Notes from day 3 at PopTech:
Chris Anderson talked about, ba ba baba!, not the long tail. Well, not explicitly. Chris charted how the availability of a surplus in transistors (processors are cheap), storage (hard drives are cheap), and surplus in bandwidth (DSL is cheap) has resulted in so much opportunity for innovation and new technology. His thoughts reminded me of how surplus space in Silicon Valley (in the form of garages) allowed startup entrepreneurs to pursue new ideas without having to procure expensive commercial office space.
Quick thought re: the long tail…if the power law arises from scarcity as Matt Webb says, then it would make sense that the surplus that Anderson refers to would be flattening that curve out a bit.
Roger Brent crammed a 60 minute talk into 20 minutes. It was about genetic engineering and completely baffling…almost a series of non sequiturs. “Centripital glue engine” was my favorite phrase of the talk, but I’ve got no idea what Brent meant by it.
Homaro Cantu gave a puzzling presentation of a typical meal at his Chicago restaurant, Moto. I’ve seen this presentation twice before and eaten at Moto; all three experiences were clear and focused on the food. This time around, Cantu didn’t explain the food as well or why some of the inventions were so cool. His polymer box that cooks on the table is a genuinely fantastic idea, but I got the feeling that the rest of the audience didn’t understand what it was. Cantu also reiterated his position on copyrighting and patenting his food and inventions. Meg caught him saying that he was trying to solve the famine problem with his edible paper, which statement revealed two problems: a) famines are generally caused by political issues and therefore not solvable by new kinds of food, printed or otherwise, and b) he could do more good if he open sourced his inventions and let anyone produce food or improve the techniques in those famine cases where food would be useful.
Richard Dawkins gave part of his PopTech talk (the “queerer than we can suppose” part of it) at TED in 2005 (video).
Bob Metcalfe’s wrap-up of the conference was a lot less contentious than in past years; hardly any shouting and only one person stormed angrily out of the room. In reference to Hasan Elahi’s situation, Bob said that there’s a tension present in our privacy desires: “I want my privacy, but I need you to be transparent.” Not a bad way of putting it.
Serena Koenig spoke about her work in Haiti with Partners in Health. Koening spoke of a guideline that PIH follows in providing healthcare: act as though each patient is a member of your own family. That sentiment was echoed by Zinhle Thabethe, who talked about her experience as an HIV+ woman living in South Africa, an area with substandard HIV/AIDS-related healthcare. Thabethe’s powerful message: we need to treat everyone with HIV/AIDS the same, with great care. Sounds like the beginning of a new Golden Rule of Healthcare.
2.7 billion results for “blog” on Google. Blogs: bigger than Jesus.
Hasan Elahi ran into some trouble with the FBI in 2002 (they thought he was a terrorist) and ever since, he’s been voluntarily tracking his movements and putting the whole thing online: photos of meals, photos of toilets used, airports flown out of, credit card receipts, etc. His goal is to flood the market with information, so it devalues the information that the authorities have on him.
Since my internet access has been somewhat spotty at the conference (I’m trying to pay attention and power is hard to come by here so the laptop is closed most of the time), I’m going to do rolling wrap-ups as I go, skipping around and filling in the blanks when I can. Here we go, soundbite-style:
Alex Steffen: Cars equipped with displays that show gas mileage, when compared to cars without the mileage display, get better gas mileage. That little bit of knowledge helps the driver drive more economically. More visible energy meter displays in the home have a similar effect…people use less energy when they’re often reminded of how much energy they use. (Perhaps Personal Kyoto could help here as well.) At dinner, we discussed parallels between that and eating. Weighing yourself daily or keep track of everything you eat, and you’ll find yourself eating less. In the same way, using a program like Quicken to track your finances might compel you to spend less, at least in areas of your life where you may be spending too much.
Bruce Sterling is the Jesse Jackson of technology. He has this cadence that he gets into, neologism after neologism, stopping just short of suggesting a new word for neologism. Wonderful to experience in person. Perhaps not as upbeat as the Reverend, though.
Bruce also related a story told to him by an engineering professor friend of his. The prof split his class into two groups. The first group, the John Henrys, had to study and learn exclusively from materials available at the library…no internet allowed. The second group, the Baby Hueys, could use only the internet for research and learning…no primary source lookups at the library. After a few weeks, he had to stop this experiment because the John Henrys were lagging so far behind the Baby Hueys that it is was unfair to continue.
Kevin Kelly noted that the web currently has 1 trillion links, 1 quintillion transistors, and 20 exabytes of memory. A single human brain has 1 trillion synapses (links), 1 quintillion neurons (transistors of sorts), and 20 exabytes of memory.
Kelly also said that technology has its own agenda and went on to list what it is that technology might want. One of the things was clean water. You need clean water for industrial manufacturing…so water cleanliness is going to be a big deal in China. In a later talk, Thomas Friedman said, “China needs to go green.”
Hasan Elahi, during his ordeal being mistaken for — what’s the term these days? — an enemy combatant, learned that language translates easier than culture. That is, you can learn how to speak a language fluently way easier than to have the cultural fluency necessary to convince someone you’re a native. In his interrogations, Hasan liberally sprinkled pop culture references in his answers to questions posed by the FBI to help convince them that he was a native. Workers at call centers in India for American companies are not only taught to speak English with an American accent, they also receive training in American geography, history, and pop culture so as to better fool/serve American callers.
“The best laid plans of mice and men turn into a nonlinear system.” — Will Wright, with apologies to Robert Burns.
Speaking of Wright, a couple of Spore trivia bits. The data for a creature in Spore takes up just 3K of memory. And entire world: just 80K. And these worlds are amazingly complex.
Brian Eno: With large groups of people, the sense of shame and the sense of honor that keeps the members of small groups from misbehaving breaks down. The challenge for larger groups is to find ways of making honor and shame matter in a similar respect.
Stewart Brand: “We are terraforming the earth anyway, we might as well do it right.” Stewart also noted that cities are very effective population sinks. When people move to cities, the birthrate drops to the replacement rate (2.1 children per family) and keeps on dropping. Combine that with the fact that by early next year, more people in the world will live in cities than in rural areas, and at some point in the next hundred years, the earth’s population will start to fall.