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2003 O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference: "Framing New Technologies into a Coherent Picture"

May 5, 2003

Sebastopol, CA--The second O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference saw the best minds of several generations debating--and in some cases, implementing--the future of technology all day and into the night from April 22-25. Over 600 seasoned hackers, corporate executives, high school students, digerati, developers, and forty-year veterans of Silicon Valley sat side by side in sessions, on stage, and in the conference common areas in the Westin Santa Clara. They came together to flesh out and explore technology that not only affects computing, but communication, lifestyle, business, and education.

Swarming, roboflies, physical computing, and smart mobs were just a few of the newer--or less visible--concepts explored during the annual event, organized under tracks labeled Rich Internet Applications, Social Software, Untethered, Nanotechnology and Hardware, and Emerging Topics. The progress of more familiar ideas, such as peer-to-peer computing, web services, wireless, digital rights management, and the "Internet operating system" were also evaluated. Speakers including Howard Rheingold, Clay Shirky, Eric Bonabeau, Tim O'Reilly, David S. Isenberg, Brewster Kahle, Dan Gillmor, David Weinberger, Meg Hourihan, Mitch Kapor, Eric Drexler, Felipe Cabrera, Craig Silverstein, and Kevin Lynch led sessions and tutorials.

In addition to Confab, conference-goers sampled other new breeds of "social software," designed to facilitate interaction and commentary during the event. TrackBack, a method of linking weblogs and the brainchild of Ben and Mena Trott, has been in use at previous O'Reilly conferences and was ubiquitous at ETech. Socialtext provided the official conference Wiki, Rich Gibson with the NoCat Community Network created an IRC Channel for the event, and Macromedia (a conference Platinum sponsor) and mixed grill provided a get-acquainted tool aptly dubbed Intro.

ETech '03 was the forum for a wide range of announcements:

  • O'Reilly & Associates CEO Tim O'Reilly announced his company's commitment to applying the Founders' Copyright, developed by Creative Commons, to O'Reilly books. "The Founders' Copyright is a contract law hack," commented O'Reilly. "It clarifies rights, preventing works from 'falling into disrepair' and being lost." One work slated for the Creative Commons' repository is Dan Gillmor's book on the future of journalism, to be published by O'Reilly later this year.

  • Tim O'Reilly later joined Geekcorps' Ethan Zuckerman at a press conference to outline plans for a joint effort to promote volunteer activism in the technical community, specifically for aid to developing nations. A "geek activism" summit is planned for the next O'Reilly conference, its Open Source Convention, to be held in Portland July 7-11.

  • The first round of prizes for the O'Reilly Mac OS X Innovators contest were awarded to Brent Simmons and Robb Beal at the conference. Simmons' winning entry, NetNewsWire, is a popular RSS news reader for Mac OS X. Beal's second-place entry, Spring, helps users work with canvases and icons to retrieve and manage information, and to communicate with others. Run by O'Reilly, the contest is sponsored by Apple Developer Connection, a Platinum sponsor of the conference.

  • Icosystems announced that it has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to apply principles of swarm intelligence to the control of robotic swarms of unmanned ground vehicles, to perform indoor navigation and reconnaissance tasks.

The Internet Bookmobile made a curbside appearance at the conference, demonstrating how printed books can be created from cyberspace. Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive and Bookmobile creator, noted that "At the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, attendees experienced first-hand how we can use the Net to put millions of public-domain books into the hands of children."

Several community meetings were held in conjunction with the conference. One of the most popular was a workshop organized by Amazon, a Platinum sponsor, which examined the Amazon platform in depth, with a specific focus on the company's Web Services APIs, launched in the summer of 2002. Workshop attendees got a sneak preview of the newest book in O'Reilly's wildly popular Hacks series, "Amazon Hacks," authored by Paul Bausch and due in bookstores in August 2003.

Observed Tim O'Reilly, "O'Reilly's customers, the hackers and alpha geeks, are the ones who show us the shape of the future. The Emerging Technology Conference is a way for us to frame what they're showing us about new technologies into a coherent picture, think about the implications, and share it with interested--and interesting--parties." Added Program Chair Rael Dornfest, "This year's conference was rich with creativity and community, and we can't wait to see what comes of it."

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