O’reilly’s ETECH

O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2008

We’ll be speaking at O’reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego March 3-6 about our ongoing work in Cuba.


Of Necessity and Humanity: what Cuba can teach us about ourselves and our technology.

What can a people without emerging technology teach us about our own technology?The recent history of Cuba starts with the Special Period, that dark decade or so after the Soviet Union collapsed. Technology, energy, and other subsidies that kept the Cuban economy afloat instantly disappeared, causing the country to contract by a third. Fossil fuels for industry and transportation, expertise for education and enterprise, food for people; it all vanished overnight.

The Special Period was extremely hard on the Cuban people, and echoes of it are still felt today. The entire country, built for Soviet material and energy inputs, had to adapt indigenous resources and ideas to run or evolve the infrastructure left behind. The survival of the Cuban people in this time of terrifying necessity rested on their incredible ingenuity and humanity.

What emerged was a series of deliberate and accidental technological revelations, spanning organic and sustainable agriculture, demand-responsive transportation, and a very quirky and effective ‘energy revolution’ that continues today.

In the last years Cuba has undergone a change in leadership, welcomed substantial foreign investment, and has precipitated rising hemispheric influence through the discovery of coveted natural resources, and the growth of strategic alliances with Venezuela, China, and others. All the while, barely 1 in 1000 people have access to the Internet in a form recognizable to the average connected person. Mobile phones are nearly as absent from the technological mix. In Trinidad de Cuba, one hustler proudly showed off his mobile phone to us, though it didn’t even have a service provider.

In its peculiar and unconventional emergence, Cuba and its people provide an important model for an expanded discussion on emerging technology. In addition to the feats of technological improvisation, Cubans display early analogues to the social technologies that are prominent today, and uncover the tension that drives our technological innovation and curiosity.

What happens when inventive people hack and play with limited technological ingredients to make best with what they have? What will happen when a cultured, literate, hyper-social people get access to the Internet for the first time? How will their virgin experiences and experimentations impact the rest of the world? Cubans teach us to strip away layers of plastic, metal, and code to the root of what technology is, and what it has always been. From a people that have been greatly anticipating the future—any future—we’ll be left with clues for the promising technologies of our own near future by looking at recent progress and universal lessons in the Cuba of today.


We’re really humbled to join such an outstanding group of thinkers addressing so many of the subjects and movements that inspire us. Just have a look at the speaker’s list, or the topic list:

Body Hacking. Genomics Hacking. Brain Hacking. Sex Hacking. Food Hacking. iPhone Hacking.

DIY Aerial Drones. DIY Talking Things. DIY Spectrum. DIY Apocalypse Survival.

Emerging Tech of India
, Cuba, and Africa. International Political Dissidents.

Visualize Data
and Crowds. Ambient Data Streaming.

Good Policy
. Energy Policy. Defense Policy. Genetic Policy. Corruption.

Alternate Reality Games
. Emotions of Games. Sensor Games.

One Response to “O’reilly’s ETECH”

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