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Strategic Insights in Accelerating Technological Change

26 November, 2004

AC2004: Thanks to Everyone for a Great Show!

As Conference Director Jerry Paffendorf notes, there's no other way to say it: Accelerating Change 2004 rocked! We had 42 world-class speakers and 310 fascinating, future-oriented participants. This was about 40 more attendees than last year, including 35 press representatives, several from major media.

After two successful years, Accelerating Change is on its way to becoming known as "the world's premiere futurist conference." That's a tall claim to fill, and we will do our best to meet it every year forward, with your help.

A big thanks to those who supported our community by coming to Stanford, those who helped spread the word, and those who cheered us on from cyberspace. Click our AC2004 credits page to see all the passionate people who were involved this year. A special thanks to Jimbob Peltaire, Tech Night Director, for a great Friday night event.

Writeups: On the AC2004 homepage, including notes from Day 1 and Day 2 by blogger-extraordinare Evelyn Rodriguez.

Slides: 18 of 35 speaker slide presentations are now posted, with the rest going up in the next few weeks.

Audio: All of our speakers audio will soon be publicly posted for downloading to your iPod, courtesy of Doug Kaye at IT Conversations, our media partner. For email notification of availability, sign up here.

DVDs: An edited conference set will be available by the end of this year, courtesy of Ted St. Rain at Accelerating Media.

Random Fun: One surprise we sprung on attendees was the two Segways we provided for riding over the weekend, courtesy of our bronze sponsor, Jason Stemmler at Segway Los Angeles. Games of 'Segway chicken' and even 'Segway polo' emerged in the lobby. There was even a Slashdot writeup of a Segway vs. Roomba encounter in the demo area.

AC2K5: Save the Dates!

Accelerating Change 2005: IA and AI — Intelligence Amplification and Artificial Intelligence, comes to Stanford University on October 28-30, 2005. Noted mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge will be one of our keynote speakers. More on this in coming weeks.

Thanksgiving: A Capitalist Success Story

Thanksgiving: An Incentive Success Tale, Caroline Baum, Bloomberg News.
T-trivia: Did you know thanksgiving in the U.S. was based on a new world innovation, private property, brought to the Plymouth Bay Colony in 1623 by its second governor, William Bradford? Before then farming was communal, as in Europe, with poor results. Happy Thanksgiving for Bradford's economic insight, and for the 381 years of accelerating progress we have seen since!
T-advice: try not to overeat, my friends. We don't need to be thankful for the epidemic of obesity now sweeping all the first world and many developing countries, and the diseases and short lifespans that come with it. Thanks to Johann Gevers for the hit.

What a Drag, Earth Warps Space Surrounding It, Robert Roy Britt,
[Commentary by John Smart] Frame dragging—relativistic twists in the basic fabric of spacetime created by rotating objects, which slow down other rotating objects in their vicinity—is confirmed for two earth-orbiting satellites.

The experiment was possible due to precise location-measurement by lasers from earth. It's amazing to realize just how predictive our macroscopic models have become.
Thanks to Terrence Glassman.


A Farewell to Copenhagen?, John G. Cramer, Analog Magazine.
Quantum Mechanics Not So Bohring Anymore
[Commentary by Jeff Thompson] Physicist John Cramer describes a recent experiment which could be an important milestone in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. The experiment, performed by the physicist Shariar Afshar, is a modification of Thomas Young's double-slit experiment for electrons (one of Science's Ten Most Beautiful Experiments according to George Johnson of the NYT), which is supposed to prove Niels Bohr's "principle of complementarity".

Complementarity is the quantum weirdness that is supposed to prevent you from observing something behave as both a partcle and a wave at the same time. If you measure well enough see which slit the light is coming through (as particles) then it destroys the interference pattern (as waves). Well, now Afshar has modified the experiment so that you can indeed see which slit the light particles are coming through and also show that there is still an interference pattern.

As Cramer explains, this does not invalidate the mathematical predictions of quantum mechanics, but only some of the interpretations we visualize to explain what is "really" physically going on to yield those predictions. The Afshar experiment appears to threaten the standard Copenhagen Interpretation - you know, the one which says that all possibilities exist simultaneously (both wave and particle) until you observe the system and the probability function "collapses" to only allow you to observe one of the possibilities. (Afshar appears to be observing both.) The experiment also seems to threaten a close cousin, the Many Worlds Interpretation, where reality splits on each observation into a new parallel universe. (Afshar got them both to show up in our one good ol' universe.)

Cramer explains that there are other interpretations (one of which is his own) which survive the Afshar experiment. Stay tuned for more in this area in coming years.

Personally, I welcome the opportunity to re-evaluate the mysticism around pop-science depictions of quantum physics where pundits reassure the reader that science has finally proven that reality is too mysterious for humans to understand, and that you have to just take it as an article of faith that a quantum event is both a wave and particle at the same time - but that you can't ever see it or know which. Well, with Afshar, we do see these events differently, and maybe 21st century science will be about really being able to know what we are looking at without needing leaps of faith.

Technology, Future
Google Buys Satellite Map Co. Keyhole Corp., MSNBC, 27 October 2004
[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] Holy Mirror Worlds, David Gelernter! Google has acquired Keyhole Corp., maker of super scalable, high-resolution maps of the whole world stitched together from satellite photos (check out the videos here, including weather and war coverage appearances on CNN). Google plans to use Keyhole’s software as the foundation for its local search platform. In their official press release, Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s VP of Product Management, introduces the value of the service this way: “With Keyhole, you can fly like a superhero from your computer at home to a street corner somewhere else in the world—or find a local hospital, map a road trip or measure the distance between two points.” A post on the Google blog conjures Charles and Ray Eames' famous Powers of 10 video.

The convergence of GPS, blogging, and mobile web-ready devices coupled with the escalating competition between search services is poised to revolutionize the ways we navigate and experience our surroundings (At the recent CTIA wireless conference in San Francisco I heard Yahoo!'s COO, Dan Rosenweig, confirm Yahoo!’s commitment to providing the best local search features—you've probably seen their new Yahoo! local billboard campaign.) Way beyond programs that keep you from getting lost, geo-search programs double as public bulletin boards and blogs, promising to let you know and post what’s going on in a specific geographic area. Such site-specific applications of the World Wide Web promise to make for searchable cities and environments which in turn promises to change the ways in which we use those spaces, socially and economically.

While Google hasn’t yet spoken of plans for offering “geoblogging” services, projects such as Dodgeball, WaveMarket, and Urban Tapestries (in the UK) are already paving the way, demonstrating proof of concept. As wireless bandwidth increases and Moore’s Law has its way with the processing power of our mobile devices, we’re in for some lovely local search surprises in the near future, from location-aware social software (think IM buddy lists on a map) to useful new reputation systems for finding and choosing restaurants, event venues, stores, or whatever it is you're looking for while you're out on the go, or before you leave the house.

Let the Mirror World-style transparent society begin: one of the FAQs on the Keyhole site is “Will I be able to see my house?”

Technology, Future
New Aibo is Cooler and Smarter, Lance Ulanoff, PC Magazine, 10.6.04
[JS] The ESR-7 Sony Aibo Robotic Dog ($1,900) responds to voice commands in 1 second (down from seven in the last model). Remembers object locations. Plays MP-3 and Windows Media files. Can record video, sound, and pictures when it senses movement or sound, and send recordings to a preset e-mail address. You still can't pilot Aibo remotely, but I would bet there are a few hobbyists out there working on that.

It looks as though we are going to need licences and publicly transparent immune systems for these things shortly, as a remotely piloted Aibo could get into a lot of mischief. Thanks to Peter Voss.

Technology, Money, Forecasting
Second Life Boosted with $8 Million in New Financing, Linden Lab Press Release, 8 October 2004

[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] Linden Lab, overseers of the user-created online digital world of Second Life, has announced the completion of an $8,000,000 financing round led by Benchmark Capital (whose Bill Gurley gave a great intro (audio, text (once there, click on the “Above the Crowd” newsletter link) to the business of massively multi-player virtual worlds that I pointed you to in a previous edition of Tech Tidbits). Funders include the Omidyar Network headed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (a Second Life user from before his investment), and existing Second Life investor, software pioneer Mitch Kapor (founder of Lotus Development and Kapor Enterprises).

Eight million dollars is a pretty penny in this space and Benchmark and Omidyar are very noteworthy investors, underscoring the belief held by many that Linden Lab’s allowance for bottom-up development from its users may be the magic formula for eventually building something like the Metaverse—a 3D online social and business Mecca first proposed by Neil Stephenson in his cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash.

In explaining what he finds so interesting about Second Life, Omidyar focuses on the positive feedback loop at work amongst its users: “Second Life has a vibrant community where content creators and consumers reinforce one another… Better experiences attract more users, which further attracts entrepreneurial developers to enrich the experience.”

Bill Gurley notes, “While most multi-player gaming companies are inherently limited by the size of their development team, Second Life is limited only by the imagination of its users. This is clearly the most leveraged digital entertainment environment we have ever encountered.” Mr. Gurley will also be joining Linden Lab’s board of directors.

Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab’s CEO (and former CTO of Real Networks), has previously predicted that Second Life will have one million users within three years. He says he “[looks] forward to walking the digital streets of a place that has until now existed only in science fiction and dreams.”

Mind, Technology
The Problem With Some 'Smart' Toys: (Hint) Use Your Imagination
, Linda Carroll, New York Times, 26 Oct 2004
[Commentary by Iveta Brigis]. Can the right technology make us smarter? Parents who purchase “smart” toys for their children certainly seem to think so. But how much of this is wishful thinking? No studies have yet shown that these toys, games, and videos which supposedly boost kids’ cognitive abilities beat out traditional games (old-school Legos; non-talking dolls) in spurring intellectual development. One of the most interesting recent psychological research studies (free registration required) on the heritability of intelligence shows us that intelligence is influenced by both genetics and the environment and that certain environmental specifications must be met for our genetic potential to be actualized. For more on this, see Matt Ridley’s theory in Nature via Nurture. Intelligence is a fascinating topic, and we’ll be addressing it with next year’s conference theme, IA and AI: Intelligence Amplification and Artificial Intelligence, at AC2K5 (that's AC2005 for the old-schoolers out there).

Culture, Future
US, Pakistan Launch Cooperative Science & Technology Projects, Cheryl Pellerin, U.S. Dept. of State, 28 Oct 2004
[Commentary by Jason Kolker]. The prospect of science being used to fight the War on Terror certainly has a high-tech, NSA connotation, but I suspect the architects of the US-Pakistan Science and Technology agreement had something more subtle and even more profound in mind when they initiated 18 cooperative projects with $3 million in funding late last month.

The projects include staple third world urgencies such as clean water and more available medical data and nowhere in the attending publicity have I seen the word “terror” even mentioned. But, clearly there is an offensive for minds as well as hearts going on. The highest funded project is supplying scientific journal content to a nationwide digital library system and there will also be linkages created between the U.S. and Pakistan “scientific centers of excellence”.

Too often, the progress of science is gauged in discoveries and applications; too infrequently is it gauged by the pervasiveness of its mere existence. What is being encouraged in Pakistan by this agreement is an alternative to madras thinking. It is my opinion that at this stage in the Islam-West cultural divide, the enlightenment paradigm of Francis Bacon will be a more effective agent of change than the control-hierarchy paradigm of Bill Joy.

I would argue further that the fruits of science minus the thoughts of science–that is, the critical thoughts of science–lead often to only superficial change, to 21st century updates of medieval weapons, or a return to communication-fighting 8th century Jihads. There are certainly downsides—from anti-ethical weaponry to obnoxious children—to critical minds fortified with an inspiration to investigate and experiment, but stagnation is not one of them.

Further, this US-Paki science coordination isn’t simply an imposition of science; with it comes the requisite of communication with others, or should I say, with The Other; that is, the Western World. And this is indeed a Trojan Horse. The committee that created this agreement met at Camp David as a direct result of Sept. 11 and I can’t help but think there was an undercurrent of the belief that science could be used as tool for much needed cultural mixing, if not engineering.

The Singularity is an issue of resonance for me, but I think there is a fight for its interpretation. Nothing will change human kind more than a change in motivations I believe. If you mess with people’s sex drives, their desire to live, their resistance to share, or their impulsion to altered states, you will get a different answer to the human equation. By the same token, if you can enhance a population’s desire to grow and discourage its compulsion not to, maybe we will stop getting more of the same (socially and politically speaking). Maybe. Regarding the Singularity, I pose this as an honest, non-rhetorical question: what will have a more profound effect on human existence in 30 years, the availability of $500 bionic eyes or the existence of a broad base of scientific thinking in a populace?

Call for Submissions
ASF is seeking submissions for our Accelerating Times (AT) web-based publication. AT is a "free and priceless" biweekly and biannual newsletters 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) Accepted work will appear, fully credited, in future issues.


Accelerating Change 2004: Thanks To Everyone for a Great Show

AC2K5: Save the Dates!

Thanksgiving: A Capitalist Success Story


A Farewell to Copenhagen?

What a Drag, Earth Warps Space Surrounding It

New Aibo is Cooler and Smarter

Google Buys Satellite Map Co. Keyhole Corp.

Second Life Boosted with $8 Million in New Financing

The Problem With Some 'Smart' Toys: (Hint) Use Your Imagination

US, Pakistan Launch Cooperative Science and Technology Projects



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Oct 18-19, 2004



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November 30,
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December 5-8,
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