Page last updated at 12:37 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Tech Lab: Philip Rosedale

Screenshot from Second Life, Linden Lab
The key innovation in Second Life is its underlying grid, says Philip Rosedale

Philip Rosedale is co-founder of Second Life. Here he talks about the technologies that he is excited about.

What's the coolest technology you've seen? What does the future of the internet look like? What technology is getting you excited right now?

These are questions I get asked all the time. It's flattering that people think my answers may be any more insightful than the next guy but the answer might surprise some people.

Let me explain.

When we created Linden Lab and launched Second Life it created a real buzz among individuals and businesses.

A lot of companies started doing some pretty cool stuff in there, from demoing prototype cars to running educational seminars and recruitment fairs.

But beyond the big picture stuff it was often the tiny, almost imperceptible tweaks which people made to the virtual world that got me most excited.

One guy created virtual "wind" - a movement of virtual air - bestowing a genuine atmosphere within Second Life. Come on, that's cool. It might not change the world but it does get you thinking.

Good foundation

And this is the very heart of the matter. At Linden Lab we created a Grid, a platform on top of which people could develop whatever they wanted. A total blank canvas on top of which the only limitation was their imagination.

So, what's the coolest technology I've seen? Anything born from the right we should all have to innovate.
Philip Rosedale

Giving people licence to develop, to build, is incredibly empowering and the root of real innovation. This grid model is all about democratisation of innovation and now as a society we have to look at how we take that and make it truly democratic by engaging with the digitally excluded.

In the Western world innovation has happened at an incredible pace since Thomas Edison flicked a switch in 1880. Next came the first computers, IBM, the home PC, Microsoft Windows, the internet, Apple Macs, broadband, Google, the iPod, wi-fi, Second Life.

If you blinked during the last 10 years then the world changed around you while your eyes were closed.

And that spirit of innovation will continue in the West but we haven't even tapped into the potential of more than two-thirds of the world's population.

We're a planet using only 20% of its brain. The echo of Edison's innovation has not yet reached all corners of the Earth.

And this is what's getting me excited right now. Think of the potential and think of the change that technology could bring about in some of the world's poorest areas.

And for how we make this happen we need to look at another type of grid - the electricity grid.

Unlike the Grid I've already spoken about the electricity grid is fundamentally restrictive. It's an obstacle to development and to innovation and to democracy.

Solar cells, Getty Images
Small-scale power generation is starting to take off.
But I genuinely believe the decentralised production of electricity will change the world; will provide that platform for unbridled development.

Right now the price of putting solar cells on your roof in a sunny area has dropped to the point where the monthly payments for the cells is balanced out by the cost benefit of the electricity generated.

Power play

This is an important tipping point. It's exciting.

In the coming years, people are going to start coming off the electricity grid in considerable numbers. Incremental drops in pricing will be driven by new technology and manufacturing will bring cheap electric power to remote areas of the world.

Digital exclusion will become less of a problem, especially with the work of charities like Computer Aid International taking reconditioned PCs to Africa and getting children to experience a faster pace of education and learning tools that take them to a whole new level.

Bringing these populations online will only be possible with the true democratisation of the electricity supply.

At a time when the West is looking at alternative fuel and power supplies for reasons of cost and ecology, the developing world is nearing an opportunity to embrace decentralised power generation as a means to survive and thrive and ultimately to innovate.

The global talent pool is set to boom as incredible minds start to look at world problems through fresh eyes and start to envisage the ways in which technology can make a difference to their lives and their surroundings.

So, what's the coolest technology I've seen? Anything born from the right we should all have to innovate.

What does the future of the internet look like? It looks like a world map where even the furthest corners of the planet are able to get online because of the decentralisation of power generation.

What technology is getting me excited right now? Electricity.

We've come full circle but second time around is going to be even better.

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