As a TED veteran who has already presented four times through the conference's 30-year history--including the first installment--MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte appropriately kicked off TED 2014 in Vancouver, Canada, Monday night.
Negroponte delivered his 18-minute talk, a TED standard, before an audience of about 1,200. He touched on what has happened in the world of computer science since he first presented at TED's inaugural meeting in 1984. He concluded with a rather bold prediction for the coming 30 years: technology will be not just wearable, but actually ingestible.
In the early 1980s, "computers weren't yet for people," Negroponte says. Computer scientists like himself who designed programs with the user experience in mind weren't taken seriously. His and his colleagues' early ideas for sensory computing--i.e., using fingers to navigate an interface--and programs that today look at lot like Google Street View and GPS-enabled vehicle navigation, were initially scorned.
"We were considered sissy computer scientists. We weren't considered the real things. [These ideas are] in retrospect a lot more interesting and a lot more accepted than [they were] at the time," he says.
The Next 30 Years
Negroponte is also well known for founding the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The organization, which was started in 2005, provides some of the world's poorest children with rugged, low-cost computers. Showing a picture of Ethiopian children who had taught themselves how to hack Android, Negroponte seems proud of what OLPC had accomplished.
But in order to do even better, billions of people still need access the Internet, he says. "The challenge is to connect the last billion people. And connecting the last billion is very different than connecting the next billion," Negroponte says. "The next billion are sort of low hanging fruit, but the last billion are rural."
He proposes connecting these hard to reach populations by positioning stationary satellites in space. The plan hasn't been put in motion yet, and Negroponte even says his partners wouldn't allow him to discuss the details.
Beyond that, what about the next 30 years? After spending almost all of his 18 minutes establishing his credibility as an accurate predictor of things to come, Negroponte fleetingly left the audience with his guess.
"My prediction is that we are going to ingest information. You're going to swallow a pill and know English. You're going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare," Negroponte says, insisting that it's not so far fetched.