John Gage at COFES 2011: the network is next

John Gage

In a wide-ranging, thought-provoking speech, former Sun Microsystems researcher John Gage opened COFES 2011 by pointing out the path of digital innovation of the last 150 years and next 30. Gage was the 21st employee of Sun Microsystems, where he is credited with creating the phrase “the network is the computer.”

The soft-spoken Gage quoted poets, philosophers, and technologists in guiding his listeners through a brief history of innovation. Many of the powerful innovations of the modern computing era, he noted, were created by students. Gage says he has come to the conclusion that students can easily make the leap to being innovators because they don’t have to attend meetings.

Noting that Silicon Valley has created more than $1 trillion in value in the last 30 years, Gage believes that the technology industry is on the verge of another powerful wave of innovation with equally explosive possibilities. In a nutshell, the next frontier is linking together “a trillion unconnected objects.” Gage asked his audience to consider what will happen when radios, electric motors, air conditioners, lights, and so many other bits and bangles of the modern era are joined to the existing digital network of computers and mobile telephones. “It is the next frontier for design.”

He served as Chief Researcher and Vice President of the Science Office for Sun, until leaving on June 9, 2008 to join Kleiner Perkins as a partner to work on green technologies for global warming; he departed KPCB in 2010 to apply what he had learned “to broader issues in other parts of the world”. As is common for keynote speakers at COFES, Gage is attending the entire three-day event. COFES started yesterday with events for early attendees and the Design for Sustainability Forum, and continues through Sunday.