Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell Gives Keynote on the Ups and Downs of Our Digital Present (and Future)

Nolan Bushnell at the NXNE Keynote
Mike Palmer

Nolan Bushnell, keynote speaker at the NXNE Future Land, Interactive Conference in Toronto.

"I think that the technology both enables and destroys."

Entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell, the founder Atari Inc. and Chuck E. Cheese's, delivered the keynote at the newly revamped NXNE Future Land, Interactive Conference in Toronto this week.

"We have to choose between protection of the status quo and embrace of the future," Bushnell told the theatre of gamers and musicians at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management. "The future has no constituency. You believe people are going to sit by, and governments are going to sit by, and see 40 percent of the work force displaced by technology? 

"The countries that embrace the future will survive and do well, and those that restrict [technology] will fail within 20 years. And it's a problem because we have to create a clear vision of what the future could be like."

Bushnell, whose company created the groundbreaking arcade video game Pong, is currently writing his own immersive experience, Pong The Musical (with Rodgers and Hammerstein taking care of the music) slated to open next fall in Los Angeles.

His kids are also involved in various ventures, including Dip ("think of it as Airbnb for party places, like hotel pools") to Polycade (a video game machine with 300 retro games) and Two Bit Circus, focused on "big experiential games."

"In today's world you can find more and more about immersion," Bushnell said. "What is immersion? Well VR is immersion. But real life in a future scheme construct is immersion as well."

At the end of his presentation, Billboard asked how the record and live music industry could utilize some of these ideas and technologies for the future?

"The performing arts -- music, acting -- is at an interesting cross roads because there are fans and fan-base marketing and some of those things. I think that VR is, right now, in the whiz-bang phase, where it's so different that it hasn't settled down to being a true communication medium for things like new bands or new music or musical acts," Bushnell said. "In VR, I'm not sure that the visceral excitement of standing in the mosh pit, passing around people, is going to be nearly as much fun as when you do it yourself.

"I think that the technology both enables and destroys. There are so many more artists that are being heard today, but yet the amount of money that can be monetized through CD sales and even iTunes sales; you look at the music business and what was it, 20 percent of it was at its peak, and I see it as probably further disintermediation. The big brands are giving way to the small brands and I think that's going to continue."