Tim O'Reilly
Credit: Peter Adams / Faces of Open Source

Tim O’Reilly

I’ve started to have trouble tracking down my various, scattered writings and interviews on the Net myself, so I decided to create a page where I can find my own words when I want to refer to them. I figured some other people might want to look at this archive as well. In addition, here is my official bio and my short official bio.

WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us - by Tim O'Reilly

My book on technology and the future of the economy

In WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us (Harper Business, October 2017), I share some of the techniques we’ve used at O’Reilly Media to make sense of and predict innovation waves such as open source, web services and the internet as platform, and the maker movement. I apply those same techniques to provide a framework for thinking about how technologies such as world-spanning platforms and networks, on-demand services, and artificial intelligence are changing the nature of business, education, government, financial markets, and the economy as a whole.

The book is a combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action. I draw on lessons from Amazon, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber and Lyft to show how those platforms prosper only when they create more value for their participants than they extract for the platform owner. I also explore how, like those platforms, our economy and financial markets have become increasingly managed by algorithms, and how we must rewrite those algorithms if we wish to create a more human-centered future.

I draw business lessons about the rules for success in "the Next Economy" that can come after our current WTF economy. The fundamental design pattern of success with technology is to enable people to do things that were previously impossible. Companies that only use technology to do less by getting rid of people will be surpassed by those who use it to help them to do more.

Read the book on Safari. Now available at Amazon and booksellers everywhere.

Recent interviews, articles, and talks

WTF? By Tim O'Reilly (October 2017). The folks at Harper Business created this short video with me to promote the launch of my book. Let me know what you think!

An optimist's guide to a future run by machines (Quartz, December 2017).

"In his new book WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, published by Penguin Random House in October, the tech thinker and writer envisions a future in which people, particularly tech and financial executives, make smart, conscientious decisions to harness technology for good…. With the right choices, machines doesn't have to put humans out of jobs. Rather, they could create work—and joy—for us. O'Reilly is keen to stress this ideal future, where AI brings us unimaginable delights and higher standards of livings, can only be achieved if we radically change how we view our economy and capitalist system."

Read the interview here.

Tim O'Reilly says technology too profit-focused (KQED Forum, December 2017).

"Longtime tech insider Tim O'Reilly calls his new book an economic call to action wrapped in a business book wrapped in a memoir. Titled WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, the book argues that technological innovation can only drive positive economic and social change if the public demands prosperity for all."

Listen to the interview here.

Brian Rose interviews Tim O'Reilly (London Real, December 2017).

This far-reaching discussion includes what we can learn from watching the peripheral alpha geeks, envisioning the world of tomorrow by observing today's seemingly small indicators, the role of government in technological breakthroughs, business ethics, secrets, and lessons learned from going through the dot-com crash, the importance of generosity, and reflections on iconic tech industry leaders.

Watch the discussion here. (Access to the video is free, though you will need to register on the site.)

Predicting the future with Silicon Valley "oracle" Tim O'Reilly: The tech veteran has been ahead of the curve for 30 years. Here's how he does it (Management Today, December 2017).

"The traditional narrative now is that innovation is all entrepreneurs and VCs—that really misses the point. Innovation often comes in markets that people don't expect, starting with people who are enthusiasts. I always pay attention to those kinds of people."
"Of the great entrepreneurs I know, there are some who were seriously intent on becoming entrepreneurs—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos. But Larry [Page] and Sergiy [Brin] were just trying to do something interesting. We under-rate the accidental entrepreneur, who makes something happen because they love what they do and think there's a problem worth solving. Google's greatest achievements were when they were motivated by access to all of the world’s information."

Read the complete interview.

Tim O'Reilly on What's The Future (WTF?) (Future2 podcast, December 2017).

Topics discussed:

  • The Book: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us
  • Whether companies like Amazon and Facebook are capturing more value than they’re creating and are they becoming dangerously monopolistic
  • Why traditional maps of the world such as financial statements and short-term shareholder value need to be revisited
  • What Tim thinks about the FCC winding back net neutrality
  • What businesses need to think about to map out their business model for the next economy
  • Will technology take our jobs?
  • AI and its impact on humanity
  • Government 2.0

Listen to the podcast here.

Can a society ruled by complex computer algorithms let new ideas in? (Jim Daly's analysis of Tim O'Reilly's appearance Reinvent's What's Now: San Francisco, November 2017).

O'Reilly asks a simple question, not just about the platform economy, but about any new or powerful technology: "Will it help us build the kind of society we want to live in?"

Read the commentary and watch the accompanying video clips here. A video of the complete Reinvent discussion is available here.

Tim O'Reilly—The Trend Spotter (The Tim Ferriss Show, November 2017).

"Money is like gas during a road trip. You don't want to run out of gas on your trip, but you're not doing a tour of gas stations."

Listen to the podcast here.

Robot workers will improve everyone's lives, not just the rich, according to Tim O'Reilly (Business Insider, November 2017).

"What do rich people do today? First off, they have great education with small class sizes, intensive teaching, they have concierge medicine. They have incredible opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the good life. Why wouldn't we want that for everybody? If we had the machines doing more of the work we could all live like rich people and that I think is kind of the vision."

Watch the video or read the transcript here.

People power, not robots, will overcome humanity's challenges (Financial Times, October 2017).

"We are in the thrall of an economic theory that says that wages and working conditions are entirely subject to inevitable laws of supply and demand, not recognising the rules and incentives we have created that ruthlessly allocate the benefit of increased productivity to the owners of capital and to consumers in the form of lower prices, but dictate that human workers are a cost to be eliminated. Judged by the hollowing out of modern economies, there is something wrong with that theory."

Read the article and listen to the audio clip here.

Tim O'Reilly says the economy is running on the wrong algorithm (Wired, October 2017).

We've got the economy running on the wrong algorithm. That's according to Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and Silicon Valley's favourite futurist, who argues that optimisation for corporate profits above all else—and often at the cost of jobs—is becoming untenable. "We've forgotten that if we don’t pay people, they can't buy our products; they can't respond to our ads," he says. "So there's a problem with the algorithm that we’re using to run modern businesses."

Tim O'Reilly: 'Generosity is the thing that is at the beginning of prosperity' (Interview in The Guardian, October 2017).

Tim O'Reilly believes we need to have a reset. This means more coming from him than it does from most people. The 63-year-old CEO, born in Ireland and raised in San Francisco, is one of the most influential pioneers and thinkers of the internet age. His publishing company, O'Reilly Media, began producing computer manuals in the late 1970s and he has been early to spot many influential tech trends ever since: open-source software, web 2.0, wifi, the maker movement and big data among them. His new book, WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, looks at work and how jobs will change in a world shaped by technology. It is sometimes hard not to be pessimistic about what's coming over the hill, but he is convinced that our destiny remains in human hands.

Read the interview here.

If Facebook makes you mad, it could be what you're clicking (CNN Tech, October 2017).

"Tech entrepreneur Tim O'Reilly tells CNN Tech's Laurie Segall why we're responsible for letting machines replace people in the workforce and how we have the power to fix it."

Re-evaluating the economics of tech (Marketplace, October 2017).

"I could see coming years ago that people were increasingly afraid of technology. And optimism about the future has been a huge, driving positive force in the economy. And once we become afraid of technology, we become afraid of progress. Bad things happen. And I feel that the tech industry deserves some of the blame for that. Because all we've been talking about is disruption—what we're going to destroy. And the kinds of values that are often espoused by the tech industry really are an anathema to the main street economy in which many people live."

Listen to the complete interview by Marketplace Tech's Molly Wood.

Tech entrepreneur asks "WTF? What's the future?" (The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, October 2017).

"I'm really sick and tired of hearing that the robots are going to take our jobs. They're only going to do that if that's what we tell them to do. And a lot of what we have to think about is: how are we telling them that? Why are we telling them that? And what do we do about it?"

"WTF?" author Tim O'Reilly says tech and business elites are setting the world up for "war and revolution" (Recode Decode podcast with Kara Swisher, October 2017).

"O'Reilly fears that today's prevailing philosophy of elevating profit above all other goals is setting the entire economy down a dangerous path. When Wall Street's priorities come before society's, he said, the financial markets become a 'rogue AI,' making choices that are ultimately bad for us."

Listen to the podcast here

Tim O'Reilly on why the future probably won't be all that terrible: Economies as AI, humans as gut bacteria for tech, and how the Luddites got it wrong (Ars Technica, October 2017).

"Tim foresees smooth sailing if society can better provide for those being left behind. In this, he cites the bogeymen of all tech optimists, the Luddites. But he suffuses his discussion of them with both empathy and optimism. Not the blind optimism of the naïve. Not the self-serving optimism of the wealthy libertarian. But the fact-based optimism of a thoughtful technologist who is, at bottom, a realist."

Read Rob Reid's article here.

Listen to Rob's After On podcast to to hear his complete interview with Tim.

Algorithms have already gone rogue (Wired interview by Steven Levy, October 2017).

"If you think about the internet as weaving all of us together, transmitting ideas, in some sense an AI might be the equivalent of a multicellular being, and we're its microbiome, as opposed to the idea that an AI will be like the golem or the Frankenstein [monster]. If that's the case, the systems we are building today, like Google and Facebook and financial markets, are really more important than the fake ethics of worrying about some far future AI. We tend to be afraid of new technology, and we tend to demonize it, but to me, you have to use it as an opportunity for introspection. Our fears ultimately should be of ourselves and other people."

Read the complete interview—and find out why financial markets are the first rogue AI—here

Tim O'Reilly's Vision of the Future (BBC World Service podcast Click, October 2017).

"Technology does what we ask it to. But it's a little bit like the genies of Arabian mythology. We don't quite know what we're asking, and it almost always turns out that we didn't ask the question quite right. So Facebook didn't mean to create hyperpartisanship in America, for example. They didn't mean to create avenues for fake news, for spammers, for foreign agents to interfere in the US election, but they did. And we expect them to work on their algorithms; we expect them to work on their business process; we expect them to fix it. But here's the core idea that's so important. Our entire economy is run by algorithms..."

Listen to the podcast here.

Mapping the future with Tim O'Reilly (Interview on the Soonish podcast, October 2017).

When Tim O'Reilly talks, Silicon Valley listens. In this special episode, O'Reilly tells us about his new book WTF, which argues that the technology industry has become tone-deaf—and that the only way to avoid mass technological unemployment and achieve shared prosperity is to rethink the algorithms that govern our whole economy.

Listen to the podcast here.

Harry Potter. Tim O'Reilly. Tove Jansson (BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, interview with Anne McElvoy, October 2017).

"I think that our financial markets are also one of these kind of AIs that we're living within; an algorithmic system that tells companies what to do. And 30, 40 years ago we started telling companies 'Optimize for share price above all else. Treat people as a cost to be eliminated.' That sounds a lot like the most dystopian versions of AI. 'Get rid of people.'"

Listen to the complete interview here.

Breaking up tech: Regulators increasingly are challenging Facebook, Amazon, and Google on how they're managing their dominant market positions (Barron's cover story, October 2017).

If these giants get sideswiped, it could be because of the fatal flaw in large tech companies that's often drawn social ire and regulation—the will to exploit their dominance. "The biggest thing they're vulnerable to is that they work too hard to protect their existing businesses," says O'Reilly. "That's always where companies get it wrong—Microsoft got it wrong, IBM before them got it wrong—they basically did things to extract money from customers rather than benefit customers," he says. How the current tech titans meet this challenge likely will determine how shareholders fare as well.

Read the full story here.

a16z Podcast: Platforming the future (From Andreessen Horowitz, October 2017).

In this hallway-style podcast conversation, O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly and a16z partner Benedict Evans discuss how we make sense of the most recent wave of new technologies—technologies that are perhaps more transformative than any we’ve seen before—and how we think about the capabilities they might have that we haven’t yet even considered&hgellip; We are also in the midst of so much foundational change happening so fast, that we as a society have some very large questions—and answers—to consider.

Listen to the podcast here

Tim O'Reilly on the future of technology (Video interview with James Maguire of Datamation on the Emerging Tech podcast, October 2017).

"The kinds of jobs that we have to understand may be part of our future may require different kinds of skills. When you think about AI routinizing being an analyst at a bank..or some of the clerical stuff, that's machine work. But think about being a good teacher. Think about being a good caregiver. These are things that we actually don't value very highly, and maybe we should be valuing them more highly."

Watch the interview here.

Reality is an activity of the most august imagination: A conversation with Tim O'Reilly (Edge, October 2017).

"Our job is to imagine a better future, because if we can imagine it, we can create it. But it starts with that imagination. The future that we can imagine shouldn't be a dystopian vision of robots that are wiping us out, of climate change that is going to destroy our society. It should be a vision of how we will rise to the challenges that we face in the next century, that we will build an enduring civilization, and that we will build a world that is better for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It should be a vision that we will become one of those long-lasting species rather than a flash in the pan that wipes itself out because of its lack of foresight."

You can see how poetry, history, technology, and science are all telling us the same thing: "Make it new!" Watch the full interview here.

The secret of happiness and living a good life: "Make tea. Empty dishwasher. Hang laundry." (Thrive Global, October 2017).

Read Tim's responses to the Thrive Questionnaire, an ongoing series that provides an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world's most successful people.

The new world of work: A forum at the Churchill Club (Interviewed by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Silicon Valley Correspondent at the Washington Post, September 2017).

"We are seeing an economy increasingly dominated by giant platforms, and we have to start thinking about how do those platforms invigorate and enrich our society rather than just enrich their creators."

Watch the video here.

The Future and Why We Should "Work on Stuff that Matters" (Interview by Gretchen Rubin, October 2017).

"'Investors' are not really investors. They are bettors in the financial market casino, while the world's great problems—and the people who could be solving them—are no longer seen as the proper focus for investment. We have told our companies to optimize for 'the bottom line,' while treating people as a cost to be eliminated. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build an economy that treats people as an asset to invest in."

Read the complete interview here.

Tim O'Reilly Says Don't Eat the Ecosystem, a Lesson for Voice Platforms (Interview on the VoiceFirst Roundtable podcast with host Bradley Metrock, September 2017).

"The book is really a meditation on what we learn from the great technology platforms about the future of the economy. And one of the key things that we learn is that these platforms…can't just serve their users. They have to actually create a rich ecosystem of suppliers."

Listen to the podcast here.

Ethics are fundamental to a company (CNBC Squawk Box, September 2017). In response to host Jon Fortt’s question about whether companies need a chief ethics officer:

"No. The CEO must be the chief ethics officer!"

Facebook Live video capture from Airbnb headquarters (September 2017). The second episode of Airbnb's Book Series, beamed out to Airbnb hosts around the world, featured a discussion of relevant themes from WTF?

"If in fact the future belongs to networked platforms, they actually have to become a source of employment; they have to become a source of income. It doesn't have to be the traditional job, but we do have to build this great circulatory system in which people get paid and create things that other people want, and that is the heart of what we call an economy."

Watch the video here.

Tech innovator Tim O'Reilly: Don't fear technology, robots or the future (The Press Democrat, September 2017).

"Right now I'm optimistic about the subject of jobs. What I'm not optimistic about are the moral values of business. You realize that our financial markets also are in an algorithmic system with an objective function, which is to maximize shareholder value. We actually just created our own rogue AI. The reason it is the most important one is because Google and Facebook and all the other AIs are answerable to it. That's why in some sense the financial markets are the master AI."

Read the full interview here.

Tim O'Reilly thinks focusing less on shareholders might just save the world (TechCrunch, September 2017).

"Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media and author of a new book, 'WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us,' thinks a lot of (Silicon Valley's) problems could be solved if only big tech would focus a little less on profits and more on enabling other companies to be built atop of, or in partnership, with their platforms. In fact, his book, which is part memoir and part case study, is largely an entreaty to do things differently before it's too late."

Read the full interview here.

Roundtable with Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, and Bryce Roberts (August 2017). When I mentioned on Twitter what a great time I'd had at lunch in Chicago with Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of Basecamp, CEO and CTO, respectively), Bryce Roberts (my partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and the founder of Indie.vc) asked us to get together for a live indie.vc webcast. Basecamp and O'Reilly Media have been in business for nearly two and four decades, respectively. Both companies remain independent and profitable to this day. We have built our businesses on our own terms, from day one, without venture capital. In this one-hour live discussion, we talked about what it's like to run a tech business outside of Silicon Valley and the advantages of bootstrapping a business and staying in it for the long haul rather than taking VC money and entering the race for the exits.

The Future of Economic Leadership (July 2017). The World Affairs Council produced a short video of my thoughts on the lessons of the US government's post-WWII spending program, which fueled an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity across the country. While the challenges we face today are enormous—climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and a growing wealth gap among them—bold government leadership can provide solutions that will make the nation stronger. "The leadership we need is not 'Let's somehow encourage the market through some magic fairy dust to produce jobs.' It's to exert leadership about what needs doing!"

Uber's Scandal Provides a Chance to Remake Silicon Valley (Wired.com, 6/29/17). I reflect on Uber's scandals and consequent management turmoil, and put them in the larger context of the incentives that lead to bad behavior:

"The saddest thing about Uber is that it isn't an exception. It is what we get when we tell companies that creating shareholder value is the primary goal of an organization. Creating real value for customers, workers, and society becomes secondary to creating value for investors."

Live from the Aspen Ideas Festival. I talked with NY Times bestselling author Charles Duhigg about my forthcoming book in a Facebook Live broadcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 29, 2017. We talked about some of the key messages in my book, but also reflect on some of the ideas in Charles' book The Power of Habit and how they relate to anxiety about AI and the rise of Trump.

Charles and I also did a more formal interview about my book at the Festival the next day, enlivened by an active Q&A with audience participants including Steve Case, whose "Rise of the Rest" tour is exploring entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley. In addition, I participated in a number of panels, including one on The Future of Intelligence with Gary Marcus, Michael Chui, and Erik Schatzker. (That one drilled down into industries most likely to be affected first by AI.)

Do More: What Amazon Teaches Us About AI and the "Jobless Future" (Medium, June 2017). I reflect on the fact that Amazon added hundreds of thousands of warehouse workers at the same time as they added 45,000 warehouse robots. Rather than simply pursuing efficiency, Amazon has upped the ante, improving their speed of delivery (which is now same-day for many products in some locations) and continuing to drive what Jeff calls "the flywheel" of Amazon's success.

"Amazon reminds us again and again that it isn't technology that eliminates jobs, it is the short-sighted business decisions that use technology simply to cut costs and fatten corporate profits.

This is the master design pattern for applying technology: Do more. Do things that were previously unimaginable."

Hey Silicon Valley: President Obama has a to-do list for you (Wired, November 2016).

"The best way for the tech industry to tackle inequality is for it to do what it's supposed to do: innovate in ways that create actual gains in growth and productivity—that don't just replace people but empower them to do what was previously impossible."

Read the full article here.

My talk at the White House Frontiers Conference. I opened for President Obama at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh (October 2016), talking about the lessons of the first industrial revolution for the AI driven future. I thought it was pretty cool that the White House comms team approved a talk with the title WTF? They gulped, but then said OK.

Discussion with McKinsey's James Manyika about The Next Economy. I discuss my ideas about the Next Economy with James Manyika, senior partner at McKinsey & Company and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Part one discusses what I consider the central design pattern of technology: to enable people to do things that were previously impossible, resulting in new kinds of productivity. But I worry that "We have created an extractive economy. We have abandoned the idea that growth is only good if it leads to prosperity for all." In part two, James and I talk about the applications of this design pattern to business.

Why we'll never run out of jobs. Excerpt from my talk at the O'Reilly AI Conference, 9/26/16. The full talk is available on Safari.

A deficit of idealism. In July 2016, I spoke with John Battelle about why I believe that is not just the obligation, but also the self-interest of every company, to build a robust society. I also discuss why I called my book "WTF," how to ensure that tech's role in society is as a force for good, how I feel about the B Corp designation, and the magic of unicorns. One of the nice things that John did is provide a transcript along with the video! This is probably one of the best condensed presentations of my key ideas on the subject of tech and the economy.

Makers and Takers. I interviewed Rana Foroohar at the World Affairs Council (June 2016). I loved Rana's book, Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, and we enjoyed a wide ranging conversation about the role of the financial industry in the rise of inequality in America and around the world.

Let's optimize for the long term An interview with Peter Leyden, founder of the Reinventors Network. "Let's stop optimizing for the short-term. Let's start optimizing for the long-term, and think about how to make the society we want," I said. I acknowledge that technology may be destroying jobs today, but only because we've built incentives into our economy to encourage those choices.

Archive of interviews/articles

Organized in reverse chronological order within each subject, with a brief extract from each piece so you can get the flavor without actually following each link.

Top blog, medium, and LinkedIn posts

For the past several years, a lot of my writing and speaking has been about technology and the future of work - what I've sometimes called the Next:Economy. I have been posting many of these essays to Medium in a publication I curate called The WTF Economy. Many of them also appear on oreilly.com and LinkedIn. Some of the key posts (in reverse chronological order) include Do More: What Amazon Teaches Us About AI and the "Jobless Future", Wall Street Made Me Do It, This is Strictly a Business Decision, Don't Replace People, Augment Them, Machine Money and People Money, What Paul Graham is Missing About Inequality, We've Got This Whole Unicorn Thing Wrong, Workers in a World of Continuous Partial Employment, and Networks and the Nature of the Firm.

Additional relevant posts on this topic published elsewhere include Uber's Scandal Provides a Chance to Remake Silicon Valley (Wired) and Managing the Bots That Are Managing the Business (MIT Sloan Management Review).

I've also written several recent articles about voice UI and UX, notably What Would Alexa Do? and What Should Alexa Do?

I've written several articles about fake news, including Media in the Age of Algorithms and How I Detect Fake News.

Some other key posts I've written over the years that have stood the test of time include Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles, Piracy is Progressive Taxation, Pascal's Wager and Climate Change, Government as a Platform, and Open Data and Algorithmic Regulation.

Many other articles, interviews, and talks of historical interest are collected in the thematic sections below. Most notable are The Open Source Paradigm Shift, What is Web 2.0?, and Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On.