Elon University

One of 24 Metaverse Summit question-answer sets: Julian Lombardi shares his thoughts on the networked future

This page contains one of a set of 24 transcripts including remarks made by interview participants at the Metaverse Roadmap Summit at Stanford Research Institute in May 2006. Each person was asked a series of five questions regarding the future; only the most “telling” responses were transferred from the recordings into these transcripts, thus, some of these interviews will include five question-answer sets, some will have four or fewer.

To jump to another interviewee’s set of answers, click on the person’s name below.

Bridget Agabra Randy Farmer Jerry Paffendorf
Betsy Book Guy Garnett Marty Poulin
Corey Bridges Will Harvey Robert Scoble
Iveta Brigis Daniel James John Smart
Jamais Cascio Raph Koster David Smith
Helen Cheng Mike Liebhold Sibley Verbeck
Esther Dyson Julian Lombardi Malcolm Williamson
Doug Engelbart Bob Moore Ethan Zuckerman

  >> Return to Metaverse interviews lead page for links to recordings of these comments

Lombardi Headshot Julian Lombardi, is a director of information technology at Duke University and one of six principal architects of the Croquet Project (along with Alan Kay, David P. Reed, Andreas Raab, David A. Smith, and Mark McCahill). He is a computer scientist known for his work in user interface design and in the design of computer systems that support collaboration between large numbers of users. He began developing computer-supported collaboration systems involving self-optimizing massively multi-user online 3D environments in the mid-1990s.

What is your greatest fear for the future of networked technologies? I would say the fear is that the ease of forming social groups online can lead to essentially a closing in of the world rather than an expansion of the world. That is, people may be interested in only being associated with people who think the way they do or only accessing resources that don’t challenge their world view. As a result, the world to those people becomes much narrower and their view becomes much narrower and more parochial and that has an erosive quality on democracy. When the populace is not educated in a broad sense, then democracy does not work very well.

What is your most fervent hope for the future of networked technologies? I tend to be quite an idealist, and I’m working in the context of higher education. I believe a networked world provides information resources to people, allows social groups to function and reinforce themselves, allows the social dynamics to create value for people in those spaces. The sum total of those social interactions and access to information resources leads to an education, an enlightenment, if you will, of people, which leads to a democracy being much stronger.

What technology will have the greatest impact on our everyday lives the next 10 years? It’s the ability to connect to information anytime anywhere. And more than that, to connect to social context – to other people. You will never need to be alone. You will always have the access to a broad group of people, no matter where you are.

Looking out more than 10 years, what development will have the greatest impact on society? I think what we’re in the middle of here is a real change in the way we use information technology. The devices that we’ve had and have been using, the computers, the desktop computers and even our laptop computers, have primarily been about carrying around calculation devices. The name “computer” means it’s computing something, right? We’re at the end of an era where computers are actually used for computing and at the beginning of an era where computers are used as media devices, as ways of communicating with each other. The early notion of the computer has been this solitary calculator that wasn’t network-connected. You know, you bought your computer, put it on your desk, and then the idea of connecting it to the network is something relatively new – that capability has only been around for 160 months. Now we’re moving into a time when computers are in our hands. I have right here a little computer and I carry it around with me. It’s like a little laptop computer, and this is with me all the time, and it’s not just a computer, it’s a TV camera, and I am wirelessly and ubiquitously connected to a network so I can actually create media and pass that media to other people and publish that media, I could consume media that other people are creating. This is more than a calculator. This is a little communication device and it really represents a very early stage in the capabilities that are on their way here. I think the whole nature of computing and conductivity is really poised to change. That’s one of the things we’re exploring – especially in my work at Duke University – is how can we take advantage of the fact that people are carrying these very powerful devices around with them – how can we use those to extend the value of the educational experience.

[Return to top of this page]