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Ideas Whose Time Will Come

By Leslie Walker
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page E01

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. -- So guess which of the following is the Next Big Thing:

A) "Personal Air Mobility"

B) Commercial space travel

C) "Tagging" content on the Web

D) Worker "swarms" that eat corporations

E) Machines that out-think humans

F) All of the above.

Conference moderator Esther Dyson, left, talks to Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr. (Leslie Walker -- The Washington Post)

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Bingo, the answer is "F." At least, all were among the contenders for Next Big Thing status here at PC Forum, an eclectic gathering of more than 400 information technology executives that started Sunday and ended Tuesday.

This year's event concluded with a dinner speech by a NASA director who envisioned a new aviation era dawning in which people travel in taxi-like air service on small planes and also pay to be whisked into outer space -- talk intended to whet the appetites of those staying on for a special forum on commercial space travel and "on-demand air taxis."

"Personal air mobility is an ultimate expression of freedom and liberty,'' declared Bruce Holmes, a director at NASA's Langley Research Center.

Holmes told the technology industry luminaries that he could think of "no better community poised to go after this opportunity than yours," because of their track record in developing personal computers that boosted individual productivity.

Both events were hosted by tech guru Esther Dyson, whose annual PC Forum has served as a bellwether to the technology industry for nearly three decades. This year her bellwether wandered every which way, giving attendees whiffs of both the far-out future and the almost-here-and-now.

While the commercial space travel conference seemed far out, it also generated big buzz and attracted 120 enrollees, including a few rich dot-com pioneers who attended both events. PC Forum, by contrast, featured a lineup of more down-to-earth software programs and Web-based services.

On Sunday, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang took the stage and predicted the next decade will usher to the Internet much of what early Web pioneers could only dream about when they founded their companies.

"For those of us who started the industry, we all feel the next 10 years are where we are going to be doing what we wanted to do 10 years ago," said Yang, who formed Yahoo with a college buddy in April 1995.

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