Bruce Sterling’s Keynote at Augmented Reality Event 2010 (Santa Clara, June 2-3)

The Keynote is a risky gig. The audience thinks it knows all there is to know (after all, it’s a gathering of the ubergeeks of whatever the conference is about), and each individual in the audience is prepared to judge the speaker as not getting it if that individual’s own understanding isn’t foregrounded by the speaker’s remarks. But the speaker is an outsider to the specific geekdom, invited to offer a perspective that (ideally) will make the audience question and rethink something pretty basic about its individual and collective understanding. A tall order, and requiring of the Keynote Speaker a superhuman clarity of perspective and articulation. I’d argue that Bruce Sterling succeeds in this instance, and how he works the magic is worth study.
He’s introduced as “the Prophet of Augmented Reality” and begins with 10 minutes or so of pretty general observations on the AR scene, replete with in-jokes and throwaway lines that establish his cred as an observer of the current state of AR as an industry, and he notes that part of the significant context includes the fact that the Titans of 20th century media are fading fast:

…Newsweek can’t be sold, it’s worth basically nothing, newspapers drying up all over the landscape, TV doesn’t look like TV used to look, movies don’t look like movies used to look…

but around 12:00 his remarks take an analytical turn that suggests that he’s really got something to say:

What is it that you are really doing? You could argue that what you’re really doing is coding apps for early adopters of smartphones, and it’s true that’s where most of your money is, and where the press attention is, and it’s kind of a good way to make your numbers this quarter, but that’s not a very good mission statement for your very young industry.
I think it might be a good idea if you want to think of yourselves as the world’s first pure-play experience designers …and experience design as it currently stands is mostly futuristic hot air…

And then at 13:00 he kicks it into overdrive with an Aux Armes!, and THIS part is really worth your attention:

WHOSE reality really needs to be augmented? Is it really cutting-edge geeks who are eager to have the most advanced hand-held gadgets? You are those people, so of course you think of those people, but are they really the people who need you the most? Whose realtime sensory experience of the world really NEEDS to be redesigned?
I would suggest blind people, people who already have sensory problems. I would suggest foreigners, people who are bewildered in a reality they don’t understand, confused people, people who are mentally ill, handicapped in some way, people who can’t read, people who can’t speak, people who can’t hear…
…think of yourselves not as coders, not as a service business to add a little bit of sparkle to companies that are bigger than you. I think you need to cut yourself your own space, I think you need to consider yourself the torch that lights our steps…
without vision, the people perish, and we really need vision now. We could really seriously do with a good old-fashioned revolutionary Internet boom…
This meeting of yours is a precious opportunity to shape the language of your young industry… It’s your chance to bake a big pie before you start slicing it up and fighting over the crumbs.

You might want to watch the whole thing:

The Augmented Reality Event: Bruce Sterling’s keynote from Ori Inbar on Vimeo.

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