The unwavering optimism of Tim O’Reilly

For better or worse, Tim O’Reilly has become known as something of an oracle for the technology industry in his forty-year career as a technical publisher, author and venture capitalist, credited with coining terms like Open Source and Web 2.0.

Today, O’Reilly finds himself in the interesting position of being both a techno-optimist – for instance, about how artificial intelligence could augment human workers and help solve existential problems like climate change – while also being a fierce critic of the new power centres technology has created, particularly in Silicon Valley.

Finding a new class of problem

“I totally think that there is a massive opportunity for us to augment humans to do things, we need the machines,” O’Reilly told InfoWorld last week, from his home in Oakland, California.

With the world facing a rapidly ageing population, and the pressing need to prevent climate catastrophe, “we’ll be lucky if the AI and the robots arrive in time, quite honestly,” he says.

“There are such enormous challenges facing our society. Inequity and inequality is a huge part of it. But for me, one of the really big ones is climate change,” he says. “We have to solve this problem or we’re all toast. We’re going to need every bit of ingenuity to do that. I think it will become the focus of innovation.”

That change in focus could also lead to an enormous raft of new jobs, he argues – provided the planet shifts away from fossil fuels, and what he describes as the “Ponzi scheme” of startup valuations.