October 07, 2004

little tidbits hanging in cyberspace

Unlike Alex who is revelling in the San Francisco fog, I had to skip day 2 of the New Geography conference. Reality intruded, it turned out to be one of those days where I needed to actually do work. Sometimes it sucks to be me ;-) But I wanted to post a few stream-o-consciousness notes from yesterday's panel discussion among David Rumsey, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, and Zander Rose (exec director & adult supervision at the Long Now foundation), with Paul Saffo moderating.

SB: Long Now…helps people think about the truly long term (10,000 year horizon) and use that perspective in trying to do the right thing.

SB: Digital media disappears every 5 or 10 years, leading us to have a very short memory span.

ZR: Describing Long Now's Rosetta project. A storage medium that lasts thousands of years (a nickel disk, microetched with text at extremely high density), to hold, preserve and disseminate all the languages of the world. "Languages are the platform." They have amassed the largest linguistics collection on the net, 1600+ languages. Native speakers of rare languages are starting to upload their knowledge before it disappears.

Now he's showing the planned location of the 10,000 year clock, a site in eastern Nevada in the center of Great Basin NP where there are 5,000 yr old bristlecone pines.

SB: They have been working with the DOE on long term stewardship for nuclear waste; DOE has poured $13B into Yucca Mountain to ensure 10,000 year safety; it's turned out to be a pathological mess. We don't know how to anticipate problems across 10,000 years, much less understand what human capabilities will be in 100 or 1000 years. Danny Hillis’ formulation for this: spend $100M to secure it for the next 100 years, and then we’ll think about it with our current knowledge and tools and come up with the next 100 years’ solution.

PS: How do you send a message 10,000 years into the future? Oral tradition.

SB: We discovered, somewhat to our shock, that making a long term stable location for the clock has caused us to use every advanced digital technology we can get our hands on.

KK: This [new geography] is about taking the slowing changing part of our lives, physical place, and integrating, embedding, marrying it with the fastest changing part, digital technology. There will be friction, but this is the exciting place to be.

DR: We’re using the same technology we use for map flythroughs, to work with the Stanford(?) Medical School to create a flythrough of the human brain.

KK: The amateurs are leading the charge; little fringe groups experimenting with geolocation, not being endorsed by the big players. This area is ripe for an open source approach to a lot of the problems; hopes this would promote a more democratic access to such tools.

PS: There are some things as society we may not want to map. Once, mapmakers travelled in disguise to hide their intent to control the territory they mapped; how do we decide on zones of things that should not be mapped?

ZR: The European Space Agency also has a Rosetta project, to land a probe on a comet. They are taking Long Now's Rosetta disk of languages onboard the probe, and will leave it on the comet.

SB: I'm thinking about a story about the poet Gary Snyder in Australia, hanging out with some aborigines, who were riding on a pickup truck, singing. They kept stopping their songs partway through and starting a new song; it turned out the songs were about walking across the landscape, and they were moving through it faster in the truck. Their cultural traditions were closely indexed to the physical places.

KK: Creation of a trail guide for the Pacific Crest Trail, as a collaborative effort by GPS-carrying hikers who made personal annotations. Little tidbits of annotations hanging in cyberspace; provides a different way to see the world.

DR: Kevin really got me going on annotations. As I look ahead 100 years, we’ll have these amazing top down armatures like satellite photography, and bottoms up annotations by people on the ground at the time, and as a historian that really makes my hair stand up.

ZR: There was a moment when I first got my Sprint cellphone, and realized that busy cells in a particular area at 5pm correlated to traffic jams on the freeway. “Wardating” = friendster + wifi snarfing to gather info on a person’s friends and use it to start a conversation.

PS: Has a collection of mapping and surveying instruments; California moves around a bit, the land is not stable. He lives near the San Andreas Fault. He did a very precise survey of his property, and confirmed it is moving NW at ~1/2 inch per year…

Posted by Gene at October 7, 2004 04:36 PM | TrackBack

Too bad you couldn't stay for Day 2-- it was pretty interesting.

One thing that really strikes me after this conference is just how true Kevin Kelly's remark is. As with previous iterations of the Internet, you've got a combination of top-down, government- and industry-sponsored activities, and bottom-up hacker / community / art collective / etc. -driven projects. These overlap to some degree: some people who do community mapping projects by night are working at Sun or USGS by day. And each seems to serve valuable, but often different, functions.

Posted by: Alex at October 8, 2004 01:04 AM

Your notes about Yucca Mountain "stewardship" reminded me of a contest I heard about at a recent CSN concert (http://gumption.typepad.com/blog/2004/09/csn_csm.html). The Plutonium Memorial Design Contest (http://www.thebulletin.org/gallery/index.html) was to a design an artifact that would, among other things, contain a warning for prospective viewers 24,000 years -- the half-life of plutonium -- from now: "don't dig here" (http://crosbynash.com/).

Posted by: Joe at October 8, 2004 06:07 PM
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