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December 15, 2007, 2:30 PM

The Future of Technology

Participants: Esther Dyson, David Kirkpatrick (moderator), Jaron Lanier, Bernie Meyerson, Ken Perlin

In a world increasingly suffused by technology, how are both technology and the world changing? Our work, communications, social patterns, shopping, education, and health are being changed, and mostly improved, as technology permeates these realms. A recent study concluded that for the first time half the planet's population now possesses a cellphone. The Internet, which may exert an even greater impact on the lives of those who use it, is only available to about 19% of the world's people. But the convergence of the two is happening quickly, as accessing the Net on a mobile phone becomes routine.

Social networks like MySpace and Facebook didn't even exist five years ago. Now they define social experience for an entire generation. Meanwhile, virtual worlds like Second Life and games like World of Warcraft immerse millions in alternative realities, making fiction come alive. And modern life is coming to much of the planet all at once, as people living in remote villages turn on their cellphones and visit the local Internet cafe. Underlying computing technologies continue to improve exponentially. Processing power, storage, and network communication speeds evolve almost faster than our ability to take advantage of them.

So what kind of changes can we expect in coming years? Will we interact in unimagined ways? Will life be better, or worse? What are the geopolitical as well as psychological implications of ever-advancing technological change? Can the mind keep up? Can we recognize our future? This panel brings together computer scientists, investors, inventors and futurists to share visions of the technologized future.

Esther Dyson does business as EDventure, the reclaimed name of the company she owned for 20-odd years before selling it to CNET Networks in 2004. Her primary activity is investing in start-ups and guiding many of them as a board member. Her board seats include 23andMe, Boxbe, Eventful.com, Evernote, Meetup Inc., and NewspaperDirect. Some of her other direct IT investments include Flickr, Del.icio.us, and Orbitz. As a two-time weightless flyer, she is also active in the commercial space/airline start-up world, with investments in Constellation Services, Icon Aircraft, Space Adventures, XCOR Aerospace and Zero-G. She will run the fourth annual Flight School conference, on aviation and commercial space start-ups, next summer.

David Kirkpatrick (moderator) is Senior Editor for Internet and Technology at Fortune magazine and specializes in the computer and technology industries, as well as in the impact of the Internet on business and society.

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author. His current positions include Interdisciplinary Scholar-in-Residence at UC Berkeley's Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology and columnist for Discover Magazine. The focus of his work and research includes biomimetic information architectures, user interfaces, heterogeneous scientific simulations, advanced information systems for medicine, and computational approaches to the fundamentals of physics. He is also the Scholar at Large for Microsoft's Live Labs and the science advisor to Linden Lab, maker of Second Life. Lanier's name is often associated with Virtual Reality research, as he coined the term 'Virtual Reality' and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products.

Bernard Meyerson joined the IBM Research division in 1980 and now serves as Chief Technolgist for IBM's Technology Group and Vice President of the Communications, Research and Development Center. A Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Physical Society, Meyerson holds over 40 patents, and has published several hundred technical papers. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1999 United States Distinguished Inventor of the Year award from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Ken Perlin is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at New York University. He was founding Director of the Media Research Laboratory and also directed the NYU Center for Advanced Technology from 1994-2004. His research interests include graphics, animation, user interfaces, science education and multimedia. In 2006 he recieved the TrapCode award for achievement in computer graphics research and in January 2004 he was the featured artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1997 he won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his noise and turbulence procedural texturing techniques, which are widely used in feature films and television.


Edited Transcript

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Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
leonid polyakov says:
The Future of Technology is pretty much clear in overall terms. In the middle of 70s there were several predictions of technology development in 2000. None was realized. Problem is not in science but in political and social climate. For example: nuclear energetic.
The main problem of future is not the technology progress but the Problems of Society as the result of technology progress. Automation creates problems in the job market. Only serious social reforms can protect society from these problems. What do you think about?
Michael Ignatowski says:
One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion was the idea of the "Social Contract" that regulates our social behavior, and how it is having trouble adjusting to the rapidly changing technology. It's adjusting faster than formal laws though. This is an interesting area for future discussion. I posted other comments at my blog "Provocative Future" at http://provocativefuture.blogspot.com/2007/12/future-of-technology-roundable-at.html
William Malik says:
Do you suppose that an individual could participate in a beneficial psychotherapeutic relationship mediated by an avatar on Second Life? As a medium, virtual reality transcends distance; but would the constraints in a virtual world distort the authenticity of the experience?
Regarding the social networking elements of the discussion, I've posted a note on FaceBook vs. LinkedIn on my blog at http://dontbesoanalytical.blogspot.com and would appreciate comments.
Finally, it was interesting that nobody mentioned Lawrence Lessig's analysis of social governance mechanisms from his book Code. The choices are social pressure, law, economics, and architecture.
The event was quite thought-provoking and David's moderation was deftly done.
David Hoyt says:
I am a college student doing a homework assignment, and I would just like to know if technology would ever go the length of being able to put the human psyche into another reality. Having an avatar like in World of Warcraft is one thing but having your mind in another realtiy, while having the messages from your brain sent to the virtual you. If this were possible some day, how would this effect the buiness of media, especially when dealing with the gaming world.
quashawna stephens says:
Within regards to your questions David, I do believe that some day technology will go as far as being able to the human mind into a virtual reality. That advancement has been foreshadowed by the introduction of 3d technology and the ability to present different platforms. Businesses will always have new and different uses for new technologies. So as far as how they will use it to their advantage is a mystery until the technology is actually presented to them. When the human mind is able to be projected intto another reality that will probably be one of the biggest break throughs in history.

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