Events Archives

December 4, 2003

Opening Africa

If you're in Cape Town, South Africa in mid-January, and have a spare $500 or so, you may want to check out the First African Conference on the Digital Commons. According to the site:

The conference will address the challenges and opportunities of the creation and use of free / open source software and open content and their development potential for Africa. The conference has both strategic and practical objectives, bringing together participants from government, education, business and civil society together with the developer community. The purpose of this conference is to:

  • Review progress on implementation of open source and open content in Africa
  • Create opportunities for peer-to-peer networking and learning among Africans participating in open source and open content initiatives
  • Lay the groundwork for collaborative creation of open source software in Africa
  • Expose Open Source companies and products to a variety of participants
  • Keynote speakers include Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, Dr. Sibusiso Sibisi, President & CEO of South Africa's Centre for Science, Innovation, and Research (CSIR), and Wendy Seltzer of the EFF.

    The conference is cosponsored by the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, an organization dedicated to encouraging the use of open source software as part of Africa's ongoing development process. The FOSSFA site includes a database of groups using open source tools in Africa. One example is a group called Guinix, which set up inexpensive radio email throughout Guinea for no more than $150/month total cost using old PCs loaded with Linux and FreeBSD.

    The open source/collaboration meme seems to be spreading like wildfire, both as a way for governments to bootstrap development and for NGOs large and small to take advantage of digital technologies.

    December 12, 2003

    New Feminist Perspectives on Biotechnology and Bioethics

    "Feminists Face the Future: New Feminist Perspectives on Biotechnology and Bioethics" is the title of the thirteenth annual Berkeley Boundaries in Question conference, Thursday, March 11 through Sunday, March 13, 2004 at the University of California at Berkeley. It will address issues raised by biotechnology from a feminist perspective. The conference will bring together a diverse assortment of disciplines to talk about the intersection of feminist thought and new developments in biotech. The agenda for the conference is still shaping up, and the deadline for submissions is Monday, January 12, 2004. Contact information for potential participants can be found on the conference website.

    Possible themes include:

    How might the politics of Choice be changing in response to newly emerging reproductive technologies, and might a pro-choice sensibility inform our understanding of morphological freedoms promised by genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification?

    Does the copyrighting of genetic information, the selling of gametes over the Internet, the multiplication of surrogate mothering services, and the existence of markets for human organs alter or expand the feminist critique of the traffic in women?

    How is technological development differently articulated across nations, regions, races, sexes, cultures, generations?

    Is the body of biotechnology more a promise of empowerment, a site of struggle, a recipe for market exchange and exploitation, a text for experts to read, or a poem we recite against the grain?

    Should ecofeminism find in biotechnology more a threat to nature, an expression of nature, or, possibly, nature's proliferation?

    Do we see in queer politics an anticipation of post-biological affiliation, or an intensification of medical subjection?

    How does feminism shape perspectives on cloning, genetically-modified crops, genetic medicine?

    How are and how should these developments be shaping feminist strategies, and feminism's sense of itself?

    The organizer of the event, Dale Carrico, is one of the contributors to one of my favorite group blogs, CyborgDemocracy (where I found the link to this event).

    February 8, 2004

    WorldChanging in London

    My visit to the UK is going well, although the extremely chilly rain is keeping me from hitting some of the intended sites (and sights). I did manage to spend the afternoon with WorldChanging contributers Zaid Hassan and Mike Metelits.

    Zaid and Jamais

    Mike and Zaid

    The ensuing discussion of where WorldChanging is going and what it means to retain cultural identity in a rapidly-changing world was interesting and useful, and we expect to get a good series of posts out of it from each of us.

    February 12, 2004

    WorldChanging at the Future Salon

    And speaking of the Bay Area Future Salon, Alex and I will be the guest speakers at this month's meeting, on Friday February 20th. We'll be talking about WorldChanging, naturally, and why we think another world really is here. If you're in the SF area, we'd love for you to come on by!

    Friday, February 20th
    7:00 pm
    Open Source Applications Foundation
    543 Howard St. 5th Floor
    San Francisco, CA 94105 (map)

    February 17, 2004

    Conference on Humanness

    Noted at Cyborg Democracy:

    Human, All Too Human
    3 to 6 August 2004
    San Diego, United States

    This is an international, interdisciplinary conference on all things human--humanism, human rights, dualism, consciousness, human nature, morality. What is it that makes us human and how is the concept of humanity changing? How is the concept of humanity treated in scientific research, philosophical research, and popular culture?

    Papers and alternative presentations from a wide range of disciplines are encouraged: Philosophy, Religion, Psychology, Biology, Neurology, Sociology, Anthropology, Visual Arts, and Literature.

    General topics can include: Mind/body dualism; Consciousness; Morality; Individuality and personality; Social needs and obligations; Creative needs; Concepts of the self; Alienation and estrangement from the self; Cloning/genetics; and Cyborgs and other human-like constructions.

    The deadline for abstracts/proposals is 30 April 2004.


    March 13, 2004

    Life in the Shooting Gallery

    Last night, I attended the latest of the Long Now Foundation's monthly seminars about Long-Term Thinking: Apollo and Skylab astronaut Rusty Schweickart, talking about the threat to the Earth from asteroid impact over the next 100,000 years. The danger of asteroid or comet strikes on Earth is a topic we've mentioned a couple of times here at WorldChanging, but Schweickart's talk brought together quite a bit of information about the threat -- and what we can do about it.

    The possibility of an extraterrestrial object being a threat to the planet is not something that many people concerned with more Earth-bound problems -- the environment, social justice, nuclear proliferation -- give much thought to. Regardless of the potential danger, asteroids seem pretty irrelevant. That presumption is, naturally, wrong. Schweickart gave one example which made clear just how broad the danger can be.

    Once a year, on average, a single asteroid roughly 4-5 meters in diamter -- small enough to fit in a living room -- strikes the Earth. Moving at 47,000 miles per hour, however, when an asteroid of that relatively small size hits the atmosphere, it tends to explode -- and the energy released is roughly the same as a 10 kiloton nuclear bomb. Last year, during the height of tensions between India and Pakistan, one of these small space rocks hit the Earth and exploded over the Mediterranean Sea. If the rock had hit two hours earlier, it would have exploded high above Kashmir. In a war zone, with each side afraid of a preemptive nuclear attack from the other, how would that exploding meteor be interpreted?

    Right now, we know of 1,100 large asteroids -- at least 1 kilometer, or about 10% of the size of the asteroid that probably killed off the dinosaurs -- that have orbits that come near the Earth. About 21% of these are considered PHOs ("Potentially Hazardous Objects"), as their orbits intersect Earth's orbit. Of those 1,100, 700 have had their orbits studied sufficiently to determine that they will not pose a danger to the Earth in the next century; 400 remain mysteries. But that's only the planet-killer size rocks. If you include the Near-Earth Asteroids of 150 meters or larger (which would still hit the Earth with hundreds of megatons of energy), there are over a million nearby. We live in a cosmic shooting gallery.

    (More fun info about asteroids -- and what we can do about them -- in the Extended Entry.)

    Continue reading "Life in the Shooting Gallery" »

    March 18, 2004

    Jaron Speaks

    If you're in the SF Bay Area next month, you may want to catch Jaron Lanier speaking at the Bay Area Future Salon on Friday, April 23. He will apparently be talking about his One Half A Manifesto, an amusing and provocative mix of techno-realism, cynicism, and Jaronism. Exact time & place info to come; check the Future Salon site for details over the coming days.

    April 14, 2004

    Future of World Society

    Are you going to be in Zurich, Switzerland, this June? If so, you may want to register for the Future of World Society symposium, taking place June 23-24 at the University of Zurich. The one-sentence description of the conference should give you a hint as to the tone of the gathering: "The symposium's subject focuses on the historical and structural aspects of internationalisation and, related to the latter, the contemporary trends of social, political, and economic integration as well as disintegration."

    Okay, so it's not likely to be a Burning Man preview. But the notion of thinking about global issues from a system approach is one we heartily endorse, and world-system theory can be an interesting method of getting outside of the confines of specific academic cateogories. The symposium seems a bit too focused on traditional social sciences, in my view; while the program includes talks on globalization (economics) and terrorism (politics), there's nothing to be found on the environment as a cross-national commons, or on the role of information and communication technologies in empowering social and political networks.

    Nonetheless, the symposium could be interesting to attend -- and registration is free. Unlike so many conferences these days, this one isn't trying to turn a profit. Space is limited (although they are setting aside 30 spots for Ph.D. students), so make your reservations early...

    May 6, 2004

    Sterling News

    Viridian Pope-Emperor, WorldChanging Ally Number One, the best public speaker I know, and the Hardest-Ranting Man in Show Business, Bruce Sterling, is coming to your hometown -- assuming your hometown is one of ten different spots around the US. To promote his just-released nowpunk cyberthriller, The Zenith Angle, BruceS will be embarking upon his biggest-ever book tour this summer, hitting towns from Arlington to Seattle (and several points in-between). If you've never heard BruceS giving a talk, you're missing out: he is the most engaging, funny, and brilliant person I've ever heard stand in front of a microphone and tell the truth.

    If you're in the San Francisco area, you're in for an extra-special treat: BruceS will be delivering the June 11th Long Now Foundation seminar at Fort Mason. It's entitled "The Singularity: Your Future As A Black Hole." Mark your calendars now.

    The picture on the right, by the way, is of BruceS at the Chabot Science Center in Oakland, California on Tuesday. He's holding up his new digital camera; I took the shot with my camera phone. He and I were both participating in a scenario project for the Sci Fi channel; since the entire workshop was filmed, I suspect you'll be hearing more about it in due time.

    June 4, 2004


    A final reminder: WorldChanging Happy Hour (#1) is tonight from 5pm to 8pm! Synchronize your watches!

    June 8, 2004

    WorldChanging News

    Thanks to everyone who showed up to the WorldChanging Happy Hour last Friday; as the photos here suggest, the event was quite the success. We got to meet some new friends in person for the first time, hook up with some old friends we hadn't seen in years, and get to meet people who -- whether or not they were WorldChanging readers -- were definitely allies in spirit. I'm told that the festivities continued well after the "official" end point. For those of you who couldn't make it, fear not: this was only the first of many gatherings of people who want to enjoy the world and change it at the same time.

    If I cannot dance, I want no part in your revolution. -- Emma Goldman

    If posts by Alex and myself don't seem to be as rampant as they have in weeks past, don't worry. Alex is taking the month of June to finish his book, spending his days locked away in a quiet spot without a net connection. His contributions will be sporadic for the next few weeks. While I don't have a book to complete, I do have some behind-the-scenes technical stuff to work on for the site, now that I'm back after a couple of short trips. If WC starts to look a bit different in the coming days, you'll know I'm hard at work.

    Fortunately, the WorldChanging contributors are ably making sure that the site continues to bring you interesting news and ideas about building a better world. Thank you -- WC wouldn't be the same without you!

    June 11, 2004

    Singularity Pre-Readings

    WC Ally #1 Bruce Sterling, as noted earlier, is speaking tonight in San Francisco on The Singularity: Your Life As A Black Hole. His talk is part of the Long Now Foundation's seminar series. We can't say often enough how much we enjoy hearing Bruce give a talk -- he really is one of the finest, most engaging, public speakers around.

    His talk will look at the notion of the "Singularity" -- a point in the (potentially very near) future where technological and social change happen so quickly and so profoundly that it's impossible to understand, let alone predict, what life would be like. Once we hit the Singularity, all bets are off. In case the subject matter is unfamiliar to you -- or you just want to get the more obscure references he throws in -- here are some useful articles and essays to have under your belt before hearing tonight's talk. All are from the final, unreleased issue of Whole Earth magazine, focusing on the Singularity:

  • Vernor Vinge is generally credited with first identifying the point of massive change as the "Singularity" in this article: The Technological Singularity (PDF)
  • Alex Steffen edited the Singularity issue of Whole Earth magazine. His introductory essay (2 parts, PDF) gives a good overview of the current debate about the possibility.
  • Charlie Stross wrote an essay for the magazine discussing some of the implications of singularity-level technologies on surveillance and social control, The Panopticon Singularity.
  • Bruce Sterling, in that issue of Whole Earth, describes ways in which it might be averted (2 parts, PDF).
  • And my article for that issue, Open the Future argues that the best way to ensure that a Singularity happens in a way that benefits all of us is to make certain that its underlying technologies are open and distributed.

    In addition: Long Now has now made audio recordings of previous Seminars available for free download, in MP3 and Ogg Vorbis formats (FLAC and Speex available on some). If you can't make Bruce's talk for some reason (like not being in San Francisco), we'll let you know when the recording is available.

  • June 12, 2004

    The Singular Quote

    Bruce's talk last night rocked, as usual, and even if you don't agree with all of his conclusions, you have to admire the way he makes his case. The talk -- which lasted for well over an hour -- was filled with pithy comments and trenchant observations. For me, though, his best line of the night was his closer, as it's an idea which is embedded in everything we do here at WorldChanging:

    "The future is a process, not a destination. The future is not a noun, it's a verb."

    June 19, 2004


    Many2Many points us to BlogOn 2004, to be held at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business on July 23, 2004. BlogOn describes itself thusly:

    BlogOn is the first conference to examine in-depth the business of social media. It is not just for the professional blogger, but for forward-thinking investors, smart marketing executives and media company professionals who understand it is time to understand and harness this gathering disruptive phenomenon. BlogOn is for executives who want to see a sharper Big Picture for social media and to identify their options and opportunities.

    As noted here recently, mainstream media has seemed to annoint blogging as the Next Big Thing, so it's no surprise that there are now investors trying to figure out ways to create value-add marketing environments (ahem) with the subject. It may not be the next dot-com tulip frenzy, but you may want to swing by the conference to see if anyone is handing out money.

    June 21, 2004

    Brian Eno's Long Now Talk

    Last November, Brian Eno gave the kick-off talk for the Long Now Foundation's seminars on long-term thinking. It was also the first of our blog entries to get a little bit of attention, and we've been on a roll ever since.

    While the Brian Eno talk, like the rest of the Long Now seminars, is available on the Long Now site as an audio file, it's also available to be read. Long Now links to a PDF, but I found it a little oddly-formatted and hard to read. Fortunately, Brian Eno's own website now has the transcript available in HTML, complete with Eno's amusing illustrations of different approaches to thinking about the future. The talk is an explanation of what the Long Now Foundation is (Eno being one of founders), what their clock project is really all about, and why it's important to think about the very long term:

    Stewart Brand, in his book, called ‘The Clock of the Long Now’, which is the Little Red Book of the Long Now Foundation, talks about something he calls slow science, there’s very little encouragement to slow science - it doesn’t produce glamorous papers, quick results, peer approval, but there have been examples of very, very long slow observations. One is the admiralty of Great Britain has kept detailed weather charts since 1648, they’re daily weather charts, so this makes for the longest continuous survey of weather in existence and in fact it’s turned out to be very useful. Another similar survey was made in Hawaii over about a fifty year period, and was the first definitive evidence of global warming, it showed the continual rise in CO2 levels, so these long term studies are very important but again, they are not really institutionally recognised or encouraged. We wanted Long Now to be the kind of place where they would be encouraged, where we would become the repository and the facilitator for those kinds of long term thoughts. So some of the things we’re doing, are done (you could say) in the negative. They’re perhaps attempts to avert catastrophe, the tragedy of the commons if you like, the tragedy that makes us exploit as much as we can as quickly as we can without thinking of any consequences. But the other side of it is a positive side, the idea that we can celebrate beginning something that won’t be finished in our lifetime, that won’t be finished in many many lifetimes, something that will grow and embody the intelligence of many people in time.

    June 28, 2004

    e/merge 2004

    Running June 28-July 10, e/merge 2004 is a "virtual conference" showcasing developments in "blended learning," which combines face-to-face schooling with distance learning and online education. What makes this particularly notable is that it's organized in South Africa, and has a decided focus on the needs of the developing world, particularly Africa. South African collaborative learning blog Critical Methods describes its content in this way:

    There is something for everyone with an interest in educational technologies. The conference is scheduled in four phases starting with the Big Picture (digital divide, theoretically oriented and institutional papers) and Case Studies from Across the Region during the first week. During the second week we have the Learning Communities (Educator and Student communities) and Learning Environments phases. You can focus on specific phases of discussion or choose just the presentations that most interest you.

    International registrants are asked to pay R320 (about $50), although accomodations can be made for students with more limited resources.

    July 6, 2004

    The Mummy, Revealed

    Time for another trip back to the British Museum. From July 1 through January, 2005, the mummy of the Egyptian priest Nesperennub will be on display, fully revealed down to his teeth and bones... all without opening the case. Working in cooperation with Silicon Graphics, Inc., British Museum archaeologists have been able to take detailed CT scans and 3D laser scan images of the mummy, and assemble them via supercomputer into a 3D model of the body, its wrapping, and its contents. The model can be rotated, examined closely, and have the layers of wrapping (and skin) removed as the viewer sees fit. The Brit Museum exhibition includes a 20 minute 3D "virtual tour" of the mummy; the website has a 2D approximation in its children's "compass" section.

    The BBC and Express India both have articles about the mummy, the model, and the exhibit, although in both cases the stories are in the "entertainment" section, not science. Shrug. The best and most detailed article is in the current (July 3-9) issue of New Scientist; unfortunately, it's not one of the articles made freely available on the web, so you'll have to go and read it surreptitiously on the newsstand.

    The combination of scanning technologies and supercomputing -- and the rapid decline in cost for both -- means that non-destructive analysis is becoming more and more commonplace. This is particularly valuable not just in the study of mummies, but in medical science. The advent of widespread terahertz wave (the region between the infrared and microwave frequencies) scanning will only add to the utility of the process, as it is particularly sensitive to variations in soft tissue density and structure.

    August 5, 2004

    Sustainability Confernences & William McDonough

    Attention William McDonough fans: Ken Novak's blog notes that the Sustainable Resources conference ("An International Forum Connecting People with Hands-on Solutions to World Poverty") is taking place in Boulder, Colorado, from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 of this year, and McDonough will be one of the keynote speakers; Novak also notes that the Engineers for a Sustainable World conference, at Stanford, will take place at the very same time -- and William McDonough is listed as a keynoter there, too. I wonder if he'll give the same talk in both places...

    September 7, 2004

    Smart Cities, Smart Cars, and the Media Lab

    If you're in the Boston area this week, be sure to head over to MIT Wednesday evening for the presentation "Concept Car: A Work in Progress."

    William J. Mitchell, head of the Media Lab's program in Media Arts and Sciences, together with Ph.D. candidate Ryan Chin, [...] will highlight the group's efforts to radically rethink how cars will be designed for the city of the future. Possible features for such vehicles could include programmable exteriors that change according to need; networked, embedded intelligence that can help a driver avoid a traffic jam or alert another car to a danger ahead; remote-control steering; or wheels that would enable “smart” parallel parking.

    Rather than mere transportation devices, cars of the future can become our wheeled companions that continually learn about the city they inhabit, and use that knowledge to provide an intelligent interface to the resources the city offers. “Our hope is to invent a car that can function as though it has a good London cab driver built in,” says Mitchell.

    The presentation is taking place at the Wolk Gallery, which currently hosts the "Smart City Cars in the 21st Century" exhibition, exploring the possibility of "automobiles that are not just dumb transportation devices, but intelligent inhabitants of their cities—wheeled robots that perceive, learn, remember, reason, and provide sophisticated, context-aware assistance and advice." The exhibit is hosted by the Smart Cities research group at the Media Lab. The Smart Cities project sounds intriguing, but its website is unfortunately quite stingy with information about the group's efforts.

    The well-known (and controversial) architect Frank Gehry is part of the Smart Cities project, and leads the classes in which students explore a radical new car design. No doubt due to Gehry's involvement, the New York Times looks today at the class. One aspect of the design the Times mentions in passing is that the "basic parameters call for a hybrid or fuel cell power plant" -- a sign that the shift away from standard gasoline engines has taken hold in the design world (the inclusion of hybrid along with fuel cell technology is also a sign that the MIT team imagines that this vehicle could come about soon, not just at an unspecified future date).

    The presentation Wednesday night is free and open to the public, and begins at 7pm; a pre-presentation reception begins at 5:30pm. Room details can be found in this press release.

    I can't make it, being stuck over on the left coast, but if any of you go, please give us a report on the proceedings...

    September 17, 2004

    Online Chat With Jamais

    Just a heads-up for those of you who may be interested. On Sunday, October 10, I will be doing an online chat session at the "Immortality Institute" -- a group of folks studying the possibility of extremely long lifespans. Should be a bit odd, but also quite fun.

    The Future of Life Extension
    Writer and consultant Jamais Cascio joins ImmInst to ponder questions about how advances in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and more are transforming our social and political systems, and what it means that living forever may well be within our grasps.

    Chat Time: Sun. Oct 10 @ 8 PM Eastern Time
    Chat Room: ( port: 6667 #immortal)

    AltWheels Festival

    Looking for something to do this weekend? Live in Massachusetts, or can get there easily? Check out the AltWheels festival, at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Saturday and Sunday. It's an auto show for the post-auto future:

    Two great days for viewing, experiencing and discussing some of the most innovative means of transportation in the world today; all gathered on the beautiful hillside lawn of the Larz Anderson Transportation Museum. Meet the inventors and experience futuristic concept vehicles. See what our transportation options will be over the next decade — from fuel cell vehicles to taxi rickshaws to the Segway scooter.

    While the AltWheels Festival website makes the event look fairly lightweight, there are quite a few events taking place during the Festival, including = a pretty interesting symposium:

    Sat. Sept. 18: The Power of Technology
    10:00   Overview of Transportation Technologies
    10:40   Future Cars: What Vehicles Will You Be Driving in 2015?
    12:10   Alternative Fuels and Car Conversions - Where Do You Fuel Up?
    1:30   Fuel Cell Technologies and the Feasibility of a Hydrogen Future
    3:00   Creating a Sustainable Transportation Vision for the 21st Century
    4:30   Adjourn

    Sun. Sept. 19: The Power of Choice
    10:00   Overview of Transportation Choices
    10:40   Pockets of Progress - What are State Agencies & Municipalities Doing to Promote Sustainability
    12:10   Fleet Conversion - Hear from the Experts
    1:30   Urban Sprawl - How Do We Design Cities for Sustainability
    3:00   The Changing Landscape: Greenways, Bikeways, Rail-to-Trail, and Human Powered Transportation
    4:30   Adjourn

    Attendance isn't free, but it is pretty inexpensive. Any of you out in the Brookline area who get a chance should check it out and report back!

    ...And we have a report! WorldChanging reader Jeff Egnaczyk posted in the comments a link to his photos from the festival. Looks like a great day in Brookline. Thanks, Jeff!

    September 21, 2004

    Science & Fiction Symposium

    My friend Christophe sent me word of the Science & Fiction Symposium taking place September 29 through October 2 in San Francisco, sponsored by Swissnex (part of the Swiss Consulate General's office). The Symposium will cover topics from both a scientific and science-fiction perspective, and the participant lineup is impressive. Writers such as Greg Benford, Rudy Rucker, David Brin and Kim Stanley Robinson will be rubbing shoulders with researchers such as Dave Grossman (Stanford), Dave Korsmeyer (NASA), astronaut Claude Nicollier, and Richard Kornfeld, part of the operations team for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Topics include robotics, human augmentation and Mars. The Wednesday-Friday talks take place in the evening, and the Saturday agenda is 2-6. Admission is free, but you must pre-register.

    I will be attending, if my schedule permits.

    September 27, 2004

    Energy for Sustainable Development Conference

    "Energy for Sustainable Development: Technology Advances & Environmental Issues" is a conference organized by the Arab Academy for Science & Technology and Maritime Transport and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory happening December 6-9, in Cairo. The event is intended to be a "forum for interactions among regional and world energy experts [...] for the near term deployment of sustainable energy technologies and concepts" with a focus on the developing world.

    Workshops will include the use of renewable energy for water resource management, photovoltaic systems design, and clean fuel technologies.

    If you're interested in submitting a paper for consideration, the deadline for the Abstract is the 30th of this month (I know, I know, but we just found out about this). Registration is $400 before October 31, $500 afterwards. Student registration is $100.

    (This is the kind of conference we think it would be very interesting to hear about -- if any readers plan to attend, please let us know.)

    October 16, 2004

    Paul Hawken: The Long Green

    Paul Hawken, author (with Amory Lovins) of Natural Capitalism,among other books, and founder of sustainability-focused businesses (a longer bio available here), spoke last night at Fort Mason in San Francisco as part of the Long Now Organization's speaker series. His presentation focused initially on the history of the environmental movement in the United States -- a movement that, in his introduction, Stewart Brand credited with first teaching the 20th century to think in the long term. Hawken noted a long-standing tension in environmentalism, between "love of nature" and "alienation from nature;" it's a split, in his view, between whether the economy is a subset of the environment, or whether the environment is a subset of the economy. But he went on to say that the environmental movement, as previously conceived, is no more: it's been replaced. And this is where Hawken's talk shifted from a history lesson to a clarion call.

    Hawken articulated, in passionate language, a vision that aligned with and expanded what we've been saying here at WorldChanging: there's a revolution taking place, one which is powered by (and in turn powers) the efforts of thousands of disparate movements, groups, networks, ideas, and people, all over the world. They are distributed and diverse, not focused on ideology or power; in fact, this is the largest movement in history not seeking power. It is mainstream, but not centralized, so it often seems to operate beneath the media radar. It links social justice and environmentalism, activism and science. And it is changing the world.

    "Nobody understands the rate and breadth of the environmental degradation that's taking place.

    But more important, nobody understands the rate and breadth of humanity's response."

         --Paul Hawken, October 15, 2004

    Read on for some more Paul Hawken quotations from the talk.

    Continue reading "Paul Hawken: The Long Green" »

    November 2, 2004

    Accelerating Change 2004

    Accelerating Change 2004 conference is this weekend, in Palo Alto (on the Stanford University campus). The list of speakers is impressive and, while the overall thrust of the conference is towards keen new tech, there looks to be a decent assortment of speakers who will be grappling with the social implications. I'll be there, covering the conference for WorldChanging; if you see me, be sure to say hi.

    It's not free, but if you're into what the next decade of technological development might hold, it should be a fun weekend.

    November 5, 2004

    Anticipating Acceleration

    As I noted a couple of days ago, I'm attending the Accelerating Change 2004 conference this weekend in Palo Alto. The schedule of presentations and breakout groups is available online, and I've been going over it trying to decide which topics are going to have good WorldChanging content. I've also been looking at the schedule with an eye towards what's not there that should be -- and I've found a few examples.

    The theme of this year's conference is "Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface," and several of the talks seem to be right up WorldChanging's alley. I'm looking forward to seeing Microsoft's Gordon Bell talk about "MyLifeBits" (a draft version of what I've called a "personal memory assistant"), because such a system would be integral to a fully-developed participatory panopticon world. The ability for individuals to record what they see around them in a nearly-always-on fashion will be revolutionary, and the pieces are coming together far faster than most people realize. When I'm asked at a party what big surprise the next decade may hold, I almost always give "the participatory panopticon" as my answer.

    Given the conference's theme, I'm surprised by some of the topic omissions. There really should be a discussion of "smart objects" or other such manifestations of digital capacity embedded in physical items. Increasingly, we have the ability to put sensors, displays and other digital devices into previously dumb materials, from walls to clothing to lamps. This commingling of the physical and virtual realm will be an important factor in how we live in the near future, as we'll be able to get feedback about our surroundings and behaviors, allowing us better-informed choices.

    Even more surprising is the lack of scheduled discussion about the overlay of virtual information and physical spaces in an understanding-the-world context -- the "urban informatics" concept much discussed here and elsewhere over the past year. Urban informatics is the smart object concept writ large, with previously-dumb streets and buildings a source of useful, interesting or (at least) amusing information available to anyone with a wireless mobile device. The idea is still in the early stages, and many questions remain about how it should be manifest. Who (if anyone) controls the information? How should it be presented? Should you have to ask for it, or should it (virtually) tap you on the shoulder? Is it just for mobile phones, or just for mobile/hand-held computers, or just for something not yet widely available? What about suburban informatics? Or rural informatics? Does the presence of a passive, wait-until-you-ask system ruin the experience of being alone in nature? How can you tell tourists from locals in the city if everyone can know where and what everything is with minimal effort?

    I have similar concerns about the lack of discussion of network-enabled physical systems, such as smart energy grids or even smart mobs. From the list of topics that are there -- virtual communities, virtual money, and the like -- the conference seems perhaps a bit too focused on the implementation of physical world concepts in the virtual world than on the entangling of the virtual and physical spaces. For me, this latter subject is much more interesting. It's definitely more worldchanging.

    November 17, 2004

    Victoria's Real Secret? Arborcide.

    chainsawvicky.jpgForestEthics, a San Francisco-based environmental group focused on protecting forests, is hosting the "Victoria's Dirty Secret" event on Thursday, December 2nd, to kick off its new campaign to change the environmental practices of the catalog sales industry. Every year, catalog retailers send out about 17 billion catalogs, and essentially none of the paper used in the catalogs contains recycled content. Most of the trees used for catalog paper come from North American old growth forests, including Canada’s Boreal forest, which is the second largest roadless area on the planet -- the size of 12 Californias laid side by side. The ForestEthics campaign focuses on Victoria's Secret, which is one of the largest catalog retailers around, and certainly the most visible.

    What makes ForestEthics interesting is both their willingness to engage with pop culture (and a bit of culture jamming, as the photo in the event invitation -- excerpted here -- suggests) and their demonstrated success. In 2002, ForestEthics, in a campaign involving the band REM and over 600 demonstrations around the country, convinced office supply retailer Staples to adopt environmentally sound practices in its paper sales. As a result of the campaign, Staples agreed to use an average of 30% post-consumer recycled content in its paper products, phase out paper from endangered forests, and create an environmental affairs division. Other office supply retailers moved to match these moves, as Staples was able to use this decision as a competitive advantage.

    The Victoria's Dirty Secret event promises "an evening of hors d’oeuvres, wine,
    and tales of forests and fancy lingerie," and really, who could say no to that?

    November 24, 2004

    Energy For Development 2004

    Energy for Development 2004 sounds like a conference which could have significantly WorldChanging results. It's organized by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment in coordination with the World Bank, UNDP and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. The WBCSD press release describes the conference in this way:

    Energy is the key to economic development, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. By 2050, energy demand could double or triple as population rises and developing countries expand their economies and overcome poverty, according to the recently published WBCSD report ‘Facts & Trends to 2050: Energy and climate change’. Further, huge investments are needed in developing countries to enable energy production and distribution to underpin sustainable development.

    The privatization and liberalization of the energy industries in developing countries have failed to attract enough investment, and energy markets have been unable to draw enough private sector money.

    Instigating the investment needed will require new forms of public-private partnership involving the private sector, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, knowledge institutes, and governments. It will also require the expansion of innovative financing mechanisms, such as micro-credits.

    E4D will take place December 12-14 of this year in the Netherlands, but even if you're in the neighborhood, don't think about dropping by -- the conference is invitation-only. Fortunately, E4D has put much of its preliminary material online. The conference background document (PDF) makes particularly good reading for WorldChangers; many of the key issues we talk about here (sustainable energy, democratic development, good governance, access for the poor, the environment, leapfrogging) are at the top of this conference's agenda, and the background document goes into substantive details about both the current situation and possible strategies.

    (If any WorldChanging readers are attending this conference, we'd love a first-hand report of the discussions!)

    February 2, 2005

    Upcoming Conferences

    Mark your calendars now. Here's a selection of 2005 events of interest to WorldChangers, courtesy WBCSD, happening all over the world. They will all undoubtedly have high-minded speeches, interesting presentations, and potentially useful workshops. If you're going to go to any of these, let us know -- we'd love first-hand reports!

    Business/NGO Engagement: How to create win-win outcomes (Ethical Corporation)
    22 Feb. 2005 - 23 Feb. 2005
    London, United Kingdom

    Cairo 9th International Conference on Energy & Environment
    13 Mar. 2005 - 19 Mar. 2005
    Cairo, Egypt

    Engineering Sustainability 2005
    10 Apr. 2005 - 12 Apr. 2005
    Pittsburgh, United States

    13th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD-13)
    11 Apr. 2005 - 22 Apr. 2005
    New York, United States

    Green Power Mediterranean
    25 Apr. 2005 - 27 Apr. 2005
    Rome, Italy

    Carbon Expo 2005
    11 May 2005 - 13 May 2005
    Cologne, Germany

    World Water Week 2005
    21 Aug. 2005 - 27 Aug. 2005
    Stockholm, Sweden

    March 20, 2005

    Steffen & Sterling -- On Video!

    StefSter.jpgDid you, like me, miss seeing Alex & Bruce deliver the closing keynote at last week's South by South West Interactive conference? Emily, Dawn and Jon wrote a terrific summary (which Bruce even linked to), but sometimes... sometimes you have to see the one-half a fabricated dinosaur really to understand just how important it is.

    Fortunately for us all, South by South West now has a short excerpt of the talk in the official conference video up on the conference website.

    Watch Sterling & Steffen in high-quality Quicktime at this link.

    Watch Steffen & Sterling in quick & dirty MPEG at this link.

    (We'll put up link to other WorldChanging-related panel videos as they become available.)

    March 22, 2005

    Human Development, Human Networks

    Spring is conference season, it seems, and lots of interesting ones keep showing up on our radar. Here are two which may be of interest to WorldChanging readers who are (or will be) in the US this Spring.

    The Arlington Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based futurist consultancy, is running Tools for the Development of Humanity on April 25-26. The list of speakers includes some old friends and familiar arguments alongside some fairly unconventional presenters, and a number of issues of interest to WorldChanging readers are on the agenda. I've known the founder of Arlington Institute, John Peterson, for some time now, and while it didn't work out this year to have WorldChanging in the mix, we're already talking about playing a role in next year's event. The extended entry has an excerpt from the event's website describing its pretty ambitious purpose.

    A few days later is MeshForum, May 1-4 in Chicago. MeshForum will talk about networks in their various manifestations, from technology trends to social behavior -- definitely stuff we pay attention to here. The full program isn't quite set, but some of the speakers have been announced. In this case, WorldChanging will be among them: I'll be giving a talk about the Participatory Panopticon scenario, its implications and the choices it presents. An excerpt from MeshForum's description can also be found in the extended entry.

    Registration remains open for each; both conferences have academic/student discounts.

    Continue reading "Human Development, Human Networks" »

    March 26, 2005

    FabLab Future Salon

    neilcba.jpgFabLabs are pretty damn worldchanging, and we've been swooning about them since first wrote them up last September. $20,000 gets the future in a box: a self-contained facility with tools to build just about anything (anything bigger than a microchip, that is). The MIT Fab Lab program has already deployed six Fab Labs around the world, in a poor part of Boston, in Norway (with some of Europe's last remaining nomadic people), in Costa Rica, in Ghana, and two in India; a Fab Lab in South Africa is coming soon. The Economist has a brief but interesting story about Fab Labs this week, noting that the World Bank has been leery to underwrite purchases of Fab Lab equipment in the developing world, calling it too "speculative." We prefer to think of it not as speculation, but as foresight.

    Dr. Neil Gershenfeld heads up the Fab Lab project, and has just finished a book on it. He'll be dropping by the Bay Area Future Salon on Friday April 15. While that's terrific for those of us in the SF area, if you can't make it in person, don't despair: a real-time Internet Relay Chat session will be transcribing the talk, and there will be a Quicktime webcast available, as well. This will definitely be a talk not to miss.

    March 28, 2005

    Bridging the Divide 2005

    One could almost call this the Leapfrogging Conference. Bridging the Divide 2005: Technology, Innovation and Learning in Developing Economies looks at the ways in which new technologies, science and education can accelerate development. A joint project of UC Berkeley and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Bridging the Divide 2005 runs April 21-23 on the campus of UC Berkeley.

    The workshops are all held on Friday, April 22, and run parallel tracks on healthcare, education, energy & resources, and information/communication technologies. I certainly hope that the conference puts up links to presentations and materials afterwards -- parallel tracks make for efficient use of time, but are frustrating to people who have broad interests. I'm a little disappointed by the speaker selection; most are from big companies and global NGOs (reflecting the conference's sponsorship), and in general the list is far less global than I would have expected, with only a handful from outside the US. The conference is the extension of grad student research in the application of technology to development, however, and many of those projects look very interesting.

    Will any WorldChanging readers be attending?

    April 9, 2005

    City Planet

    I managed to go see Stewart Brand's talk last night, "City Planet," a look at the co-evolution of cities and human societies. It was a wide-ranging discussion, with much to contemplate; Stewart's an engaging speaker, and he's clearly been thinking about these issues for some time. Long Now will have an audio recording of the talk up soon, but for now, here are some of the idea highlights:

    The planet is urbanizing quickly: 3% of Earth's population lived in cities in 1800; 14% lived in cities in 1900; nearly half the planet's population lives in cities today; two-thirds will live in cities by 2030. Every week, around a million new people arrive in cities.

    This is driven both by personal economics -- cities have the jobs, and it's increasingly hard to survive economically in rural areas -- and by global economics. Globalization is giving greater power to cities, as communication networks and market transactions bypass nations in favor of city-to-city connections. Multinational companies go to where the workers and consumers are; NGOs go to where the need is greatest. Rural areas are emptying out so quickly that some governments are offering free rural land to people to get them to return to the countryside and "hollowed-out" towns.

    "Nations have borders. Cities have centers."

    Continue reading "City Planet" »

    May 31, 2005

    World Environment Day

    green_cities.jpgWorld Environment Day -- which actually lasts 5 days -- takes place in San Francisco this year, and kicks off tomorrow. Established by the UN in 1972, World Environment Day is an education festival, with lectures, product exhibits and artwork all meant to make visitors aware of the ways in which the environment can be improved. The theme this year? As seen to the right, "Green Cities."

    The schedule for the five days covers topics near and dear to the hearts of WorldChangers:

  • June 1: "Pure Elements" -- Food, water and air.
  • June 2: "Redesigning the Metropolis" -- Recycling, green building and smart growth.
  • June 3: "Cities on the Move" -- Transportation.
  • June 4: "Urban Power" -- Energy, renewables and energy conservation.
  • June 5: "Flower Power" -- Open space, biodiversity and greening the urban environment.

    (The site has a page letting you browse each day's activities, and a PDF showing all of the events.)

    The events are free, and most can be attended on a drop-in basis (although some, like Thursday's presentation by WorldChanging allies Gil Friend and Joel Makower, The Sustainable Business Phenomenon: Leading Initiatives in Redefining Business, do ask that you sign up). Most of Wednesday's events are at Fort Mason, while the remaining days are largely at the Metreon center.

    But here's the deal: the conference is set up so that all of each day's workshops run simultaneously -- if you attend Gil and Joel's talk on Thursday, for example, you won't be able to see Partners Planning for Sustainable Cities, Innovative Recycling Programs, or Smart Growth in San Francisco: Designing Cities for People and the Environment. Undoubtedly this is intended to keep each of the workshops to a reasonable size, and it will probably be possible to wander between them, but this is precisely the kind of situation that calls for smart mobbing.

    So, are you going to the event? If so, we'd love to have you share your observations about the workshops you saw in the comments below. Even if you can't make it to San Francisco, you can still help out by alerting us to other sites blogging the conference. There are bound to be a bunch of worldchanging ideas presented these next few days -- together we can make sure everyone has a chance to hear them.

  • June 1, 2005

    World Environment Day -- Water Challenges

    logo_world_leaf.gif(Quick note: forget what I wrote yesterday about most sessions being drop-in; all require free registration, no matter what the website says.)

    Day One of World Environment Day started with a big announcement: California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S3-05 establishing greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for the state, and giving the California EPA oversight over their achievement. The targets are significant, but not startling:

    The targets the Governor announced today call for a reduction of GHG emissions to 2000 levels by 2010; a reduction of GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; and a reduction of GHG emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

    As an executive order, not a regulation, there are no real penalties for failing to meet the targets, and any subsequent governor is free to change or abolish the order. Still, as symbolic gestures go, it's a good one -- it opens up the floor for new discussions in the state about how to meet these (admittedly modest) goals.

    The formal session I attended today was Solving Water Challenges in the 21st Century: Local Solutions to a Global Crisis. Two of the three presenters (the fourth being absent due to illness) were from the Pacific Institute, a San Francisco Bay Area research group focusing on sustainability and security, with a particular interest in water issues; the last was from the San Francisco water district -- and a former Pacific Institute employee.

    All three speakers (as well as in the summary presentation of the fourth speaker's talk) covered similar themes:

  • Rethinking the concept of "water supply."
  • Developing an "efficiency mindset."
  • Relying upon "economies of scope" rather than "economies of scale."

    Read on to learn more about what these mean...

  • Continue reading "World Environment Day -- Water Challenges" »

    June 2, 2005

    World Environment Day -- Planning Sustainable Cities

    EcoCity Builders BerkeleyFor Day Two of the World Environment Day conference, I went to the afternoon session on urban environments, "Partners Planning for Sustainable Cities" (I was tempted by the sustainable business event with Gil Friend and Joel Makower, but decided that they'd do a far better job telling us what they said themselves...). The green cities session included an interesting mix of theory and practice, along with quite the global perspective.

    Presenters included two UN officials (one from UN-Habitat, one from UNEP), a representative from the World Bank Institute, the mayors of cities in Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Spain, and an Oakland-based urban designer with a strong environmental focus.

    Although the experiences of the various mayors varied widely, all of the presenters ended up striking similar themes. The big ideas:

  • Sustainable planning now is largely making up for a lack of past planning.
  • The key determinant of success is coordination among stakeholders.
  • Knowledge transfer is critical, both transfer from best practices used elsewhere, and transfer to cities just now starting to think about sustainable design.
  • Increasingly, decentralization/devolution of control to local authorities is seen by planners as crucial.

    Read on for more detail on these themes, as well as a discussion of urban transitions to sustainability.

  • Continue reading "World Environment Day -- Planning Sustainable Cities" »

    June 11, 2005

    Shadow Cities and the Urbanization of the World

    rio.jpgRobert Neuwirth spent three years living in the squatter communities growing in some of the developing world's biggest megacities: Nairobi, Rio, Mumbai and Istanbul. He documented his experiences in the book Shadow Cities, which Ethan reviewed a few months ago, and regularly brings this perspective to bear in the comments here on WorldChanging (hi, Robert!). Last night, he spoke in San Francisco, at the monthly Long Now Seminar, taking the audience on a trip through the new urban world.

    Some numbers: today, there are approximately one billion squatters -- about 1 in 6 people on the planet; by 2030, it's estimated there will be two billion squatters, or about 1 in 4; by 2050, there could be three billion squatters, or 1 in 3. Some 200,000 people move from rural communities to urban communities every day, globally. That's around 70 million per year, or 130 every minute. Inevitably, the cities of the future will be built by squatters.

    Continue reading "Shadow Cities and the Urbanization of the World" »

    September 21, 2005

    Conference on CO2

    CO2record.jpgThe Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference opens September 25, and it looks to be a significant scientific event.

    The conference opening should be particularly interesting, even for non-scientists, as it will match the director of the Bush administration's official Climate Change Research Program, Dr. James Mahoney, with Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. Dr. Caldeira has made the abstract of his talk available, and it's pretty serious:

    Continued emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will affect climate and ocean chemistry. [...] From the perspective of geology and biological evolution, these changes would occur rapidly, overwhelming most natural processes that would buffer CO2 changes occurring over longer time intervals, and thus may produce changes at a rate and of a magnitude that exceed the adaptive capacity of at least some biological systems. To find comparable events in Earth history, we need to look back tens of millions of years to rare catastrophic events.

    Continue reading "Conference on CO2" »

    October 14, 2005

    Solar Decathlon

    coloradosolardec.jpgThe Solar Decathlon is a competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy in which university and college student teams compete to design, build and operate energy-efficient solar-powered homes. Taking place on the National Mall in Washington DC, the event is open to the public through this Sunday. 18 teams competed in the Solar Decathlon, including teams from Puerto Rico, Canada and Spain, and the winning home designs were announced today. Colorado came in first (picture of the winning home to the right), followed by Cornell, Cal Poly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the New York Institute of Technology.

    The designs vary dramatically, in part because the various institutions had access to differing funding levels, and in part due to the diverse philosophies underpinning the teams.

    Continue reading "Solar Decathlon" »

    January 9, 2006

    Debating Nukes

    nuke.gifYesterday's Sustainability Sundays post from Gil Friend, "Houston: We've Got A Problem," generated quite a bit of discussion, much of it about whether or not nuclear power should be considered a -- or the -- solution to global warming, peak oil, and other unfolding energy-related problems. There are plenty of good reasons for worldchangers to oppose the expansion of nuclear power, but the institutional forces pushing for it are formidable. It's a recurring debate, one not limited to the comments in WorldChanging: this Friday, the Long Now lecture series will hold a discussion about this very topic, pitting Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, who opposes expansion of nuclear power, and Peter Schwartz, a former board member of Rocky Mountain Institute and chair of Global Business Network, who sees the potential for abrupt climate change as sufficient cause to support the expansion of nuclear power. (Disclosure: I used to work for Global Business Network, and still do occasional projects for them.) As always, if you can't make the event (because you don't live anywhere near San Francisco, for example), you can download the Long Now programs within a few days (a couple of weeks at the outside).

    A useful argument about nuclear power is one that admits that the opposing sides each may have strong arguments; fortunately, Friday's discussion looks to be of that nature. Long Now characterizes it as a disagreement between environmentalists, and given that Schwartz now sees global warming as the biggest problem going, I'll accept that depiction. Moreover, the discussion is explicitly not a debate: The format requires each speaker to draw out the other's views and then restate them in a way that satisfies the opponent, "That's right. You got it." Smart.

    Continue reading "Debating Nukes" »

    February 17, 2006

    Freedom to Connect

    f2cconf.jpgDavid Isenberg's name pops up occasionally here on WorldChanging, and for good reason. He's one of the more forward-thinking telecom specialists around, and his work on whether to embed "intelligence" in a network or in the devices at the end (the latter is far better) has shaped the thinking of many people now working on social networks and the evolution of the Internet. I first met David a decade ago at Global Business Network, and I read his blog at religiously. David wrote to me today to tell me about the upcoming F2C: Freedom to Connect conference, to be held April 3-4 in Silver Springs, Maryland. (See the extended entry for more details.)

    F2C is an effort to highlight the concept that freedom to connect -- i.e., to communicate -- is as fundamental as freedoms of the press, religion, assembly and speech. The laws in many countries covering telecommunications, however, are often skewed towards the interests of providers; the Freedom to Connect conference will emphasize the rights of the users.

    The need to communicate is primary, like the need to breathe, eat, sleep, reproduce, socialize and learn. Better connections make for better communication. Better connections drive economic growth through better access to suppliers, customers and ideas. Better connections provide for development and testing of ideas in science and the arts. Better connections improve the quality of everyday life. Better connections build stronger democracies. Strong democracies build strong networks.

    Continue reading "Freedom to Connect" »

    About Events

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to WC Archive in the Events category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    Energy is the previous category.

    Features is the next category.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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