ETech 09: Tim O'Reilly


I’m currently at ETech, the Emerging Technology Conference, in San Jose, California. I’m going to be posting my notes of some of the talks here as many of them seem relevant to futures folks. Although I’ll do some editing, these are quite hasty and I may have mis-heard a few things and, unless something’s in “quotes” it’s probably me paraphrasing the speaker. First up is Tim O’Reilly’s opening night keynote.

The O’Reilly Radar

We should think more deeply about what matters and work on that. Not trivial nonsense, like apps for “throwing sheep on Facebook.” The world’s great challenges are the great opportunities.

Part of a poem by Rilke:

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.

Shai Agassi at the TED conference: Arguments about weaning ourselves off oil are reminiscent of the arguments about “getting off slavery” in 1800s Britain.

Some of the things that seem most important to us today may be getting in our way.

Shows some things that are interesting him, important: NASA-Cisco planetary skin; IBM “A smarter planet”.

Some heroes, setting out to tackle Big Hairy Audacious Goals: Brewster Kahle, Carl Malamud. Data should be available on the web, should not be proprietary. These things are happening at the highest level of government now. Don’t be afraid to dream big.

There’s a new O’Reilly conference in Washington, Gov 2.0 Summit. Obama is the first internet president, wanting to make government work the same as the best of the internet. O’Reilly thinks we have about two years to really make this stuff happen. The big changes in a presidential term happen in the first couple of years.

Watch out for things like: govtrack; (Maybe he meant/said; Vivek Kundra, Obama’s Chief Information Officer.

One of the challenges is to take the long view. The long view idea came to O’Reilly when reading a book years ago, Rissa Kerguelen (1976) by EM Busby (but it might not be a good book). “You don’t actually know the future but you can in fact rise to meet it, even a distant goal.”

The Long Now Foundation started from Brian Eno’s article The Big Here and Long Now. We shouldn’t ignore the wider world, the place outside that we can’t control. We should think about our use of time, the long view and future generations.

Talking about how we need to transform our energy use — a huge job. People say to O’Reilly that he should have more faith in future technologies saving us.

Talks about work Lawrence Wilkinson did on looking at the forecasting of investing in oil drilling, 1980-90. Scenarios were created about how attractive investing in oil drilling could be. It seemed really attractive but only because of a tax break that later disappeared.

Scenario planning should look at the discontinuities, and encourages you not to think about the future as a linear trend but as a bunch of factors that work across each other. He shows an example of a quadrant of extreme situations (Government saves us vs We save ourselves, and Singularity vs Global Economic & Environmental Collapse). Talks about scenario planning as a way to organise your thinking. You need to develop robust strategies that will help you survive no matter what happens.

Choose your own adventure. Find a place that you can make a difference and make it count.

Work on something that matters to you more than money. Quotes from this blog bpost:

At one point, Mark commented that they have a “deliberately unsustainable” business model. In other words: do great stuff while you can, and when you can’t do it anymore, stop. This is the model that governs most businesses and artistic endeavors. It’s the reason terms like “jump the shark” exist. Most companies, rock bands, and sports teams are only brilliant for so long. Then they start to slide. Then they die.

Create more value than you capture. Shows this article, I Knew Bernie Madoff Was Cheating, That’s Why I Invested with Him. There were many people complicit in the collapse of the financial system because they were out for themselves rather than creating value. Recommends the NPR show The Giant Pool of Money.

We have an “orgy of destruction” associated with the foreclosures of homes. People go in and trash a house, steal everything, rip out the pipes, etc. On the other hand, good things happen too: For Sale: The $100 House.

Build a simple system and let it evolve. The first IBM PC. The World Wide Web. Twitter. All were simple. You can make more value by letting people extend your idea.

Be friendly to people who extend you. Google Maps mashups — Google help them along.

Be generous in boosting the work of others. O’Reilly twittering about Venture Hacks bossted his traffic. That’s what publishing is all about, being able to say “look at this, look at this”. [Hmmm.]

O’Reilly (company) motto: “Changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators.”

Related entries


Great keynote wrap up post - I'm a big Overmorgen fan, so hope to bump into you at some point at ETech!!

Cheers - Katie

"Build a simple system and let it evolve." What a beautiful concept: a zen-like synthesis of machine and nature, doing and not doing.

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