ASF Home | AC2004 | Contact Us

Strategic Insights in Accelerating Technological Change

12 July, 2004

Call to Action: ASF Needs 70 Registration Commitments for AC2004 by this Sunday, July 18th.

Folks, we are at a decision point for our conference this year, and need your help.

Did you like ACC2003? Would you like ASF to produce another Accelerating Change conference this September, rather than have to wait until Sept. 2005? We need to know now if you are planning to register this year. Either registration, or a simple RSVP to including your name and "I commit" will suffice.

At this time last year we had quite a few commitments for ACC2003. Since our new conference theme is somewhat broader, we aren't presently sure how many of our prior attendees plan to reattend. We will need 70 commitments by this Sunday, July 18th (eight weeks before the conference) to be able to run AC2004. Otherwise, we'll run Accelerating Change in September 2005 instead.



Please take a moment to check out the conference website: We will bring you 36 world-class speakers over two and a half days, six keynotes, three debates, a Virtual Worlds demo, and a DVD conference record. Rates are $350 for Early Bird, and $150 for Student registrants. Note that AC2004 is priced well below other top-quality strategic technology, business, and humanist futures conferences such as AlwaysOn ($1,795*), Business 4Site ($1,095*), MIT Emerging Tech ($995*), O'Reilly Emerging Tech ($1,145*), Telecosm ($1,495*), and Pop!Tech ($1,695*).

Your vote matters. First and foremost, we seek to best serve our constituency of acceleration-aware science, technology, business, and humanist strategic thinkers. Let us know if you'll be joining us at Stanford this September.

ACC2003 DVD's Are Done

Our 10 disc set of ACC2003 speaker DVDs was finally reproduced and packaged last week, and sets are now being mailed to Virtual Attendees. We've priced this amazing compilation at a very low rate of $99 to get these speakers' important ideas out to the widest possible audience.

If you'd like your own set, you can order them from ASF by phone (major credit cards accepted) at (650) 396-8220. Electronic commerce coming soon.

As prep for our next Accelerating Change, Tech Tidbits features at least three items weekly, arranged by our three conference themes. Have your own breaking news to submit? Let us know at

"Minis" Have Mega Impact in the Brain, Caltech Media Relations, 24 June 2004 (2 pages)
[Commentary by John Smart] One of the great remaining mysteries of biology is something called "long term potentiation" (LTP), or how the human brain stores memories, both at the level of the neuron and in brain architecture as a whole. Erin Schuman's group at Caltech has just made a surprising new step forward in uncovering this story. Her lab recently discovered that neurons can create synaptic changes using only "minis", or single vesicles of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Neurotransmitters were previously considered to have biological effect only in a gross statistical sense. The discovery provides us with a new appreciation for hidden complexity that exists at the very smallest scales of cellular inner space.

Among other insights, Schuman's discovery provides indirect evidence for a longstanding theory by Terrence Sejnowski that the slow-wave periods of deep sleep (stages 3 and 4) we experience every night, when very little synaptic activity is occurring and "minis" can speak an intricate language across nearly quiet synapses, may be the time when we transfer our day's most important experiences from the working memory in our hippocampus to the "hard drive" of our cerebral cortex. (For more on Sejnowski's hypothesis, see this permalink to Sandra Blakelee's 14 Nov 2000 NY Times article, " Experts Explore Deep Sleep and the Making of Memories".) If proven true this tells us there is a lot more of certain types of computation going on in the brain at a much lower level of miniaturization than previously suspected.

Unearthing the brain's LTP algorithms will be one of the most important advances in the history of biology. More than any other insight, this could lead to the development of biologically-inspired electronic neural networks with far better learning—and forgetting—performance than those we use today. We are living in a very privileged time, when the most enticing mysteries of the mind are finally becoming accessible to our explorations in inner space. Thanks to Iveta Brigis for the scan hit.

Virtual Camp Trains Soldiers in Arabic, and More, Margaret Wertheim, NY Times, 6 July 2004 (2 pages, Registration Required)
[Commentary by John Smart] This sounds like a distinctively poor implementation of a very important concept, virtual worlds (VW) simulations for the rapid immersive training of tactical language and local culture for modern soldiers. As important as virtual training is, I suggest this particular academic-government project has some significant shortcomings as currently implemented. Why create primitive versions of artificially intelligent avatars to teach tactical foreign language when networked Arabic-speaking youth, operating in-world characters, could provide far superior real cultural and tactical training? The massively multiplayer approach would also build up local intelligence, employment, and expertise in Arabic-speaking countries.

Designing a weak, underperforming top-down artificial intelligence project is something that still happens too often in academic centers with big governmental contracts. There certainly may be value to projects like this for developing controlled, top-down designed pedagogies and gaining precise feedback on learning the most basic elements of "tactical language." But for years to come these systems will be intrinsically less useful for language learning than well-trained and specialized human teachers, who are now available for pennies per hour in online environments.

But perhaps that latter solution is more politically difficult to implement. Nevertheless, I hope that our government-funded labs become more acceleration-aware. Connectivity is a mature accelerating technology, but most AI is presently not. It's my opinion that we should be putting hundreds of real world Arabic-speaking "trainers" into this virtual world, and relying only very lightly on today's mostly brain-dead and sterile avatars for instructional assistance.

Dr. Ralph Chatham, DARPA project manager, notes that $7.2 million dollars are being spent on the DARPA Tactical Language Project at USC's ISI. Let's hope he sees fit to ask for online supplementation to this worthy project in its next version, to better deliver results in an age of accelerating change. Thanks to Mark Rotenberg for the scan hit.

Dream of a 1,000-Year Camera: Sam Raimi Wants to Document a Millennium, CNN, 29 June 2004 (1 page)
[Commentary by Jerry Paffendorf] Presenting a vision akin to The Long Now Foundation with their 10,000-year-clock, Spider-Man 2 director Sam Raimi has hopes to record 1,000 years worth of urban development with what he calls a “Century Cam”—actually a whole network of cameras capturing one frame each day for a millenium. In Raimi’s words: “It’s the same idea of all time-lapse photography, but over an outrageous amount of time… So you could watch the city of Los Angeles rise, and maybe an earthquake might come in 300 years or a tidal wave.”

Excepting tiny parts of Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka, time-lapse films still haven’t approached their potential for depicting cycles, development, complexity and emergence on scales outside of direct experience. While Raimi’s particular vision might sound more like conceptual gesture than effective strategy for visually documenting change and development over time, keep an eye on this idea. Seeing is very close to believing, and the ability to witness systems over time can say more about them than a million momentary accounts from within them. Come right down to it, why leave time-lapse entirely to film? For the truly grand stuff, won't waiting take too long? How about a Lord of the Rings-quality agent-based CGI time-lapse of Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar? It wouldn't be the straight dope, but it just might get the picture across. (Let me confess to having my own time-lapse ambitions. If anyone else has a personal interest in this genre, drop me a line at jerrypaffendorf-at-accelerating-dot-org.)

Open Call for Submissions
ASF is currently requesting submissions for its Accelerating Times (AT) web-based publication. AT is a "free and priceless" newsletter featuring broad coverage and incisive editorials on scientific, technological, business, and humanist dialogs in accelerating change. Anyone interested in submitting original material relevant to the broad study and analysis of accelerating change may do so via email to Submissions may take the form of articles, papers, scan hits, questions and even cartoons (for you illustrators out there). Contributers will be notified of their acceptance status in a timely fashion, and accepted work will appear, fully credited, in future issues of Accelerating Times. Visit for more details.


Call to Action: Commitments Needed for AC2004

ACC2003 DVDs are Done


"Minis" Have Mega Impact in the Brain

Virtual Camp Trains Soldiers in Arabic, and More

Dream of a 1000-Year Camera



AlwaysOn 2004, July 13-15 (Palo Alto, CA). Business innovation summit.


SUBSCRIBE: Click Thank you for telling your acceleration-aware friends.
UNSUBSCRIBE: Go to with your subscribed email address.
Check your latest newsletter header if you need to find this address.