Mar 25 2014

Nicholas Negroponte Is Dreaming of Digestible Data

Speaking at this year’s TED conference, the tech visionary predicts that we’ll pass information on to our brains by swallowing smart pills.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and the One Laptop per Child initiative, doesn’t think the Internet of Things is visionary enough.

The current iteration of IoT focuses mainly on adding sensors to inanimate objects so ambient data can be gathered and sent back to databases, then be used by people using applications.

But adding a sensor to an oven, for example, doesn’t make it smart, Negroponte said during his keynote at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. Smart technology doesn’t just gather data; it acts on the data it has gathered.

“You want to put the chicken in the oven and it realizes you’re cooking it for Nicholas and he likes it this way,” Negroponte said, according to a recap of his talk on the TED blog.

So what does get Negroponte fired up and ready to go? Digestible technology.

Negroponte is known for making bold and sometimes head-scratching predictions about technology (he predicted touch screens would become a big deal before many thought them even feasible) but his declaration that in the future we would swallow pills to learn new languages definitely ranks up there with the Jetsons’ flying car in terms of extraordinary futuristic daydreams.

“My prediction is that we are going to ingest information—we’re going to swallow a pill and know English and swallow a pill and know Shakespeare,” Negroponte said. “It will go through the bloodstream and it will know when it’s in the brain and, in the right places, it deposits the information.”

Negroponte didn’t outline a specific blueprint on how we’d get to this digestible future, but it certainly would disrupt the way we communicate with one another. One potential downside: In a world where mastering new languages is just a swallow away, translators would soon become as irrelevant as telephone operators.

James Duncan Davidson/TED