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Strategic Insights in Accelerating Technological Change

19 October, 2004

Final Extension: "Early Bird" Ends October 20th.

Due to friends and associates asking for discounts, we've made one final extension to our Early Bird deadline. Until tomorrow at midnight, conference registration is $350 regular ($150 for students). Join us tomorrow if you can!

AC2004 brings you forty two world-class speakers over two and a half days, six keynotes, three debates (very fun, very heated, very interesting), Tech Night, and Virtual Worlds demos. See our PDF brochure.

Accelerating Change is the premiere conference exploring the opportunities and challenges of accelerating technological change. Our conference exists to network the most broad minded, future-aware, practical and passionate speakers and participants. Each year we collectively consider the staggering changes occuring on our increasingly intelligent planet. The connections you make here will be among the most important and informative in your life.

 

AC2004 Interface Debate Spotlight:
Jaron Lanier vs. Will Wright (Mark Finnern Moderating)

Debate: Finding Humanity in the Interface: Capacity Atrophy or Augmentation?

As our interfaces get smarter, how do we keep them from dehumanizing us? Can we avoid the world of MT Anderson's masterful dystopia, Feed (2002), where the internet-jacked, childlike teens of 2030 speak pidgin English and function primarily as vehicles for highly sophisticated and automated corporate marketing and political programming?

Should we be concerned that U.S. youth have had forty years of steadily declining math, science, and analytical reading skills? Do we need 1960's math skills in a world with ubiquitous calculators, or reading skills in a world with digital cable? Or thinking skills in a world with intelligent text analytics? Will GPS systems replace our ability to read maps?

Encouragingly, the Millennial generation reaches maturity earlier, communicates in new and very nonlinear ways, and has a strong facility to adapt to new technology. But are we in danger of losing our perspective, independence, and global vision? What are our most important priorities as we enter a world of increasingly sophisticated interfaces and simulations?

Join us as interface legends Jaron Lanier and Will Wright discuss and debate this and related topics in a fun, heated, and fascinating exchange.

Jaron Lanier is well known among developers as the co-inventor of "virtual reality," a term he coined in the 1980s as founder and former CEO of VPL Research. In the late 1980s he lead the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays as well as the first "avatars." While at VPL, he co-developed the first implementations of virtual reality applications in surgical simulation, vehicle interior prototyping, virtual sets for television production, and assorted other areas. He lead the team that developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications.

As a musician, Lanier has been active in the world of new "classical" music since the late seventies. He is a pianist and a specialist in unusual musical instruments, especially the wind and string instruments of Asia. Renowned as a composer, musician, computer scientist, and artist, he has taught at many university computer science departments around the country, including Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia and Penn. He recently served as the lead scientist for the National Tele-Immersion Initiative. In 1993, he predicted that virtual reality would be accessible to consumers by about 2010. He still thinks that's true.

Will Wright is Chief Designer and Co-Founder of Maxis (sold to Electronic Arts for $125M in 1997). He released his first game SimCity: The City Simulator in 1989, an instant hit which has won 24 domestic and international awards. Sim City brought complex, realistic simulations to desktop PCs, a capability previously only available to military, scientists and academicians. Using an easy graphical interface, Sim City opened the world of simulations to consumers.
SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 3000 Unlimited, and SimCity 4 Deluxe have continued the tradition. SimEarth, SimAnt, and other games have explored other facets of the natural world.

His social simulation game, The Sims, was released in February of 2000. With over 9 million copies worldwide, 7 expansion packs, and numerous "Game of The Year" accolades, The Sims has become the best-selling PC game of all time. The Sims Online and The Sims 2 (released September 2004, to critical acclaim) are the latest extensions of the Sims tradition in an increasingly open-ended, online world where you choose your role, attitude and destiny. He is now working a "third generation" simulation project at Maxis.

Wright has become one of the most successful designers of interactive entertainment in the world. In 1999 he was included in Entertainment Weekly’s "It List" of "the 100 most creative people in entertainment" as well as Time Digital’s "Digital 50", a listing of "the most important people shaping technology today." As one of his hobbies, each year Wright (along with his daughter) takes part in the annual Battlebot competition broadcast nationally on Comedy Central.

Debate moderator Mark Finnern manages the Collaboration Area of the fastest growing SAP Community: The SAP Developer Network. Mark is also the founder and host of the Bay Area Future Salon, co-producer of the Accelerating Change 2004 conference, and blogger for the O'Reilly Network. An amateur musician and community builder, he is interested in using technology to improve personal insight and strengthen civic life.

 

Send us your Challenge Questions! On Saturday Night, AC2004 attendees will debate important questions in our three conference themes over dinner—one question per table. Then volunteers will discuss their table's insights in a "Futuristically Incorrect" setting over dessert. Have any questions to suggest? Send them to jerrypaffendorf (at)accelerating.org. Here are a few examples to get you started:

What current investment sectors and strategies are most likely to keep the U.S. on a curve of accelerating productivity for the next ten years? How can we increase tech transfer to emerging nations without hurting U.S. jobs? How do we better sort out real news from hype in a world of increasing "information overload"? What will our communities look like in 2020, and will they be real, virtual, or some combination of the two? Will the most productive digital personas ("avatars") in 2023 record our life histories and mirror our personalities and if so, will they start to feel like extensions of ourselves?


Before the conference, Tech Tidbits features thought-provoking items in our three AC2004 themes. Find news we should know about? Tell us at mail(at)accelerating.org

PHYSICAL SPACE
Eliminating Malaria: On Vaccines and Vacuums
[Commentary by John Smart] Lancet reports today (Malaria Vaccine Advance, Pedro Alonso et.al, Lancet, 16 October 2004, free registration required) that 2,000 infants in Mozambique, aged 1-4 years, enrolled in a Phase II (efficacy) randomized controlled trial, had 37% less malaria infection after six months. Efficacy against severe malaria was 58%. If this progress continues, our first effective malaria vaccine might be available by 2010. Bravo.

This work was done through the Malaria Vaccine Initiative of PATH (Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health), an international NGO funded with $150M by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation notes "Of the more than one million people that malaria kills annually, the vast majority are under five years old. Effective weapons in this fight include insecticide-treated bednets, mosquito control, prompt and effective malaria treatment for children, and presumptive treatment for pregnant women. But the silver bullet, if there is one, may ultimately be a vaccine."

The Lancet article states that during the 20th century, economic and social development and antimalarial campaigns have almost halved the world's malarious surface from 50% to 27%. So far so good. Yet due to third world population growth, in 2010, half the population of the planet, 3.5 billion people, are still likely to be living in areas where malaria is transmitted. Two to three hundred million people a year are presently getting infected, and malaria remains one of the major unsolved scourges of the underdeveloped world. Vaccines are one smart bet, as it will be hard for malarial strains that become resistant to them, the way they have against antimalarial drugs.

At the same time, I think mosquito eradication should also get accelerating development efforts. Let's halve that 27% by 2015. DDT, the only chemical control that works quite well against mosquitos, is returning in a number of African countries, but the environmental issues keep it problematic. Unfortunately, DDT-treated mosquito nets have to be frequently refreshed, and that's a problem: malaria hits worst in the areas where there is least social infrastructure.

What is sorely needed is the deployment of sustainable, renewable killing systems in areas where there are no electricity. My favorite so far are the propane burning units like SkeeterVac. Mosquitos love C02 emission, moisture, and heat, and these systems emit all of these, attracting and permanently trapping the bugs in a fan-driven vacuum. These first generation models (sold by propane supplier companies) cost about 80 cents a day to operate, run very quietly, 24/7, and will wipe an acre clear of mosquitos in days. The propane can be refilled very occasionally by a network of NGO personnel. How much additional operating efficiency can be engineered into these systems? Could we get them down another order of magnitude, down to less than 10 cents a day with a significantly slower propane burn but an equally efficient end result? I've got a lot more confidence in that kind of breakthrough than I do in seeing an effective malaria vaccine before 2015, given the social and biological complexities involved.

I'll bet we could get second or third generation SkeeterVacs into all the most populous underdeveloped areas for a surprisingly low cost. I'll bet they could also be made cheap enough to be distributed to individuals for their homes at night (and to the worst breeding grounds in the area), with tanks large that only need to be refilled a few times a year. Best of all, they are a permanent solution.

I hope some engineer takes up this worthy challenge. Groups like Engineers for a Sustainable World (and their excellent Solutions for a Shrinking Planet conference each September) or Engineers Without Borders are the kinds of networks where one might find the talent to deliver this solution. Join them and participate!

Netflix Faces a Scary Plotline, Lorenza Munoz, Los Angeles Times 16 Oct 2004 (1 page)
[Commentary by John Smart] Here's a fascinating story from the consumer digital frontier. Netflix lost $7 per share on Friday (40% of its value in one day) after Blockbuster announced it was cutting its monthly online subscription fee to $17.49. This is fifty cents cheaper than the $17.99 Netflix announced on Thursday (down from their previous increase to $21.99). Analysts see the beginning of a price war, and rumors build that Amazon will also soon enter the space (as has Wal-Mart, now overpriced at $18.76). Some have forecast that Netflix et. al. are transitional businesses, and that personal video recorders (TiVo and competitors), better cable and satellite, and eventually, video on demand will keep eating away at this market. Going by the trend line below (January ($27.42/share, down to $10.30 on Friday), things are looking pretty grim.

The P/E ratio on this company (515) is still absurd, but I think there will be room for significantly more profitable growth in the next few years in a lower cost Netflix service, good word of mouth promotion, and continued customer defection from what some see as an overly commercial and expensive Blockbuster. This is their third year as a public company. Their net income in 2002 was (-$21M), in 2003 $6.5M, and YTD 2004 $16M. You don't lose that kind of velocity overnight. They've got 2.2 million subscribers, and are targeting 5M subscribers and $1B in revenues by 2006-7. They are currently the Google/eBay of this business, with the vast majority of market share. They've also shown a real aggressiveness in defending their turf. With the new low pricing, they have made a significant barrier to entry that may protect their leadership position a good while longer, as they push toward their next goal of 5% share of U.S. homes.

An online service like Netflix, just like internet vs. physical banks, can ideally offer a cheaper service than Blockbuster. They can keep their brand of "simpler, faster, better," even as they move into video on demand in coming years. Perhaps most importantly, a company like this is developing competencies to go international when its growth velocity slows in coming years. If they are smart, they are subtitling all those DVDs now in multiple languages so they can reuse them in Ecuador or Poland in 2012, when video on demand to PVRs may start outcompeting DVD mailings in the U.S. Netflix currently plans to go to the U.K. and Canada in 2005, but they don't envision international comprising more than 20% of their business for several years to come. That's a lot of upside.

There's also room for a lot more artificial intelligence in the movie selection and customization process. Netflix has 25,000 titles, and their collaborative filtering system (Cinematch) is a modest start in this direction. Would you be willing to vote what you like and don't like about the movies you've seen in return for a lower rental rate? Imagine a voice interfaced personal video recorder in 2010 that (humorously, crisply, pick your personality) asks your feedback right after the movie, and shows snips of the next movies you might be interested in watching, in response. That kind of platform will get Netflix customers watching a lot more than the six per month they currently do. Once the studios start selling masking licences, so that downloaded movies can be edited for content, you'll get some seriously entertaining and educational video options. With the lifetime of the typical business around 30 years, don't expect Netflix to disappear anytime soon. [Invest at your own risk. Information above is believed to be reliable but we cannot attest to its accuracy. Check with independent counsel before making investment decisions.]

Cold Fusion Back From the Dead? Justin Mullins, IEEE Spectrum Online, October 2004 (2 pages)
It turns out that Pons and Fleischmann may have been right back in 1989: for reasons still unknown, when you run a current through palladium eletrodes placed in deuterium (heavy water), positive net energy (250% of the input) can result (as excess heat). No one knows if this might eventually lead to a new method for low-level energy generation, but there are hints that the deuterium/palladium ratio is one of the control points. The DOE is reinvestigating. The world of the microcosm is continually surprising. Thanks to Mark Rotenberg for the hit.

Speaker Speak: Jim Spohrer on Service Science, AC2004 Physical Space Change Leader
"Corporations are notorious for introducing technology without considering the human consequences." "Humans are intentional agents, and intentional agents can resist or accelerate change." "How do you take social change and reduce the time to implement it?" "Studying that problem is exactly what we have to do."

"One of the interesting things, to me, is work evolution," says Jim Spohrer of IBM Almaden Research, referring to how certain types of services jobs have changed over the years. Call centers in the 1970s, for example, were staffed by technical experts. Today they are staffed by less skilled people who use computer-based knowledge systems. The trend toward outsourcing and speech-recognition systems continues to change the call center experience. "Work seems to follow this evolutionary pattern."

A whole new field of study is about to emerge in universities throughout the US, according to Spohrer, who believes that students could begin to receive doctorate degrees in the field of "services sciences" in 10 years time [more].


VIRTUAL SPACE
I Love Bees Game a Surprise Hit, Wired News, by Daniel Terdiman, 18 October 2004 (2 pages)
[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] I Love Bees is currently hot stuff in the emerging “alternate reality gaming” (ARG) genre—a breed of massively multi-player games that bridge both physical and virtual space across a range of geographies and media. Participants in I Love Bees comb faux-hacker-infested websites for clues and follow GPS coordinates to public payphones scattered across the country.

Players are part of an immersive sci-fi narrative that ends where the story of the major X-Box video game Halo 2 (November 9, from Microsoft's Bungie Studios) begins. The first and most successful ARG to-date was Beast (also by Microsoft), a 2001 massively multi-player marketing game designed as a lead-in for Steven Spielberg’s film, AI. The intersection of smartmob, geo-gaming, and marketing tie-ins (so far every ARG has had a product attached) make this new genre ripe for experimentation. This longer term potential coupled with their early success suggests that the ARG format may find increasingly widespread applications.

A fun way to get a handle on all of this is to pop over to the G4techTV site and watch an entertaining road trip segment on I Love Bees and ARGs. At the end of the segment Steve Peters, architect of the Alternate Reality Gaming Network, describes ARGs as “interactive fiction on steroids.” Asked to speculate on their future, he is surprisingly taciturn. Thoughts? That episode of The Simpons (“Lisa the Skeptic,” guest-starring Stephen Jay Gould) where the new shopping mall plants the fake angel bones comes to mind.

Speaker Speak: Robin Harper, AC2004 Virtual Space Change Leader
A few pioneering college professors are taking advantage of sophisticated new 3D virtual worlds like Linden Lab's Second Life, teaching online classes in a world where students can fly, change body types at will and build fantastical structures for entertainment or edification.

Robin Harper is director of Linden Lab's university outreach program Campus: Second Life. She sees such worlds as ideal environments for students. "Their focus is experience," she said. "It's whatever their individual perspective is. They come into Second Life trying to explore their ideas as they relate to a digital experience." Come hear Robin discuss how virtual worlds are empowering global education today and the new opportunities they bring to the table. [more].


INTERFACE
Google Your Desktop, by Rael Dornfest, O’Reilly Network, 14 October 2004 (1 page and reader comments)

[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] Google has just released its Google Desktop Search engine, intended to make searching your personal files and web history as simple and effective as a regular Google search. Key among its features is the ability to index the full text of Outlook and Outlook Express email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, AOL Instant Messenger chats, web pages viewed in Internet Explorer, and any HTML and plain text files saved to your computer. Google Desktop also allows basic image search function within file names. The Gillmor Gang has a good audio discussion of the software’s strengths and weaknesses posted over at IT Conversations. Some of the potential privacy concerns fit well with the David Brin vs. Brad Templeton transparency debate at AC2004.

From the moment you install it, Google Desktop Search begins indexing all of the information on your computer, and it continuously does so every time your computer is idle for 30 seconds or longer, updating itself so comprehensively that previous Google Desktop searches will immediately show up in a Google Desktop search. At the moment the program is only for Windows XP or Windows 2000, although there is a non-Google patch to coordinate it with Firefox.

This release has been a jump-off for speculation about Google’s next move and long-term strategy, from talk of an upcoming Google IM service to an eventual move on Microsoft through changing the very nature of the web (see this Search Engine Watch article from earlier this year). As a commentator on the Gillmor Gang notes, “It’s not about beating Microsoft at their game, it’s about creating a new game.” What a great time for those of us looking for new innovation in the search space.

Peter Norvig, Director of Search Quality at Google, will speak at AC2004 on Sunday on the increasingly important roles of web search to modern life, and some of the technical challenges that must be overcome to bring search to the next level of sophistication and usefulness as a "force for good." He is a Fellow and Councilor of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and co-author of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, the world's leading university textbook in the field of AI.

Cool Tools: Test and Improve Your Memory, a mental fitness program ($29.99, HappyNeuron.com).
A diverse yet simple set of memory exercises to improve one's mental flexibility. Like speed reading, educators know that these kind of programs work best when they are built on top of the reading that you normally do, for personal enjoyment, career development, or academic coursework.
But until such integrated trainers become available in your Reading Tablet PC of 2015, you might consider supporting the enterprising folks at Scientific Brain Training (SBT) who have put this together. Thanks to Philip VanNedervelde for the hit.

Speaker Speak: John Mauldin, AC2004 Interface Change Leader; Author, Bull's Eye Investing, 2004.
Financial expert John Mauldin makes a powerful case regarding the future direction of the markets. He helps us adjust to what he demonstrates is the dramatically new reality of investing in a post-bubble, long term "secular" bear market. "The two most common biases [in investing, in life] are overoptimism and overconfidence. For instance, when teachers ask a class who will finish in the top half, on average around 80 percent of the class think they will! Not only are people overly optimistic, but they are overconfident as well."

"People are surprised more often than they expect to be. For instance, when you ask people to make a forecast of an event or a situation, and to establish at what point they are 98 percent confident about their predictions, we find that the correctness of their predictions ranges between 60 and 70 percent! What happens when we are only 75 percent sure or are playing that 50-50 hunch?"

"Knowledge makes us confident. And the more knowledge we have, evidently the more confident we become, even though our accuracy may not be enhanced." Words for the wise. [more].


Call for Submissions
ISAC is seeking submissions for its Accelerating Times (AT) web-based publication. AT is a "free and priceless" biannual newsletter covering scientific, technological, business, and humanist dialogs in accelerating change. Anyone may submit reader feedback, scan hits, article links, original papers, questions, and even cartoons (for you illustrators out there) to mail(at)accelerating.org. Accepted work will appear, fully credited, in future issues of Accelerating Times.

ISAC

Final Early Bird: Oct. 20th

Interface Debate Spotlight

Send Us Your Challenge Questions

NEWS

Eliminating Malaria: On Vaccines and Vacuums

Netflix Faces a Scary Plotline

Cold Fusion Back From the Dead?

Speaker Speak: Jim Spohrer

I Love Bees Game a Surprise Hit

Speaker Speak: Robin Harper

Google Your Desktop

Peter Norvig: Change Leader

Cool Tools: Test and Improve Your Memory

Speaker Speak: John Mauldin

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Washington, D.C.
Oct 18-19, 2004

COMING EVENTS

Pop!Tech, October 21-23 (Camden, ME). The social impact of technology and the shape of things to come.

RoboNexus, October 21-23
(Santa Clara, CA). The nation's largest business, development, education, and consumer event for emerging robotics technologies.

Foresight Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology, Oct 22-24 (Washington, DC). Analyzing and championing the emerging field of molecular manufacturing (MNT).

International Congress of Nanotechnology, Nov 7-11 (San Francisco, CA). Broad overview of the state of nano today. Includes Expo.

 

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