February 26, 2004

Focusing on the Future at the 2004 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference

Sebastopol, CA--Technology is inexorably creeping into every corner of our existence, from the mundane to the gee-whiz. Tech innovations have begun to influence presidential campaigns, change how we find dating partners, allow us to lead an "always on" lifestyle, and turn over household chores to robots. But which technologies hold the most promise, have working business models, or fill a true software need? How are technologies developed for specific goals being repurposed for completely unintended applications?

These and many other important computing questions were debated earlier this month at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (aka ETech), held in San Diego, CA. "Two strong themes emerged as we put this conference together," noted program chair Rael Dornfest, "mobility, or 'untethered,' and social software. But one of the delights of ETech is that there are so many interesting technologies that are bubbling up that didn't fit our existing topology. So we also featured sessions on evolutionary computation, geowanking, hardware hacking, and more." Post-session discussions spilled out into hallways and lounges--for some, fellow attendees turned out to be one of the most compelling reasons to be at ETech.

Now in its third year, ETech provides fertile ground for alpha geeks, technorati, and hackers to come together with others on the lookout for the Next Big Computing Thing. Speakers such as Nokia CTO Pertti Korhonen, iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, Marc Smith of Microsoft Research, Bill Janeway of Warburg Pincus, and the Nielsen Norman Group's design guru Don Norman shared the stage, exhibit hall, and Apple AirPort Extreme Lounge with nearly 900 other attendees from organizations like Disney, the BBC, Walmart, Amazon, National Geospacial Intelligence Agency, Qualcomm, Pfizer, Fujitsu Labs, Stanford Medical School, US Defense Department, Oracle, Morgan Stanley, Merck, and Princeton University.

A contingent of tech-savvy and politically inclined attendees spent Monday at the Digital Democracy Teach-In, a timely addition to this year's ETech. Headlined by former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, MoveOn's Wes Boyd, and Scott Heiferman, founder of MeetUp, panelists, journalists, and political grassroots advocates mulled over how new technology is connecting us to each other and to our elected representatives, redefining "politics as usual."

"Your job is to figure out the future," O'Reilly & Associates CEO Tim O'Reilly told the audience in his keynote address, "to help the other users to see the potential in the technology we are working with, to take that technology and kick some butt with it, make interesting things happen; change the world. That's what you're about and that's what we're about here at this conference."

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