TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Distributing the Future

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Emerging Technology

Distributing the Future

The O'Reilly Etech 2003 Conference

by Vicki Brown

    "The Future is here; it's just not evenly distributed yet"

    - William Gibson

Innovation Showcase

If asked to say what O'Reilly & Associates does, most people would probably answer that they publish books and run technical conferences. If pressed for more, some might add that the company performs market research, technology advocacy, and technology incubation. Tim O'Reilly, founder and president of O'Reilly & Associates, sees the company's goal as something much broader: "Changing the world by capturing the knowledge of innovators".

To achieve this goal, O'Reilly must be constantly on the watch for innovation, finding new, transformative technologies that they can catalyze. They accomplish this by:

  • Knowing what's cool and important and evangelizing it

  • Recognizing "alpha geeks" (techies that are consistently ahead of the curve) and leveraging their expertise

  • Reducing the learning curve and enhancing the depth and quality of information about new technologies

  • Listening to and speaking up for the interests of user and developer communities

  • Brokering dialogue between competitors in the interest of open standards

  • Exercising common sense

Tim is an avid follower of technology and technologists. He continually seeks out interesting people and ideas, then works to "amplify their effectiveness by spreading the information needed for others to follow them". One place where much of the newest, coolest, most transformative technology is showcased is the annual O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (http://conferences.oreilly.com/etcon).

In his conference session entitled The O'Reilly Radar, Tim explained the philosophy outlined above and argued that the most interesting emerging technologies meet the following criteria:

  • the technologies are "disruptive"; disruptive technologies cause changes to the way we think and work

  • their uptake (adoption) is accelerating

  • they have grassroots (bottom-up) support; support from a few large institutions is less important than support by the larger developer and user communities

  • there's a real need for information

  • the technologies have professional practitioners (with real-world applications)

  • they provide a possible business ecology

  • they have deeper social implications

  • they inspire passion

For the attendees, organizers, and presenters at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference, the future is definitely here. For one week in April, Etech 2003 distributed some of that future.

Day One

The first talk I attended, entitled Biological Computing, was presented by Eric Bonabeau of Icosystem Corporation. The content of the presentation wasn't anything like what I thought I expected. Attendees were treated to a fascinating discussion of biological "swarm" computer models - how to use ideas gained from observing ant colonies, bees, wasps, etc. to make new and efficient computer systems. The ideas were described as "simple rules" and "bottom-up modeling". They sound simple, but they work. When Southwest Airlines applied these models to their air cargo transport, they improved their efficiency by 70% and saved millions of dollars, by using a "traveling sales ant" algorithm.

After lunch, there was a presentation for an Open Source semantic search engine project, given by a speaker from NITLE (the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education). The presentation was made even more interesting because the initial set of data used for the project was from Steven Johnson's book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. More swarms... apparently there are (no?) coincidences in the area of "emerging technologies".

We then stopped by to chat with the folks at the Internet Archive Bookmobile. The Internet Archive is collaborating with numerous libraries to digitize as many texts and books as possible, The Bookmobile is making "out of print" (and/or out of copyright) books available to people one book at a time from the back of a well-equipped minivan containing an HP duplexing color printer, a couple of laptops, a desktop binding machine, and a paper cutter.

The Bookmobile is a demo of a public domain application. It addresses the basic question: "What good is the public domain?" One thing the public domain excels at is cost reduction. The folks in the bookmobile project estimate that they can print and bind a book for less than it costs a library to lend out and re-shelve that same book. (Of course, this doesn't apply to books currently under copyright, but it's an interesting idea all the same!)

Day Two

The first keynote speaker of the second day was Alan Kay, one of the inventors of SmallTalk. He gave a well-attended talk on User Interface history, entitled Daddy, Are We There Yet, complete with video clips. Many of the things we take for granted today were in research labs 40 years ago... yet some of what was in those labs still hasn't made its way into currently available computing interfaces.

The second keynote, Personal Interfaces, was presented by Kevin Lynch of Macromedia. The talk focused on what Macromedia is doing to turn Flash (originally an animation engine) into a much more functional development system. The result will be the ability to create desktop Internet applications that will still work even after being disconnected from the Internet.

The third keynote was an energetic and very interesting discussion of social structure and social software, with the intriguing title, A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. This talk was presented by Clay Shirky. Clay has achieved a place on my short list of "must hear" speakers - no matter what the topic, if he's speaking, attend the talk!

Social software is software that supports group interaction. Prior to the Internet, the last invention that really affected the way people communicate with each other in groups was the table. Today we have forums, email, wikis, IRC, and more; all work to one extent or another, supporting some form of social communication patterns. As Internet "grouping" has become easier and more popular, we have passed the mid-scale groups sizes where people can easily have conversations and get things done.

Using real-life examples, Clay showed how groups start out, grow, change and (sometimes) destroy themselves from within. Every group eventually reaches a "constitutional crisis". How the group handles (or mis-handles) that crisis determines its survival. Although our software is technical, groups are social; group interactions (and problems that arise as the result of those interactions) cannot be handled in a strictly technical manner. In group interactions, social and technical issues are inextricably intertwined.

Day Three

We missed the first keynote on the third day, but caught the second. Google, Innovation, and the Web was presented by Craig Silverstein, the first employee hired by Google's founders and now Google's Director of Technology. The talk really impressed me. Google, Inc. combines careful hiring practices, a short but articulate mission statement, innovation, experimentation, focus on user experience, and a firm understanding of the need for process. Not only that, they have been successful with this combination and believe they will continue to be successful. Here's a company that actively pursues code reviews, status updates, engineer testing, and product maintenance - and they admit it in front of an audience.

Eric Drexler's keynote provided a fascinating, animated discussion of the past, present, and possible futures of nanotechnology, entitled Nanotechnology: Bringing Digital Control to Matter. He began with an interesting question: What is the main digital storage system on the laptop computer in front of you? The surprising answer: It's not the hard disk. It's the DNA in the myriad bacteria that are contaminating the surface of the machine and its parts.

Nanotechnology can harness and combine principles demonstrated by the bacteria; principles demonstrated in nature by chemical reactions, biological systems, and physics, as well as the principles of computer science. The starting point in understanding what nanotechnology can be is to realize a fundamental principle: If a given thing exists, things like that other thing are possible. Nature shows us that molecular machine systems can exist: cheaply, cleanly, and working with molecular precision.

If you are interested in the future of nanotechnology, take a look at the sites for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology as well as Dr. Drexler's organization, the Foresight Institute.

Mac OS X Innovators Contest

The O'Reilly Mac OS X Innovators Contest debuted in March and received nearly 100 entries for its first round of competition. Winners were announced on the second day of the conference, with a reception that evening.

Second prize was awarded to Rob Beale for Spring, described as a "wildly innovative universal canvas". First prize was awarded to Brent Simmons for NetNewsWire, considered "one of the most popular new apps for Mac OS X".

Closing Thoughts

This was easily one of the best conferences I have attended in some time. No session that I attended was quite what I thought I expected going in. Every session gave me something to think about and to discuss for days afterwards. No session was boring or uninteresting. I think this is the first conference I have attended where I can truly make all of those claims.

As the week ended, I was already wondering what technology will be emerging next year. I'll be at the 2004 conference to learn more. You should be sure to attend, too.

References

Session summaries and follow-up coverage of Etech 2003:

http://conferences.oreilly.com/etcon

Information on past and future O'Reilly conferences:

http://conferences.oreilly.com

Swarm Intelligence: An interview with Eric Bonabeau:

http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2003/02/21/bonabeau.html

The National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education: http://nitle.org

The Internet Archive Bookmobile: http://archive.org

Lessons from the Internet bookmobile:

http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2002/10/18/bookmobile

Social Software and the Politics of Groups:

http://shirky.com/writings/group_politics.html

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: http://crnano.org

The Foresight Institute: http://www.foresight.org/

Mac OS X Innovators Contest:

http://www.macdevcenter.com/pub/a/mac/developer/2003/04/24/innovators.html

Spring: http://www.usercreations.com/spring/

NetNewsWire: http://ranchero.com/


Vicki Brown has been happily following the latest emerging technologies since the early 1980's. Some of her favorites include Unix, Mac OS, PDAs, and the WWW. She can't wait to see what emerges next year.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cyberduck 4.7.1 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
PDFpen 7.2 - Edit and annotate PDFs with...
We're also offering PDFpenPro for 30% off! PDFpen allows users to easily edit PDF's. Add text, images and signatures. Fill out PDF forms. Merge or split PDF documents. Reorder and delete pages. Even... Read more
Skype 7.9.746 - Voice-over-internet phon...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
Apple GarageBand 10.1 - Complete recordi...
The new GarageBand is a whole music creation studio right inside your Mac -- complete with keyboard, synths, orchestral and percussion instruments, presets for guitar and voice, an entirely... Read more
Duplicate Annihilator 5.7.7 - Find and d...
Duplicate Annihilator takes on the time-consuming task of comparing the images in your iPhoto library using effective algorithms to make sure that no duplicate escapes. Duplicate Annihilator... Read more
OS X Server 4.1.3 - For OS X 10.10 Yosem...
Designed for OS X and iOS devices, OS X Server makes it easy to share files, schedule meetings, synchronize contacts, develop software, host your own website, publish wikis, configure Mac, iPhone,... Read more
Firefox 39.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
pwSafe 4.1 - Secure password management...
pwSafe provides simple and secure password management across devices and computers. pwSafe uses iCloud to keep your password databases backed-up and synced between Macs and iOS devices. It is... Read more
Kodi 15.0.rc1 - Powerful media center to...
Kodi (was XBMC) is an award-winning free and open-source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub that can be installed on Linux, OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android, featuring a 10-foot user... Read more
Coda 2.5.11 - One-window Web development...
Coda is a powerful Web editor that puts everything in one place. An editor. Terminal. CSS. Files. With Coda 2, we went beyond expectations. With loads of new, much-requested features, a few surprises... Read more

This Week at 148Apps: June 29-July 3, 20...
Into July With 148Apps How do you know what apps are worth your time and money? Just look to the review team at 148Apps. We sort through the chaos and find the apps you're looking for. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out above the... | Read more »
Sonic Runners Guide
Despite its flaws, Sonic Runners' platforming action is actually quite fun. Though it can be a little more complicated than old-school Sonic games. Here's how to make sure you're up to speed when jumping in. [Read more] | Read more »
Rage of Bahamut is Giving Almost All of...
The App Store isn't what it used to be back in 2012, so it's not unexpected to see some games changing their structures with the times. Now we can add Rage of Bahamut to that list with the recent announcement that the game is severely cutting back... | Read more »
Adventures of Pip (Games)
Adventures of Pip 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** ONE WEEK ONLY — 66% OFF! *** “Adventures of Pip is a delightful little platformer full of charm, challenge and impeccable... | Read more »
Divide By Sheep - Tips, Tricks, and Stre...
Who would have thought splitting up sheep could be so involved? Anyone who’s played Divide by Sheep, that’s who! While we’re not about to give you complete solutions to everything (because that’s just cheating), we will happily give you some... | Read more »
NaturalMotion and Zynga Have Started Tea...
An official sequel to 2012's CSR Racing is officially on the way, with Zynga and NaturalMotion releasing a short teaser trailer to get everyone excited. Well, as excited as one can get from a trailer with no gameplay footage, anyway. [Read more] | Read more »
Grab a Friend and Pick up Overkill 3, Be...
Overkill 3 is a pretty enjoyable third-person shooter that was sort of begging for some online multiplayer. Fortunately the begging can stop, because its newest update has added an online co-op mode. [Read more] | Read more »
Scanner Pro's Newest Update Adds Au...
Scanner Pro is one of the most popular document scanning apps on iOS, thanks in no small part to its near-constant updates, I'm sure. Now we're up to update number six, and it adds some pretty handy new features. [Read more] | Read more »
Heroki (Games)
Heroki 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $7.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: CLEAR THE SKIES FOR A NEW HERO!The peaceful sky village of Levantia is in danger! The dastardly Dr. N. Forchin and his accomplice,... | Read more »
Wars of the Roses (Games)
Wars of the Roses 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished Mac minis available startin...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $80 off... Read more
College Student Deals: Additional $100 off Ma...
Take an additional $100 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through August 8, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take... Read more
Sky Atlas Star Walk 2 App For iPhone And iPa...
Vito Technology, developer of educational apps for Android and iOS, is for a limited time offering free of charge their Star Walk 2, the next generation of the company’s best-selling stargazing guide... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz MacBook Air on sale for $849,...
Amazon has the 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99 including free shipping. Their price is $150 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Adorama has the 13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
Updated Mac Price Trackers
We’ve updated our Mac Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers: - 15″ MacBook Pros - 13″ MacBook... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has new 2015 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $225 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1819 $180 off - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina... Read more
RamDisk4Mac App Helps Run Your Mac Faster And...
Ever use a RAM disk? If you’ve come to the Mac in the OS X era, likely not. The Classic Mac OS had a RAM disk function built-in, but that was dropped in the conversion to OS X. What is a RAM disk?... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz MacBook Air on sale for $849,...
Best Buy has the 2015 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99 on their online store this weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders... Read more
Apple Refurbished iMacs available for up to $...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $380 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac – $1949 $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
Senior Payments Security Manager - *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple , Inc. is looking for a highly motivated, innovative and hands-on senior payments security manager to join the Apple Pay security team. You will Read more
Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Sr. Payment Program Manager, *Apple* Pay -...
**Job Summary** Apple Pay is an exciting environment and a…devices in a simple, private and secure way. The Apple Pay Team is looking for an experienced Senior Read more
Project Manager - *Apple* Pay Security - Ap...
**Job Summary** The Apple Pay Security team is seeking a highly organized, results-driven Project Manager to drive the development of Apple Pay Security. If you are Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.