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, On Sale October 10 (August 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!

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?"

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

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.

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.