Dispatch from Techonomy

Here are some quick initial thoughts after the first day of the Techonomy conference:

I was struck by ecoguru Stewart Brand‘s willingness to embrace ideas that he used to disdain, and that much of the mainstream environmental movement still sternly resists. Brand has spoken favorably about nuclear power and genetically-modified foods. He’s also no longer worried about the digital divide, population growth, and Malthusian crises. It’s rare to find someone who lets evidence trump ideology, so I was floored by Brand (just as I was when I read The Whole Earth Catalog for the first time as a kid in the late 1970s).

I was also floored, once again, by Eric Schmidt‘s skills as a speaker. He is direct, funny, clear, thoughtful, and informative. And he actually answers the questions he’s asked. Way impressive.

Attendees got advance copies of Kevin Kelly‘s upcoming book What Technology Wants. I’m looking forward to it, but am not sure about the title’s question. Does it really make sense to talk about technology ‘wanting’ anything? I’m reminded of Andy Grove’s great quote: “Technology happens, it’s not good, it’s not bad. Is steel good or bad?” Would a book called What Steel Wants make any sense?

I love the feeling of optimism among participants here. As I wrote a little while back, some of the prominent recent writing about technology has a fretful or pessimistic tone, and it’s great to hear something very different here. People at Techonomy are worried about climate change, the current recession and recovery, and a few other things, but overall we’re strongly optimistic about the combination of human ingenuity and technology. It’s music to my ears.

That’s all for now – I’ll try to post more later. Comments and feedback on any of the above are very welcome.