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Hub Culture Salon: Tech in San Francisco

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2nd Oct 2008

Hub Culture's Salon series landed in San Francisco with a stunning dinner party tucked into a private venue overlooking the city's glittering skyline. Hosted by Yahoo! international guru John Marcom, (who is having a rollercoaster week) the group explored the changing role of technology in our lives and expanded on directions for the future. Marla Clark, a San Francisco doyenne, prepared an elegant menu that left the group in a pleasurable state, but it was the conversation that got everyone cooking.

So who else was there? Because its San Francisco and everyone was in the tech space, we practically had to sign an NDA before anyone would open their mouth, but that's okay - it was a great group:

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'Breaking Free' in SecondLife by Clara Oakes
Brian M., Microsoft XBox

Brian B., Qi - a company that makes liquor from tea.

Ed Q., Industrial Light & Magic

Mark H., tech strategy consulting

Steven C., a social network/financial startup

Tapan B., Yahoo! front doors

Tina F., a political strategist

The dinner kicked off on the internet, with Ed talking about the moves that movie and game designers are making to clean up and improve the user experience in Second Life. He suggested that the near future will see a profileration of virtual worlds, and an eventual 3-D internet that we conduct much of our lives from.

This prompted Mark, who lives in a more real-world format, to say "It sounds great if you live in Iowa and work for a call-center," a point which was hotly debated. Are people intrenched in virtual worlds losers with no life, or an avant garde section of society, a future bellweather for where the rest of of us will soon be? Much was said about the reversals of fortune encountered in SL and WoW - people with little power in the real world sometimes wield enormous power in the virtual world. Mark, Brian and Tina looked over EA Games - the third largest software developer in the world, and moving quickly to create new value as the world moves toward gaming platforms. Open source computing and the "rise of the module" are making the internet an easier place to create mission critical applications, and that spells long term trouble for SAP and Oracle. Even Adobe has considered making portions of their offering open source, and there is a danger that the commoditization of database services and ERP systems will drive profits to the bone for the established players. Has Oracle had its day? Its hard to see how it hasn't.

Brian B., who founded several early stage tech companies and now uses technology to produce Qi "fire tea" - a form of 80 proof liquer distilled from distinct teas, weighed in with this shocker: "The internet and virtual gaming will give man what he has always longed for: immortality." His logic being that with advances in computing power being what they are, by the end of our lifetimes we should be able to download the contents of our minds into a computer format, where it could potentially live forever in a form of nanomachinal existence. The key missing element here is that we may be remembered forever, but there is no evidence to suggest that such a trove of content could be sentient, conscious or self aware. Yet.

There is a school of thought first articulated in Wired, (August 2005), that predicts something like this, and that the internet may one day appear sentient, even if it is just a function of complicated serial responses.

Technology and politics: not much time will pass before we see the rise of a new form of internet political activism, which may include the formation of a new political party in the US that is led by the internet. Imagine a "Purple Party" that combines the logical aspects of the Republicans and the logical aspects of the Democrats to create a centrist activism based around the merits of the creative class - intelligent, market oriented, with a social conscience.

Most estimated this is less than 4 to 5 years away, and it seems that some people are getting a jump on the idea... plans are underfoot for a Purple Meeting in 2007 hosted by Governor Schwarzenegger and Mayor Bloomberg. This meeting would gather and combine the most forward thinking minds in America who are moving beyond party lines. Could we see a Bloomberg and Schwarzeneggar ticket in 2008 or 2012? Bloomberg may have plans but Arnie would not be eligible to be vice president without some changes to the present legal framework.

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Earthquake headlines on Yahoo!'s homepage
Tapan, who oversees a team that handles what over 200 million people a day see at Yahoo! on the front pages, had some interesting insight into the way technology is changing news... "click and cry" - the practice of placing highly emotional stories in high traffic locations, generates enormous reader response and follow through. Just like in the papers, it really is all about human interest. Teams on Yahoo! and other sites can generally tell within minutes if a story is working or not, and often adjust accordingly. It is a pretty interesting change - the audiences themselves are providing real-time feedback on the stories posted by the front door teams, and that influences the news and placement of items. In many ways the user is the editor, based on how they click en masse.

What about the future of finance? We are sworn off from talking about anything for fear of a big club to the back of the neck, but we have two buzzwords for you: hi and fi. The future of trading is about to explode as new applications arrive that allow individual investors to share their investor information in social networking/ebay style functionalities. Imagine following the trades of your best trading friends, and being able to do it free. Will we need brokers? People are going to make a lot of money in this area... That's it for now! Hub Culture Salon Miami kicks of this weekend at Art Basel Miami Beach on the intersection of design and art - stay tuned for all the juicy details, with reviews on what is hot at the show - bonus!