The Digital Revolution Roadshow: Vilnius

pieterhpieterh wrote on 18 Nov 2013 15:23


On 9th December 2013 I'll be giving the opening keynote at Build Stuff '13, in Vilnius, Lithuania. I'll also be giving a technical talk in the conference itself, so this is a rare occasion to come and heckle me not once, but twice in a day. This is an awesome conference, with over 50 speakers in three days. If you bring a copy of any of my books, I'll sign them for you. Here is the abstract for my keynote…

Our business is making stuff, changing the world in a trillion tiny steps. Yet how often do we stop and think about the impact? Entire empires were built on the assumption of costly technology. From sending telegraphs, distributing music, to running newspapers and TV stations, expensive communications has made many people very wealthy. And we've made this dirt cheap over the years, so cheap that I can start a TV station from my mobile phone. There are already over two billion people with smartphones, and five billion more with older phones, waiting their turn.

Human society is becoming one, connected in real time, over the whole planet. It is a shocking historical moment, one our parents could not dream of, and our children will take for granted. Ten billion minds will come online, and join together in a chaotic, noisy, yet connected global society. If there is ever a way to solve the old problems of poverty, hunger, disease, and war, this is it. If you believe, as I do, in our power to work together to solve difficult challenges, the digital revolution must fill you with joy and wonder.

And yet, as this wondrous experiment in cheap communications explodes, it is making some powerful people extremely nervous, angry, and hostile. New business deflates old money. New media says what the established media cannot. New wisdoms threaten old narratives. New power threatens old political agreements. Global digital society has moved past "amusing experiment" into "clear and present danger", and the response that is coming will be harsh.

This is partly our mess, as technologists, since we decided it would be fun to hook computers together over phone lines to discuss cats and send ASCII art. We started this, by convincing businesses to invest in the Internet and the Web. We kept buying shiny new gadgets and writing amazing new software, not realizing that we were starting a digital revolution that would involve billions of people. We didn't realize that the Internet we built would turn into an all seeing, all hearing policeman. My dad refused for fifteen years to use the Internet, saying "I don't trust that stuff," and recently I had to tell him, you were right.

As technologists, we can at least try to fix this bit of a mess. I'll explain a few ideas, I'm sure you have your own. Let's make stuff and also think about making a better world, on the way.


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