Neal Stephenson: It’s time to grow past ‘silly little apps’

Sci-fi author Neal Stephenson writes books about cyber punks who spend their free time in a virtual world and deliver pizzas on high-speed skateboards. In real life, though, he’s concerned about something a little more down to earth: Getting past the app.

Fellow sci-fi scribe David Brin asked Stephenson about his predictions for the next year during a session at the Future in Review technology conference in Laguna Beach on Friday. His response was equal parts hopeful and sad: “The brightest people of our generation will raise their sights a little bit from working on silly little apps and try to do something that is more momentous.”

It’s a phenomenon he feels is driven by capitalism. “The whole ecosystem of little start-ups in the Bay Area making little apps is one that is sort of tailor-made for the VC environment.”

“I have to wonder how much longer that can go.”

“If I were a capitalist that’s what I would be asking myself: Are there opportunities there in the way of doing big, ambitious things that everyone else is missing because they’re so focused on doing little start-ups?”

Brin, ever the attentive interviewer, took the bait, suggesting a kaleidoscope of high-tech solutions to global scale problems.

Stephenson was more subdued. “I’d settle for roads,” he deadpanned.