2016 Extreme Futures and Technology Forecasting Conference

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A bunch of folks geeking out about the future of technology in Redmond.

Damn, was that ever fun! I chose to spend eight hours of my Saturday with futurists, tech leaders, startup founders, renewable energy entrepreneurs, and artificial intelligence evangelists in Building 20 on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond. The conference was casual and intimate, disrupted by some minor tech problems (I can’t decide if that’s ironic or not), and intellectually invigorating. I feel like the part of my brain that’s obsessed with the future of technology just got a workout.

Presentations filled up the program. I did a short talk on the VR industry, which I plan on posting here on Monday. But first I want to mention a few of the presentations by other people that stood out to me.

Nancy Solomon, an author, force of nature, and brain behind Advancing Women Today, spoke about the lack of diversity in tech. As Nancy bluntly put it: “Diversity in your industry sucks.” She proceeded to back up this assertion with data, noting that there will be a projected 1.4 million shortfall in tech jobs by 2020, and that this is largely going to be the result of bro-heavy tech cultures. At one point, Nancy asked a dangerous question to ask in a Microsoft facility, “How many of you have ever had a girlfriend?” I made sure to raise my hand emphatically.

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Following Nancy was a gentleman named Phil Swan, who told us about the Atlantis Project. Basically this will be a ring of habitable space environments that sits like a gigantic crown high above Antarctica. This was easily my favorite idea of the conference, just by virtue of how imaginative and out-there it seemed. I loved thinking about what it would be like to live in a circle of space stations all connected by a sort of space rail system.

Eric Neuman of Sprawly gave a presentation on his company’s 360 video-editing program that made me sit up in my seat and think holy shit. With Sprawly, you can take a 360 video and make interactive hotspots within it. This lets you make a VR movie clickable, so you can embed links to other videos, web pages, audio, or really any content you can think of inside your VR experience. As Eric described this tech in easy to understand terms, I started to imagine what this will mean for cinematic VR. It opens up new possibilities for editing a VR film, giving artists the power to create branching story lines or embed different kinds of content within their VR experiences. What’s really fantastic about this tech is how versatile it is, how much it empowers creators. It’s like adding the functionality of the web to movies. I’m going to keep a close eye on this company, which according to Eric doesn’t even occupy a physical office yet. Eric also announced that Sprawly be be available for free August 19, to coincide with the Summer Cinematic VR Challenge.

A number of speakers addressed the realm of artificial intelligence, and I must say that a lot of it went over my head and resembled the kind of dorm room bull session that happens after a couple bong rips and a binge read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Here’s where discussions about technology quickly mutate into philosophy discussions, where humanities degrees suddenly assert their value. I enjoyed listening to these discussions, though by the end of the day I was feeling worn out, happily so, by all the ideas swirling around my head. What a pleasant way to spend a day, with such imaginative and friendly people all thinking about what the future holds.