So I think the first day of the conference went quite well. David Rumsey’s opening talk was terrific, and visually it was stunning. He’s doing really amazing stuff, and if you ever get the chance to see him, you should. Paul Saffo then led a discussion about deep place and deep time with Rumsey, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, and Long Now’s Zander Rose.
After that, we piled everyone into buses, drove over to Fort
Winfred Winfield Scott (which, confusingly, is inside the Presidio), and did a demo of a system that combined tablet PCs, GPS units, and a system that displayed geocoded information about Fort Scott on a series of satellite photos. When you walked around, the photos would shift with you, and new information and annotations would pop up as you moved from one area to another. It was pretty bleeding-edge stuff, and very much a reminder that the future is still in beta: it was a far cry from true augmented reality and the Geoweb, what with the USB cable connected to the GPS unit (that someone had to carry around several feet away from the tablet PC to improve the signal).
Still, it was an interesting experiment, and I think only one team’s equipment refused to work. And a 90% success rate is good even for manufactured stuff, much less the ingenious-yet-hacked-together systems we had. (As one person said after a series of tests we did Monday: “Well, all the parts work… by themselves. Getting them to work together is still a little bit of a challenge.”) And while I think the scenarios and analytical stuff we do is quite valuable, I think there’s nothing quite like experiences and artifacts for giving your audience a sense of what the future could be like.
Even though I’ve been doing these for three years, I still don’t quite have the knack of knowing beforehand how it’s all going to come together– whether the invited speakers will click, whether the experiential parts of the conference will work, whether the crowd will like or hate our work. Some of my colleagues seem to be able to just know whether something is going to work, with the same certainty that an experienced mechanic can look across a room at a wrench and know that it’s a 17/35ths, not a 19/35ths. (Yes, I just made those up. But you get the idea.)