Bruce Sterling

Really great speech by Bruce Sterling on IT Conversations — The Internet of Things — from the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference a few months ago. Even if you (read: me) don’t understand what he’s talking about, if you love words you’ll love listening to Bruce Sterling. I love when he says … “I’m very interested in things that can’t happen yet. And the Internet of things can not happen yet. It is not emerging tech. It’s a vast, slow, terrific thing that is trying to emerge. Web 2.0 is emerging tech. The Internet of things, if it happens at all, will probably take about 30 years to happen because that’s how long bar codes took to permeate society, about 30 years.” Sterling says that the experts are still debating the proper terminology to even describe some of these concepts, and that’s one of the challenges — language. “When it comes to remote technical eventualities, you don’t want to freeze your language too early … that prejudices people … because it limits their ability to find and understand the intrinsic advantages of the technology.” And then he goes on from there. Up and down and every which way you could imagine. Really nice stuff.

My favorite bit is this though:

It is morally wrong to evade controversies just because you don’t want anybody confronting you over what you are doing. There is something very snotty about an author who expects only good reviews for his books, and the author of an emergent technology is in the same boat. If nobody is dismissing you as hype, you are not being loud enough. And if nobody thinks what you are doing is dangerous, you are doing something with no power to change the world. You had better fight it out with words before you fight it out with laws because you’ll be in no position to think straight when you suddenly get hauled in front of Congress and confronted for being evil. You need to feed the critics. Don’t feed the crazy ones, but a loyal opposition is hugely valuable.

He uttered that sequence with a deadly serious cadence. Powerful.

I saw Sterling a couple of years ago in San Francisco. He’s great live. He was talking about singularity or something. The speech then was very similar in style to this one. When I listen to this guy I can’t help but think that must of what’s being said out there is just bullshit. And Sterling — who uses really big words to represent complex things I’ve never heard of a lot of the time — somehow sounds really profoundly practical. Wild.


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