TECHNOLOGY AND US
TIME: WHAT INNOVATION WILL MOST ALTER HOW WE LIVE IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
TIM O'REILLY, publisher and technology advocate: Collective intelligence. Think of how Wikipedia works, how Amazon harnesses user annotation on its site, the way photo-sharing sites like Flickr are bleeding out into other applications. I think we're at the first stages of something that will be profoundly different from anything we have seen before, in terms of the ability of connected computers to deliver results. We're entering an era in which software learns from its users and all of the users are connected.
DON'T WE ALSO RUN THE RISK OF HARNESSING OUR COLLECTIVE IDIOCY? EVERYONE WHO HAS BEEN ON THE WEB KNOWS THAT THE RATIO OF SIGNAL TO NOISE IS NOT ALWAYS OPTIMAL.
O'REILLY: Right, but remember what Google did. They basically said, let's look at what all the millions of individual users are linking to, and let's use that information to get the good stuff to float to the top. That turned out to be a very powerful idea, the ramifications of which we're exploring in other areas, such as with tagging on Flickr or blogs. People are finding more ways to have the wisdom of crowds filter that signal-to-noise.
MARK DERY, author and cultural critic: I find the fetishization of the wisdom of crowds fascinating. It has a whiff of '90s cyberhype about it. I'm fascinated by the way in which it contrasts with individual subjectivity. A lot of technologies, such as Flickr, blogging, the iPod, seem to turn the psyche inside out, to extrude the private self into the public sphere. You have people walking down the street listening to iPods, seemingly oblivious to the world, singing. More and more, we're alone in public.
SO IS THE INTERNET TRULY CREATING CONNECTIONS AMONG PEOPLE? OR DIVIDING US AS WE HIDE INSIDE OUR PRIVATE SHELLS?
MOBY, pioneering electronic musician: I have a friend whose Swedish mother--she's in her mid-60s--goes online to meet men. I was with my friend as he drove her to the Hilton to meet a Canadian doctor she'd encountered online, and I thought, How disconcerting. Because it was 10 at night and most likely she was going to meet this guy and stay in his hotel room. Go back 50 years, and she would have been in her Swedish village, depressed, a bit lonely and sad. Instead she's in midtown Manhattan, preparing to spend the night with a doctor, and her son is driving her to the hotel!
O'REILLY: There's also more communication even in apparent isolation. Think about the private bubble people live in. Kids spend a lot of time alone in front of their phone, their TV, their computer. But they are also communicating in new ways, and I suspect most of us in this room maintain communication with a group that is far larger, far more geographically diverse than we ever would have known without technology.