Night With a Futurist

Me with the Big Brain, Thomas Frey

Me with the Big Brain, Thomas Frey

Last night, I attended an event through the DaVinci Institute called ‘Night with a Futurist’. Ever since I heard the term, I’ve wondered: What is a futurist? How does one become a futurist? Is there a special school? Handshake? Tattoo? Facebook group? I had questions.

The star of the evening was renowned smartypants Thomas Frey, who heads DaVinci and comes up #1 in the Google search for ‘futurist.’  (Oh, how I adore brainiacs.) Because of his work inspiring inventors and other revolutionary thinkers, Tom has been referred to as the modern “Father of Invention” and the “Dean of Futurists.”  Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer and received over 270 awards – more than any other IBM engineer. He blogs here.

The topic: ‘“The Coming Data Tsunami” and the gist was: “Holy crap! We’re creating data at an alarming rate. Where is it all supposed to go? What is valuable? What to keep or toss?” only he said it much more eloquently.

The set up was, Thomas gets up and gives his presentation – which is helped along by funny graphics and alarming stats. Then there’s a break where we all get beer from the bar. Then, we come back and there’s a panel of really sharp tech biz guys moderated by a journalist – in this case, Mike Cote, Editor of ColoradoBiz Magazine. The panelists (listed below) then debate and discuss the points made in the presentation  – what they agreed with and what they did not.

Mike Koclanes, President and CEO Boulder Data Solutions, Inc.

Mark Soane, Managing Director, Appian Ventures 

Drew Crouch, Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Jim Franklin, Vice President of Enterprise Performance Management and General Manager of the Crystal Ball Global Business Unit of Oracle Corp.

An excerpt of the Tom’s presentation:

“Today’s data clouds are swirling violently on the leading edge of a modern-day storm front that is on the verge of exploding around us with cluster bomb-like data grenades bursting their way onto the scene. While many are still reeling from the past decade of exponential information growth, the coming years will see billion and trillion fold increases, the likes of which are destined to overload every system currently on the drawing board.”

Sounds kinda violent, huh? One thing all the panelists agreed on: The Tsunami is already here.  As Mike said, “If anything, the urgency of the situation you’ve described is understated.”

Lots of discussion about nanotechnologies, the increase of data value, smart dust, search technologies for the physical world (that’s right, searching for something by its texture or taste) and something called the Whole Earth Genealogy Project – an attempt to create a gridmap of all of humanity using genealogy.

If it wasn’t for the beer, I may have had trouble absorbing it all. Some outstanding quotes from the evening:

“I go off on these thinking adventures and … “ -Thomas Frey

“For the vegetarians in the audience, you are only changing the size of the animals you eat. I guarantee if you are eating plants, you are eating many, many tiny animals.”

“If you scanned and logged all the information about the Earth, it would be bigger than the Earth itself.”

“Will we have any semblance of privacy in the future? …Theoretically, we would all be safe from one another if we were all equally transparent.”

“RFID is already causing a huge increase in data. Wal-Mart alone is creating 7.5 terabytes a day.”

“In the future, Wal-Mart will use facial recognition on their shoppers, I’m sure. It’s scary. Ethics is a big deal here.”

“It keeps coming back to the same question: Invasion of privacy or convenience?”

“The role of traditional media is still valuable – we still need people to pull out something meaningful, to do analysis.”

“How many times has the same video been stored on everyone’s laptop today? We need a central repository.”

“It’s getting to be – do you really need to carry your laptop?”

“The younger generation is trained to different types of media for different scenaries. If I’m going to pick up my 14-year-old daughter, she’ll text me. If she wants to discuss her going out with her friends, she knows that has to be by phone, at least.”

“I think we’ve lost something in human communication and it will be interesting to see how we get that back.”

“As long as the machines are here – and the humans are here too – we’re going to have this problem.”

There’s a ton more but you get the idea. I met another futurist, Dave Lester, and asked him the golden question. “The term ‘futurist’ is bestowed upon you by your peers,” he said. “After you run around spewing a bunch of insightful, visionary stuff, you sort of become anointed and then it sticks.  Then, you can start using it yourself.”

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll start with being a Now-ist. Anyone want to annoint me?





8 Responses

  1. Woah – this is TMI. (ba doom psssh)

    But wow, I am in awe of your night with the futurists. Mostly, how and who do they talk to to come up with these ideas? I mean, physical search? Human grid mapping? And where do the futurists come in, exactly? I’m with you, Cliz, we need to BE those bartenders at these secret society futurist meetings!!

    So interesting!

  2. What I find fascinating is the way in which seemingly random bits of data collide to provoke something completely new. And the tiny ways this new technology is effecting our everyday lives. Thank you for the “cluster of data grenades” you have now exploded in my mind.

  3. Jes – Agreed. I’ve discovered that the futurists are like musicians that get together and jam. They get together to sink their teeth into ideas about the future. I just might have to become a groupie.

    Lisa – I love ‘cluster of data grenades – I might have to steal that.

  4. I would also like to be a futurist groupie. Where do I sign up?

  5. Maybe I should start a Facebook group …?

  6. The presentation sounds pretty intresting. Nothing against vegetarians, but i find this comment pretty funny “For the vegetarians in the audience, you are only changing the size of the animals you eat. I guarantee if you are eating plants, you are eating many, many tiny animals.”

  7. H – I will join your facebook group!

  8. […] I’m kind of digging the Da Vinci Institute here in Colorado. I joined to keep tabs on big brains like Thomas Frey and maybe accidentally learn something along the way. Working so far from ya’ll, it really helps […]

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