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Online Extra: Nicholas Negroponte: The Innovation "Void"


Nicholas Negroponte, the founding chairman of MIT's Media Laboratory, is a leading visionary of the Internet Age. His 1995 book, Being Digital, has been translated into more than 40 languages. Negroponte's view of tech's future is less than bright: He expects a dearth of innovation, thanks to the dominance of large companies. He recently shared his thoughts on tech's future via an e-mail interview with BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker. Edited excerpts follow:

Q: How will the coming recovery differ from those in the past?

A: The recovery will find a growing deficit of new ideas. What most people don't appreciate is that the startups were an engine for innovation. Big companies aren't good at this kind of innovation, and most of them have cut back on research and development anyway. This leaves a void, which to date has been filled with an oversupply of ideas left over from 2002 and 2001.

Q: The last boom was centered largely on Silicon Valley. What will its role be in the coming recovery?

A: Silicon Valley is certain to play a role, but it won't be the same center of gravity it was before. In addition, new players will emerge in India, China, and to a lesser degree Latin America.

Europe risks being no player at all. In the late 1990s, otherwise risk-adverse cultures were just starting to be penetrated, often against parental advice. When the bubble burst, there was so much "I told you so" that it will take Europe much longer to rebound.

Q: What are the greatest threats to a robust tech recovery?

A: Setting aside terrorism, market meltdowns, or the fact that SARS really hasn't gone away, the threats are consumer revolt against unreliable, difficult-to-use, and outright ugly products. Personally, I'm less concerned about spam or security, because there's a technical arsenal to be used to fight them.

Bad design, on the other hand, is cured by imagination -- itself a scarce resource and one that takes a long time to incubate. In fact, it isn't clear to me that a developing country can be creative in this sense, as progress comes from an ingrained discipline, itself the enemy of creativity.


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