02013: The Year in Long Now Seminars

Posted on Wednesday, January 15th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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Did you hear the news that LongNow.org has video of the twelve most recent Seminars About Long-term Thinking (SALT) free for everyone to view? It’s true. So here’s an overview of SALT’s tenth year, the dozen Seminars of 02013. You can see the full videos of these talks on our site now. Our first Seminar of 02014 is next week, so it’s the perfect time for some short term nostalgia.

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking

A diverse group of speakers helped us complete our first decade of Seminars. Archeologists, an archivist, an astronaut, a historian of technology, two Long Now Board members, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, a rocket engineer, a drone entrepreneur, a Nobel Laureate, the man who oversees more than a dozen US National museums, and an off the grid globetrotter. Between them they have authored over 40 books, and each presented a thought-provoking contemplation of the Long Now.

Subjects ranged from the timely (Chris Anderson on 3D printing) to the timeless (Craig Childs’ guide to the Everending Earth). We had a trio of Space-themed Seminars:  two about reaching out (Peter Schwartz’s The Starships ARE Coming and Adam Steltzner’s Beyond Mars, Earth) and one on a threat coming from Space (Ed Lu’s Thwarting Dangerous Asteroids Begins with Finding Them).

Our speakers included the familiar faces of George Dyson (No Time Is There) and Long Now’s president / co-founder Stewart Brand (Reviving Extinct Species) who each took a third turn in our Seminar spotlight. And for the 6th year in a row we completed the calendar with Rick Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of San Francisco.

The 02013 Seminar season began a year ago with an archeological detective duo cracking a nearly millennium-old case that everyone thought was closed long ago. Stewart Brand’s summary of The Statues Walked — What Really Happened on Easter Island lays out the facts we thought we knew…

Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722.

But Hunt and Lipo quickly noticed flaws in that narrative. The facts on the ground and the statues beside ancient roads led them to very different conclusions. Here’s a short clip from their talk:

You can watch the Seminar on our site to get the complete story of their groundbreaking research. This is the oldest of the 12 free Seminars, so it will stay on the site only until our first 02014 Seminar is up near the end of January. Watch it while you can!

In March George Dyson’s No Time Is There talk was a dense, enthralling tour of computing history tracing a path from 1941 and Julian Bigelow’s anti-aircraft predictive system (“Maxims of Ideal Prognosticators”) to the smartphone in your pocket. But the incredible human stories which intertwine the science are what make his talk and resultant book (“Turing’s Catherdral“) so much more than a timeline of innovations. For example, these insights into the women who worked on the earliest computer projects at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS):

Military technology and computer science developed symbiotically, and Dyson highlights IAS and the IAS machine, an early electronic computer used at Princeton on the Manhattan Project to help develop the atomic bomb. The cast of real life characters includes Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel, and Julian Bigelow–some of the greatest scientific minds the world has known. His research included time spent in von Neumann’s personal library and interviews with others who were there.

Dyson also put in historical perspective the massive datasets, commonly termed “Big Data”, which are a common feature of today’s Cloud-y technological landscape: “Big Data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of making the decision to throw it away.”

In April Nicholas Negroponte offered perspective on more recent technological progress in his Beyond Digital Seminar. Did you know that in the 1970’s they thought ‘touch was stupid’?

In August we welcomed Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 02002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his groundbreaking work in behavioral economics. Here’s an excerpt from his talk Thinking Fast and Slow:

This Seminar had an abbreviated Q&A due to a fire alarm going off at the venue. After Dr. Kahneman’s talk detailing his psychological research, some in the audience suspected at first that we were subjects in a live experiment on thinking in a crisis. But alas, no. It was a false alarm all around, though it did end the event prematurely. Watch the full video here.

There isn’t room to recap them all in detail, but we are so proud of the high quality and thoughtfulness of all of these Seminars. Many thanks to our speakers, and all of you who attended in person or enjoyed them online afterwards. You’ll find highlights of a few more 02013 Seminars below. What an incredible year.

And how do we follow that? We begin 02014 with two of our founders Danny Hillis and Brian Eno who will consider the past, present and future in The Long Now, now on January 21, 02014. The Seminar is sold out, but Long Now members can listen in live online. And full video will be on our site about a week after the event. Other speakers this year include Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, Long Now board member and Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos on The Unlooting of Civilization’s Treasures in Wartime Iraq, and Mariana Mazzucato The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths.

There’s more to come. Check our website and look for full video of talks about a week after they happen (in most cases). Join Long Now to get HD Video of current and past talks and lots more.

Ed Lu: Anthropocene Astronomy: Thwarting Dangerous Asteroids Begins with Finding Them

Craig Childs: Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth

Chris Anderson: The Makers Revolution

Adam Steltzner: Beyond Mars, Earth

Richard Kurin of The Smithsonian American History in 101 Objects


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