GUY RAZ, HOST:
Do you see yourself as a futurist?
NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: I think that I'm a futurist by having felt that I've been there. So it's taking some place where you are and you're doing and sort of looking out as to what it might mean further on. It's a little bit like a traveler who's come back from being in a country.
RAZ: And in that sense, Nicholas Negroponte has been traveling for years. As we mentioned earlier in the show, he spoke at the first-ever TED Conference in 1984 and he predicted touchscreens would be a big part of our lives some day.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
NEGROPONTE: I'm very interested in touch-sensitive displays, high-tech, high-touch. And a lot of people think that fingers are a very low-resolution sort of stylus for input into a display. In fact they're not.
RAZ: Why was Nicholas Negroponte at the front end of so much of this stuff, and had his team at the MIT Media Lab predict, with so much confidence, so many of the things we'd be using?
NEGROPONTE: I think we were very arrogant. In fact, people thought it was quite arrogant to suggest that this would be part of daily life. I was actually asked once to chair a session for an organization that doesn't even exist anymore. And I said I would if it could be called, computers in daily life. And they said, what do you mean? What is that? And so, it's...
RAZ: And so how did you connect the dots? I mean, were you seeing what other researchers were doing?
NEGROPONTE: Well, we did a great deal of it ourselves. We had access to one of the world's first continuous speech-recognition systems. We had access to really one of the first very large-screen, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall displays. And we had access to a device that was done for fighter pilots, actually, that you could track its position in six dimensions - where it is in space. And we put the three of them together and made a system, perhaps one of the best I've ever been involved with in my life, where the user could stand in front of the screen, wear this thing on his or her wrist, and talk to the screen and say, put that there - with a gesture - and whatever was on the screen would move. So that's the sort of things we were doing back in the early and mid-seventies.
RAZ: But that technology never really took off. I mean, we don't use that today.
NEGROPONTE: Well, we certainly use speech with Siri, and you use touch with a lot of things. Putting them together still is slightly behind, but there's some people starting to - 'cause cell phones, everybody's looking for some kind of competitive edge - and there're people who are starting to use the camera now to look at you while you're looking at it. A lot more eye tracking will happen. Things will - again, this is pretty predictable in the next couple of years.
RAZ: Do you think about the future a lot? I mean, about the things that'll change our world in say 10 or 20 years from now?
NEGROPONTE: Well, I do spend time trying to think about what I cannot imagine. And whatever it is will be at the interface of silicon and biology. It's not going to be, you know, the iPhone 7 or the, you know, the Internet 2. And I think we're going to see things happen that are, you know, astonishing in terms of working at very, very small scales going down to the nanotechnology world that is going to surprise us what people do. Some of the things happening in biology, in genomics, in protonomics - it's going to be extraordinary, and the changes are going to be huge.
RAZ: Nicholas Negroponte is the founder of the MIT Media Lab. His amazing talk from 1984 is at TED.NPR.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUTURE IS IN THE FUTURE")
RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to the show this week. If you missed any of it or if you want to hear more or you want to find out more about who was on it, you can visit TED.NPR.org. You can also find many more TED Talks at TED.com. You can download the show through iTunes or through the NPR smartphone app.
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