returned it to Earth safely. Then they launched a another, successfully docked with the International Space Station, and then again returned it to Earth.


The SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled and berthed to the Earth-facing port of the International Space Station's Harmony module at 12:02 p.m. EDT, May 25, 2012. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

Right now there is a generation of high-tech tinkerers breaking the seals on proprietary technology, and prototyping new ideas, leading to an rapid growth in innovation. This generation, who are building open hardware instead of writing open software seem to have come along out of nowhere. Except of course they haven't. Promised a future they couldn't have, they've started to build it. The only difference between them and Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Steve Jobs and those guys got to build bigger toys than the rest of us.

The dotcom billionaires are just regular geeks just like us. They might be the best of us, or sometimes just the luckiest, but they grew up with the same dreams, and they've finally given up waiting for the government to build the future they were promised when they were kids. They're going to build it for themselves. The same thing driving the Maker movement, and that generation of high-tech tinkerers, is the same thing that's driving the next space race.

Unlike the old space race, driven by national pride, and the hope that we could run fast enough in place so that we didn't have to start a nuclear war, this space race is being driven in part by personal pride and ambition, but also by childhood dreams.

A lot of big business seems confused by the open hardware movement, they don't understand it, don't think it's worth their while to make exceptions and cater for it. Even the so called smart money doesn't seem to get it, I've heard moderately successful venture capitalists from the Valley say that they "...don't do hardware." Those guys are about to lose their shirts. Makers are geeks like you and me, who have decided to go ahead and build our own future because the big corporations and the major governments had so singularly failed to do it for us. Is it any surprise that dotcom billionaires are doing the same? Is it any surprise that the future we build is going to look a lot like the future we were promised, and not so much like the future we'd be heading towards.

What do you do when you've changed the world? You do it again...