Archive for the 'Conferences' Category

Office 2.0 Conference

Friday, September 1st, 2006

One of the most amazing examples of the kind of spontaneous work group that we’re likely to see in the future is the Office 2.0 conference. The brain child of Ismael Ghalimi, who has been writing the popular IT|Redux blog, it seems it was originally conceived as a meetup of a few folks interested in the concept. However, as Ismael wrote about the idea, the event seemed to take on a life of its own. The Enterprise Irregulars, a group of bloggers that have been invited to several conferences together, got involved and really helped the idea take off.

As I understand it, the site was actually created by SiteKreator before they talked to Ismael – they bought the domain, created the site, and presented it to him. A number of luminaries expressed interest in speaking, and even more importantly, a bunch of companies wanted to sponsor the event. Ismael was able to delegate much of the work, and even better, automate nearly every aspect using services, as described in the blog. As he says, with typical understatement: “Blogs can be pretty effective marketing tools nowadays.”

I’ll be at the conference, and I think it will be very worthwhile. Hope to see you there.

Singularity Summit

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

I really enjoyed the Singularity Summit last Saturday. I didn’t go as an official blogger, and I didn’t bring my laptop, so I only have a few basic notes on key ideas that I captured on my blackberry. I went and stood in line with the other “singularians”, a new word I learned that seems to denote far-out folks that think they will live forever amid super-intelligent machines. Much more complete conference coverage can be found at Dan Farber, Down the Avenue, Responsible Nanotech, and Chaos Manor.

I was a little surprised to see Steve Jurvetson on the stage. If I had known, I might have hit him up to get in to the VIP lunch. He did a good job trying to moderate a Q&A session that was a little too wide-ranging with too many panelists.

Ray Kurzweil was first up. I enjoyed his book, and had listened to his speech at Accelerating Change via IT Conversations. This talk was pretty similar, but still stunning in the amount and depth of detail. He was the only person at the conference with facts and figures at his fingertips, and it gave him an aura of credibility that nobody else matched. I would have loved to hear someone argue with his facts and conclusions. Unfortunately the only real dissenters in the group (Douglas Hofstadter and Bill McKibben) just had vague unease with Ray’s conclusions, and no solid numbers or logic to back them up. Douglas was downright petulant, and it was a huge disappointment for me, since I have been in awe of him since I read Goedel, Escher, Bach back in high school. Ray nicely eviscerated Doug’s comments in his wrap-up.

Sebastian Thrun was inspiring and hilarious in his presentation of the features Stanley needed to win the DARPA Grand Challenge. Particularly funny were his video clips of the “autonomous motorcycle” – allegedly from Berkeley – that kept falling over. One interesting question is whether these kinds of approaches are like “climbing trees to get to the moon” – i.e. seemingly in the right direction, but ultimately never going to reach the goal.

Eric Drexler was fabulous, on his usual theme of “atoms are becoming like bits.” He sees a future where manufacturing has the same economies of scale and replication as information technology. I don’t know much about this, but it sure sounds great. I read Engines of Creation a long time ago, but I need to get back up to speed.

Max More was talking about the Proactionary Principle, which I didn’t quite get, but subsequently looked up. He also talked about ensuring that super intelligence equals super wisdom in these intelligences. I submitted a written question during his talk, wondering which, if any, of the human emotions would need to be replicated in such a machine to enable it to effectively communicate with humans, and further if any of those emotions would be required to succeed in a super intelligent, super wise society. I didn’t get picked, though, and I couldn’t stay for the entire Q&A session, so I guess I’ll have to wait until the next one to ask.

Eliezar Yudkowsky had some interesting ideas to share. In particular, the idea that intelligence is the most powerful force we can deploy to improve our world, and that therefore the question for super intelligence gives us the most leverage. Reminds me of a talk by Bill Joy I heard back in 1987 or 1988 about the almost inconceivably powerful Sun 9 (they had just released the Sun 4, we named our first one “speed” because it seemed so fast). He said if you had a program that would take a century to run on the Sun 4, just wait 15 or so years for the Sun 9, and run it in 8 hours.

Bill McKiibben talked a lot about how less is more, and the journey is its own reward, exhorting us to slow down. Of course, when Ray asked him exactly how to do that, he didn’t have any good answers. This talk reminded me of a series of award-winning short stories called Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick, where a group of African tribesmen try to preserve their culture by moving to a different planet. Ultimately, progress wins out, and you only have utopia for a fleeting moment that you rarely appreciate while it is happening. Bill wants to save the environment, but doesn’t seem to get that some of this progress is in advanced energy sources and manufacturing techniques that will be much better for the environment.

I came away pretty impressed with the caliber and the depth of the thinking that has gone into this issue. One of my goals is to find the time and resources to contribute to this conversation.

IT Conversations is great

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

I had been pooh-poohing the whole idea of podcasts for some time. I downloaded a few, listened to them, and decided they were just amateur radio shows, and not very good ones at that. Who needs that? To be perfectly honest, I generally prefer performing music to listening to it, and in my car I usually listen to KCBS or NPR.

A friend pointed me at IT Conversations. At first, I resisted, because I usually don’t like listening to spoken words, like audio books. This may be because I read much faster than I listen, so I get bored and distracted. I get most of my technical knowledge from reading on the web, and couldn’t imagine really learning anything by listening to talks.
However, I saw a session by one of my favorite thinkers, Ray Kurzweil, so I decided to give it a try. Now I’m completely hooked, and I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that these presentations are designed for a listening audience, so the cadence and the style are very different from an audio book. Of course, they sometimes have slides, which I obviously can’t see, but I still get most of the good stuff. Another reason is I can “attend” conferences without actually traveling anywhere, or missing any days of work. I know I’m missing out on all the valuable networking, but some conferences actually have interesting content, and IT Conversations seems to have most of them.

I have since recommended IT Conversations to a number of friends, and all have found valuable sessions there. A few of my favorites:

Conferences include O’Reilly Emerging Technology, Web 2.0, Pop!Tech and OSCON. Worth checking out.

The World Is Flat Breakfast

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

I had a good time at Ismael Ghalimi‘s World Is Flat Breakfast the other day. Other folks have done a better job of blogging the whole event than I can. However, I did get a couple tidbits worth repeating.

One was an explanation of why Open Source will take over the world. It seems that large public software companies average $0.78 of sales and marketing cost for every dollar of license revenue. That makes it a pretty low margin business, even when compared to a service business like training and support. Open source has no license revenue, but also has no sales and marketing cost – so their overall margins can actually be higher!

The other tidbit was the names of a couple of companies that specialize in helping software development for software product companies. This is pretty different from custom development for enterprises, so it’s nice to see some folks with expertise in this area. The sponsor, Lohika, has been great partner to Intalio and at least one other company I know well. A couple others I have had good interactions with are Symphony and Persistent Systems.

Emerging Technology 2006

Friday, March 10th, 2006

I spent a couple days at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference down in San Diego. I really enjoy this conference, because it is so geek-oriented. There’s nary a business model in sight. The most obvious example of this was the session on playsh, which was very cool, but completely useless – I love it!

The theme of the conference was The Attention Economy, and I think the idea there is particularly relevant. As Michael Goldhaber said, once people have enough money, the scarce resource that must be optimized is attention. Now, I’m not completely clear on the difference between attention and time, so I’ll have to read his book when it comes out. But, it is increasingly clear that demands on our attention are skyrocketing, and anything that helps manage that flood is a good thing.

There were a couple very cool demos, including Ray Ozzie‘s demo of a cut and paste mechanism for the dynamic web, and a very cool light table with multiple touch inputs. I think this conference is another one that is great for me professionally, not because I see a lot of companies that I can invest in now, but because it keeps me in touch with things that people are working on, and introduces me to entrepreneurs that might be ready for me in a few months or years.

Emerging Telephony conference

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

Spent most of a day at the O’Reilly Emerging Telephony conference. I found several sessions very cool, and like the way the trends seem to be pointing. Generally these tech conferences result in more education and interesting ideas than actual investment opportunities, which is still a good longer term investment of my time. I thought the coolest hack was playing Zork by voice – I used to love Zork, and recently found a version for my Blackberry.

My main takeaway is that between VoIP infrastructure, and clever ways to do carrier-avoidance, the telephone as a platform is opening up in ways that the incumbents have long tried to prevent. This is producing lots of interesting experimentation. There are many similarities to the Internet in this process, and lots smarter people than me have researched this. I did draw a few conclusions though: like the Internet, identity and security are problems that still beg for solutions. Also interface richness, particularly with handheld devices, is a major problem.

It seems to me that to get to the next level of maturity as a platform, there are a few fundamental ecosystem players that still need to emerge. For example, there’s no good payment system like Paypal, nor is there a commerce platform like Ebay. I’m also looking for the AdSense equivalent, to power some of these experiments. Finally, I’d be interested to see more collaboration tools for remote workers.

We are actively looking at investment opportunities in this area, and have focused on building relationships at carriers, equipment providers, and startups to continue to learn more. We are also helping to create resources for our existing portfolio companies in this space, which include SS8, Azaire, and Borderware.