Contacting the Future: two efforts in NYC

I rather like going to conferences in pairs. Something about parallax. Seeing through two eyes; a 3-D on the material that can give insights unplanned by either set of planners. I went to three in a week last summer, and here’s what resulted:

Still digesting this week’s pair of offerings, but some preliminary reflections as the mulling spices get to work.
Last weekend was the Singularity Summit, second I think in NYC of the series initiated by the Ray-Kurzweil-inspired Institute that essentially serves as curator of his vision of an AI-invested future. His own view is that AI will take over rather soon and be rather benign. One virtue of these events is that some of his colleagues are less convinced of the latter. Some also differ on the former, including somewhat intriguingly PayPal founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, who regularly participates and is said to be the chief funder (I do admire his funding of outlier causes sea-steading is another). I love these events and attend when I can as they offer a platform to some of the smartest thinkers about tomorrow – unabashed by the general academic tendency to qualify everything to death and be embarrassed to ask Big Questions. I think SI is too read to offer Big Answers, but at least we get to have a little conversation.
But it’s only a little. If there’s a problem with their events, it’s a highly amusing one. For harbingers of tomorrow, they manage to convene conferences that, qua conferences, are total retro. As I tweeted at the time: Event planning is weak (endless lines meant we started 30m late – anyone able to use Microsoft Project out there in Singularityland, if simpler approaches fail?), an over-stuffed agenda (almost any one speaker would be good for 4x the time allotted), and weak moderating (which meant we soon got later still) – facilities simply too small for the catering. Social media, before, during and after, close to non-existent. Process, knowledge management, from the dark ages: lecture, questions, lecture questions, oops gotta cut short the coffee break . . . ); networking time/opportunities close to zero.
Now to Contact.
This was definitely a new economy event! An unconference, in the patois, hosted by Doug Rushkoff and my friend Venessa Miemis. Various phases: Short opening idea pitches, breakouts led by people who had offered, milling around dozens of startups and other initiatives, on and on. Then a wrapup, and two parties. Great food options during the day. A neat review/summary by Peter Vander Auwera (@petervan) at
Observations? As with the SS, the facilities were overcrowded – a good problem, perhaps, but a problem. An English idiom perhaps captures the program: they had over-egged the pudding. Too much, too many, all rather breathless and too jampacked to get enough of a sense of the whole (for both events: consider a 50% reduction in everything programmed). Contact grasps as SI does not that process, knowledge management, relationships are at the heart of things. Getting there from here is not easy. And the parties offered at the end show something of the problem. The closing party at the event location was sparse (most people had gone home) and having beer only (ouch) and served upstairs (odd) hardly helped (OK: C-PET events close with seriously nice wine, and I go round with the bottles). The afterparty may have been glorious, but I only stopped by long enough to discover the music was much too loud for conversation. Ahem.
I”d be interested to know – speaking of knowledge networks – how many people actualltyb attended both events, here in NYC, a few days apart (and anyone travel on to the Open Science conf on the other coast this weekend? I’m tracking it in Twitterland). The ideas at SS were big, some of them huge, intellectuals performing. The focus at Contact was digital, activist, and much of it start-up/funding-oriented.
Now, if we could bring these two into alignment and get the “new economy” style fine-tuned with big ideas to power it . . . that would be even more interesting. Not suggesting Contact and SI merge. Oh no, the pluritude of denominations when it comes to tech and the future is a fine thing. But it would be interesting to get each to study the other, learn, mutually engage, and perhaps even correlate new time around. #SS11 + #Contactcon = ?
Oh yes, well, C-PET is working in that space. In Washington, where (sorry, peeps) the discussion really needs to be happening.

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