Monday, 2 August 2010

Words from the wise

We have many amazing speakers lined up for the Citizen Cyberscience Summit in London next month (literally starts a month from today). One of the people we will have is David Grier, the author of When Computers Were Human. He is talking on the first day and we have been able to get a few minutes of his time to answer some questions for us in anticipation of the event.

Why are you coming to the Summit?
This is easy. I'm coming to the Summit so that I can be on yet another panel with George Dyson. I understand that if I give one more talk with him, I am moved up to the next level of rewards in the frequent Dyson speaker program and will get upgrades to all conferences next year plus extra treats in the speakers' lounge (This may or may not be true - Ed).

At our last conference, which was the Rome Science Festival, George talked about how life uses matter, a subject was both highly disturbing and yet exhilarating. I am interested in a slightly less fundamental topic but one perhaps equally disturbing, how organizations use science to achieve their social and political goals. I am hoping that I will spark some good discussions at this summit. I'm also pleased to see that I am going to talk before George, which means that the audience will stay through my talk even though they may view me as the warmup act.

What are you going to speak about?
Well, I believe that there is no aspect of contemporary life, no matter how advanced and ethereal that cannot be traced back to the Great Depression and the New Deal. This is important because it allows me to stories about Henry Wallace, (Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture) who is both one of the great visionaries of the 20th century and one of the stranger individuals to achieve high office. Second, it gives us a distant mirror that reflects some of the aspects of crowd sourcing. The New Deal loved to promote the accomplishments of the unemployed and thereby revealed the tensions in their programs. The New Workers genuinely wanted to be viewed as accomplished and were more than a little angry that they achieved that goal through the state of unemployment. We may be in a position to remedy that contradiction but where will that remedy lead us?

Thanks to David for his answers and we will have many more nuggets coming soon from the other speakers so watch this space.

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