Conclusion of the Liveblogging Experiment
I started this blog last week chiefly to publicize and record this year's Foresight Institute conference, but also because I wanted to attempt a media experiment. I wanted to see whether liveblogging an event like this was useful, and wanted to see how it might work and what it might look like. I'd never blogged before, or even commented on a blog.
I'm sure that others could, and will, do this sort of thing better. Over the course of three days, I've written something like 12,000 words in more than 40 postings to the blog, and put up more than 60 pictures and about 9 videos. It was a lot of work -- I missed a few meals and a lot of sleep -- but it would have been easier if I was just blogging, and not also presenting a talk. I come away from this intense experiment with a profound respect for all those who blog regularly.
Here are the tools I used:
- Laptop = Sony Vaio
- Camera = Sony DSC-P93
- Blog software = TypePad (Pro subscription)
- Photo editing = Adobe PhotoShop 7
- Video editing = Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Encoder
For anyone who wants to attempt this sort of "multimedia conferenceblogging" in the future, I've got a few suggestions.
- Bring extra batteries for your camera, and if possible, an extra flash memory card.
- Find out ahead of time the wireless Internet arrangements in the meeting space; you might have to pay to get online. (It cost me $10 each day.)
- No need to be as rude as a paparazzo, but don't be shy about walking around taking pictures.
- Bring a power strip, if you can. This weekend's conference hall didn't have many power outlets, so some laptop-users couldn't plug in. The power strip that I brought for the second and third days came in very handy.
- Bring headphones, too, if you intend to edit any video while people around you are trying to listen to the conference proceedings.
- Finally, if possible, don't work solo. A commenter on one of my early postings suggested "tag-teaming the presentations, and using several individuals for commentary." I wouldn't follow that advice for short events, but teamwork is probably the way to go for multi-day events like this conference.
In the end, I think this experiment shows that a blog can serve as a source of live news and as a permanent historical record of events. And I have a hunch that there's a tremendous business opportunity here. There are all kinds of events -- formal and informal, planned and unplanned -- that could and should be covered by bloggers. A company that provides "newsblogging services" might someday give the wire services a run for their money.
A few acknowledgements: Thank you to the Foresight Institute, for the invitation to speak. Thank you to the conference attendees who let me videotape them. Thank you to Nine Systems for streaming the videos. And thank you to my wife, for letting me borrow her laptop and for insisting that I eat and sleep.
Last Thoughts from the Foresight Conference
I am not a nanotechnology booster; I am an interested observer. For all I know, advanced nanotechnology might someday prove to be unfeasible. But given what the development of advanced nanotechnology could mean -- the potential for good and ill -- I'm glad that the Foresight Institute is thinking about these things now.
I argued in my presentation at the conference that the moment has arrived for the Foresight Institute to become much more engaged in politics, and I was gratified by the response of the twenty or so people who told me afterwards that they agreed. I won't reprint my whole talk here, but will mention the suggestions I made to get the ball rolling. In order to make the Foresight Institute -- and the rest of the advanced nanotechnology community -- more relevant, I suggested:
1) The development of a very simple and very clear definition for laymen of what nanotechnology is.
2) Likewise, the development of an explanation of what nanotechnology isn't.
3) Efforts to draw connections between advanced nanotechnology and issues that are politically important.
4) The selection and dogged pursuit of small, specific, short-term goals.
5) A greater use of the press.
6) An increased Washington presence -- including "blitzes" on Capitol Hill.
7) An effort to distance nanotechnology from fringe movements like transhumanism and extropianism, since the association with these movements brings no political benefit but risks bringing political harm.
Here's how I ended my talk:
In conclusion, I hope you will see the vision I have laid out, the vision of nanotechnology politics, not as a suffocation of your imagination, nor as selling your soul, but simply as making what might be called a "tactical adjustment" for the sake of relevance. American politics, rightly understood, is our society's way of seeking after wisdom. It is the clash of interests and ideas and ideologies, all forced through a wringer of public argumentation and deliberation. It can be messy or heartbreaking, or tedious or scandalous, molasses-slow or lightning-fast. And by making public arguments, by seeking to listen and to persuade, by making exertions "actually in the arena," by proposing and fighting for what specifically should be done today to prepare for a better tomorrow -- instead of just talking about what should ideally come to pass -- by doing all these things, you will go far to prepare the world for the promise and peril of nanotechnology. I hope you give it a try, and I hope the world has the wisdom and the courage to heed your advice.
Prizes for Encouraging Work in Nanotech
In the early 1990s, the Foresight Institute began awarding prizes to recognize important work in nanotechnology. These "Feynman Prizes" were named for the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman (pronounced FINE-mun) whose 1959 speech "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" described atomic manipulation as "a development which I think cannot be avoided."
Over the years, Foresight has added several new prizes, like the Foresight Prize for Communication I already described below. Here are the other winners of this year's awards:
The Feynman Prize for Theory went to Dr. David Baker (pictured at left) of the University of Washington, and Dr. Brian Kuhlman of UNC. According to the Foresight press release, they were awarded the prize "for their development of RosettaDesign, a program that has a high success rate in designing stable protein structures with a specified backbone folding structure. Their work includes the design of the first protein to be constructed with a backbone fold not observed in nature; in experimental testing, the novel backbone structure was found to be extremely stable and to match the predicted structure with atomic-level accuracy. Their work marks a milestone on a path to molecular machine systems. Professor Baker has made RosettaDesign freely available to the research community."
The Feynman Prize for Experimental Work went to Duke University's Homme Hellinga (pictured at right) "for his achievement in the engineering of atomically precise devices capable of precise manipulation of other molecular structures. Building on a broad base of achievement in computationally directed protein engineering, he has extended this work to the construction of an enzyme. This achievement demonstrates an innovative blend of techniques, applying computational design to reengineer a structure found in nature into a novel one with a different function. This work breaks new ground in engineering devices that transform molecular structures."
And the Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award went to Damian Allis (pictured at left with Foresight vice president Christine Peterson). Mr. Allis, a graduate fellow at Nanorex Corporation and a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University, was awarded the prize "for his work in the application of theoretical computational methods to the design and study of molecules and nanostructures, materials for molecular electronics, non-linear optical materials, and molecular building blocks and biomimetic principles."
Incidentally, the Foresight Institute will be revamping its prizes in the course of the next year. Peter Diamandis, the chairman of the committee that oversaw the X Prize, has agreed to advise Foresight on how to make these prizes more effective. Scott Mize, the president of Foresight, said at the prize banquet that there are plans to increase the prize amounts, and to "expand our relationships with the government" by creating a new prize for the government official who does the best nanotech-related work each year.
My two cents: Foresight should consider some negative awards, too, like the IgNobel Prize and the Bulwer-Lytton Award and Senator Proxmire's old Golden Fleece Awards. I'm sure it won't be hard to find deserving recipients of nanotechnology disservice awards...
A Batch of Pictures from the Conference
I've posted just over a dozen pictures from the conference, most of which don't appear on the blog, in a photo gallery you can reach here:
Conference Over... More Tonight
The last conference speaker was Christine Peterson, one of the co-founders of the Foresight Institute, who just thanked all the conference staff and sponsors. With that, everybody cleared out -- and I'm heading out, too.
I'll be back tonight, to post my backlog of pictures and videos, and to offer some concluding reflections on the conference, and on this blogging experiment.
UPDATE: Okay, I've posted three new videos -- brief comments from David Berube on what he's doing with his nano grant money, from David Friedman on copyright vs. patents in the nano age, and from Thomas McKendree on nanotechnology making access to space cheaper. I've also posted a neater version of the cryonics chat. I'll make a few more posts tonight, then that's it for this blog.
Just got a few other videos, and a few more pictures, which I'll be putting up later. We're on the home-stretch now: there are just three more presenters before the conference is over.
For some reason, the blog has been going up and down during the course of the day. I don't know what the issue is, but for some reason I can open it in a Mozilla browser but not in IE, and then I can open it in IE but in in Mozilla.
My game plan: Keep liveblogging the remaining three presentations, go home and post my backlog of pictures and videos, and then make two closing blog posts -- one summarizing the conference, and one assessing the whole liveblogging experiment.
Going to talk shortly
Sorry blogging has been light this morning; I was up late re-writing my comments, which I'm supposed to deliver here this morning in just a few minutes, at 11:30 a.m. I'll get back to this side of the lectern -- the comfortable blogging corner -- probably around noon.
UPDATE: Done talking. Delivered a long, probably only semi-coherent, caffeine-fueled rant about how the Foresight Institute, and those generally interested in advanced nanotechnology, have to work harder to stay politically relevant. I was the first speaker at the conference not to use PowerPoint, so I'm afraid some people who've become used to staying awake by reading slides might have nodded off during my talk. I may try to put the text up later today.
UPDATE: Scott Mize, the president of the Foresight Institute, just got up onstage to mention that Foresight has raised $4,600 so far to pay for the completion of the new desktop nanofactory animation (mentioned below). In my lecture, I mentioned how that animation could be important to improving the public debate about nanotechnology. And that $4,600 is actually worth $9,200, thanks to the matching grant mentioned below.
Scroll down for updates
That's all for the night; there'll be more tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've added some new things in the past few hours by updating previous posts, so if you scroll down you'll see some new pictures and new videos. (Check out the sidebar to the right for a list of all the posts since this blog was launched some 38 hours ago.)
The current speaker is Brad Templeton, who has been associated for years with Foresight, and is on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He's speaking on privacy, but while building his argument, he mentioned a word he recently coined: spamigation. Spamigation is what happens when spam meets litigation. It's a spam-like use of the legal system to file massive numbers of lawsuits -- as has been done by the Recording Industry Association of America, which dumps lawsuits against filesharers (or music-pirates, if you prefer) into the legal system in batches of several hundred at once. A Google search shows that Brad did indeed coin this word (at least online).
New Nano-Video Matching Grant
Between speakers, Foresight President Scott Mize came out and announced the creation of a $10,000 matching grant, offered by a nanotech company, for the completion of Eric Drexler's animation (blogged earlier here, with images). For every dollar that somebody else donates -- maybe you? -- this company will donate a dollar toward the completion of the animation. For more information, contact Foresight. You'll probably get your name in credits at the end...
UPDATE: The matching grant has been arranged by Mark Sims of Nanorex. The animation, which is now in version 0.8, has been a "labor of love" so far, according to Scott Mize, but there are still at least six weeks of animation work remaining. The video, according to Eric Drexler, will be freely available on TV and elsewhere, and is intended to be "a tremendous tool for giving a picture of where this path we're embarking on will take us." It will show how nanomanufacturing need be no more frightening than, say, a microwave oven. In fact, when the animation ends and the desktop nano-factory opens, Drexler just told me, they're even going to have it make a "bing" sound like a finished microwave.
Here, by the way, are a few more pictures from the animation -- pictures I didn't show in my earlier post:
UPDATE: Scott Mize, the president of Foresight, came out a couple more times during the day to announce that money for the animation was already beginning to come in, thanks to the matching grant. He first announced that they'd brought in $1,250, and later said even more was coming in. Ask and ye shall receive.