The Next Digital Technology: Us

Question: What will be the equivalent of the “Negroponte switch” in the next 20 years?

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Nicholas Negroponte: Well, what you're referring to is a phenomenon that 20 years ago was evident, but not quite as obvious as it is today, and that is that most of the information that you got through the ground, through wires and physically, would in fact come through the air, and most of the things we got through the air, like television, would come through the ground. That there would be this switch between the sort of wired and wireless worlds in terms of what was traveling where. It's even hard for people to imagine today that telephones were wired, and they certainly were and you went to the end of a wire to make a phone call.

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That switch was very fundamental, as was the sort of natural convergence that happens when things are digital. When things are digital, they're all 1's and zero's, and so they commingle in ways we didn't anticipate and you could do things that were not like publishing or television, or computers, but were some intersection of those and that got known to be convergence, so between the switching, or trading of places and the convergence, you have today's media.

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Now, what is the analogue today, that 20 years from now we're going to look back and say, "Well, yes, that was evident today and is a very profound change." And while I can't say it in ten words or less, but I can assure you that it has to do with this space between biology and silicone. The things that are part of the natural sciences and the physical sciences, where the two meet, and whether that's manifest in embedded computers that are embedded in us as human beings, whether it's using biology to create energy that is attached to a chip that does things, but it's that intersection of the natural and synthetic world that will certainly be the major change going forward and we will be doing things and wearing things and eating things and you know, synthetic beef will be part of it, and in it will be some of the computing devices that, when they're in your stomach make sure that everything is okay in your stomach and report back when they're out of your stomach.

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Question: What are the most radical technologies forthcoming from the MIT Media Lab?

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Nicholas Negroponte: Well, probably the most radical work done that still has not seen the light of day is the work of a man named Joe Jacobsen, where he was communicating wirelessly, directly with cells in the human body and that's pretty interesting if you can sort of communicate directly with cells in the body. That probably will have some pretty big effects 10 or 15 years from now.

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By chance, the same person, 15, almost 20 years ago, invented electronic ink, which is the display medium used for every e-book distributed so far and that had a pretty profound effect, that you could display medium that used no power once the image was on it and reflected and was more paper-like than your laptop.

Recorded on December 4, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Twenty years after predicting the "Negroponte switch" between wired and wireless technologies, Nicholas Negroponte describes another advance that will soon seem inevitable: the convergence of "biology and silicone."

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