August 4, 2007

Scifoo day 1: Turn up, tune in, drop out

Filed under: google — Duncan Hull @ 9:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Scifoo campersMy boss, Douglas Kell, who has kindly allowed and paid for me to attend Science Foo Camp (scifoo), says to me “tell me what you get up to”. So here goes. Scifoo day 1, A chance to meet and around 250 engineers, scientists, philosophers and other odd people from all over the world.

Shortly after arriving at the Googleplex, California and being fed by gourmet chefs, it all starts . There is a quick round of introductions from everyone in the room, the conference schedule gets put up on a big board, and interactively edited like a wiki. Sounds chaotic, but it actually works.

The introductions are followed by some lightning talks by selected people, chaired by Tim O’Reilly and Timo Hannay.

  1. Drew Endy from OpenWetWare talked about biotechnology. He drew analogies between civil engineering and bio-engineering. Today we can build wonderful bridges like Viaduc Millau in France. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the stone age, we used rocks as they were to build the likes of Stone Henge. Then we moved to to quarrying rock more systematically, so we can build simple bridges. For biotechnology to succeed in the same way as civil engineering, we need to synthesize DNA in the same way as we synthesis concrete to make bridges. But currently, biotechnology is still in its stone age.
  2. Charles Simonyi gave a talk about his recent trip as a Space tourist. I’ve never met an astronaut before, and never wondered what it smells like or what the quality of your sleep is like in space. You can find out more about Charles in Space</.
  3. Felice Frankel: Visualisation, visualisation, visualisation! (although she doesn’t like that word)

After all this, theres some time for “corridor conversations” with other delegates, which is where most of the interesting stuff goes on. Its difficult to pull out a narrative, because theres all kinds of people here: some people I managed to speak to (note form, sorry!):

In his introduction, Tim O’Reilly described scifoo as “making new synapses in the global brain”. You take a load of people from different disciplines, stick them together, and they find all sorts of interesting connections that they might not otherwise have found. It might sound pretentious, but I think its true. Unlike larger conferences, scifoo is small and intimate enough to be able to talk to lots of different people which is one thing that makes it special. This year, they’ve lifted the blogging ban, so everything is public unless stated otherwise. Which means you’ll be hearing lots more about it from bloggers like me at the conference.

Day two will be fun, theres lots of demos, and more people to meet: Martin Rees, how do we survive the twenty first century given that we’re all going to die?…Must try and pluck up the courage to talk to Sergey but I’m completely starstruck. Brian Cox, Hello, I’ve seen you on the telly…Esther “always make new mistakes” Dyson, Anne Wojcicki, George Church, Eric Lander, Paul Z. Myers Theres a tonne of bio-people here….So many people, so little time!

[this post originally published on nodalpoint]

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