Issue #16 February 2006

Summit keynote speaker: Nicholas Negroponte

by Lucy Ringland

It's a big deal. Negroponte chats with doers and shakers from all over the world--heads of state, ambassadors, governors, great thinkers. He speaks at the World Summit on Information Technology and the World Economic Forum and now he's coming to the Red Hat Summit.

So he's speaking at the Summit. Why should you come to hear him talk? Here are 10 very good reasons this guy matters:

  1. Nicholas Negroponte is the Wiesner Professor of Media Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founding chairman of MIT's Media Laboratory (an interdisciplinary research center focused on exploring future forms of human communication). This is the group that gave us Quicktime movies and is working on wearable computers. That's reason enough, don't you think?
  2. Negroponte studied at MIT and has been an MIT faculty member since 1966. He's dyslexic and hates to read, and still got through MIT. He's an elder, and we all know what you should do with those...R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
  3. He founded MIT's Architecture Machine Group, a combination think tank/lab to examine the human-computer interface. Before GUIs. Before the mouse. Before anybody really thought about those kinds of things. So, if you can't find things on your desktop, or you hate your laptop's touchpad, he's a good guy--maybe THE guy--to talk to.
  4. He's a bestselling author. In 1995, he published Being Digital, which has been translated into over 40 languages. Yeah, that's ancient history now, but the ideas behind the writing are not all that dated. Maybe you can get him to autograph your copy.
  5. Negroponte is a special general partner in an information and entertainment technologies venture capital firm. He has been an "angel investor" for over 40 start-ups, including three in China. Who knows, he just might listen to your pitch for the 'next big thing'--whatever that is. If he doesn't already have a dozen grad students working on something just like it.
  6. He was one of the founders of WIRED magazine and contributed a regular back-page column from 1993 to 1998. Many of his columns are still amazingly relevant. And funny sometimes.
  7. He must be a good guy, he likes dogs.
  8. He likes the idea of education for kids. He serves as chairman of the 2B1 Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing computer access to children in the most remote and poorest parts of the world. He's also chairman of One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organization created by faculty members from the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture, and distribute laptops that are sufficiently inexpensive to provide every child in the world access to knowledge and modern forms of education. For more information, see the $100 Laptop information page.
  9. He's psychic. He's been predicting the digitalization of the world for 20 years and he's gotten most of it right. Of course, it helps that his lab has been producing lots of the things he's been predicting, but still...
  10. He fit the Red Hat Summit into his insanely busy schedule.

Here's the official bio.

Too busy to click the link? Here are some quick facts:

  • Born: 1943, son of a Greek ship owner, on New York's Upper East Side
  • Education: undergraduate degree in Architecture, graduate degrees in Computer Science (computer-aided Design) from MIT
  • Family: brother of National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte; has a son, Dmitri
  • For fun: changes the world
  • Frequent flyer miles: estimates range 300,000 miles/year and up; millions and millions (billions and billions?)

Some cool quotes from Nicholas:

"The empowering nature of being digital--the access, the mobility, the ability to effect change--will make previously impossible solutions viable."

"Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living. Whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty, the solution always includes education, ... We need to depend more on peer-to-peer and self-driven learning. The laptop is one important means of doing that."

"Remember that the military used wind-up radios for years."

"Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. While there are many theories of creativity, the only tenet they all share is that creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions. The best way to maximize differences is to mix ages, cultures, and disciplines."

"I go nowhere without a computer...I am absolutely always connected."

"Well, my life is an omelet."

About the author

Lucy Ringland is a documentation writer for Red Hat.