Speaking at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City, co-sponsored by O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb, O'Reilly Insisted that invention competitions like those sponsored by The National Academy of Sciences center on research that's too granular to motivate big ideas, O'Reilly said researchers should inspire themselves by focusing on projects that are fun and exciting.
"Let's upload the human brain into a computer," said O'Reilly, citing a projection by tech visionary Ray Kurzweil that posits such a feat may be possible within the next couple of decades.
O'Reilly also cited the so-called Makers Movement, where individuals and loosely assembled teams get together on an ad hoc basis to jury-rig new products from found items. "We're starting to rethink the nature of consumption," said O'Reilly. "We're not consuming stuff as much as we're consuming ideas," he said.
O'Reilly said current research is hamstrung by the fact that it's insular and scientists are often thinking ahead to commercialization rather than the project at hand. He held up the Wright brothers as an example of how things can be different. "They weren't trying to create an airline, they just thought it would be really cool to fly," said O'Reiilly.
But O'Reilly said "fun" is just the first of what he defined as the four cylinders to innovation. The second cylinder requires inventors to think big, and imagine the possibilities for the creations. The third cylinder embraces productization. "Find a business model, and build a great company," said O'Reilly, noting that the principals behind high fliers like Google and Microsoft did just that.
The fourth cylinder, said O'Reilly, is all about sharing innovation. He said some of the most successful IT companies aren't so much about products as they are platforms that help others build value. Henry Ford, he said, "invented the weekend" by making cars and, as importantly, introducing the five-day workweek so his employees would have time to drive them.
A current day example would be Google, with programs like AdWords and AdSense. "How much money has Google allowed other people to make?" he said. At the end of the day, O'Reilly, citing a quote by computer scientist pioneer Alan Kay, said, "It's easier to invent the future than predict it." It's also, apparently, more fun.