BIL Conference 2012 – In Retrospect

I recently wrote about my experience at BIL 2011 in this article, but I absolutely have to update and tell you about BIL Conference 2012 – mainly because of how much it exceeded my expectations.

Simone and Alexis Not Pictured!

First off, there were more people in attendance.  I believe we clocked in at over 800(!) people.  It seems our message is truly beginning to spread and pick up speed, which is no surprise – alot has happened since March of 2011.

We are finally seeing the rise of the “Internet voice”, as made evident by the huge amount of activism by Twitter, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and many more connectivity-based movements.  People are starting to step away from the computer (with iPhone or Droid still firmly in hand) and take to the streets.  Information technologies are making people realize how much work there is to do to fix the problems our society still faces.  Yet, many people that want and can do something to help don’t know where to turn.  I didn’t.  Before connecting with the people at BIL, I had motivation and knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know there were thousands of other people that had the same ideas.

BIL, by nature, is a very geeky event.  As a counter-culture shadow conference that not-so-coincidentally occurs right around TED, you would expect this.  And by nature, these people don’t have alot of free time for social interaction – and most find the usual “club and bar scene” to be trite and superficial (myself included).  The beauty in BIL is that it gives the nerdy, quirky, subversive, think-way-the-fuck-outside-the-box types a singular event to come and talk about all the insanely cool projects they’ve been working on in the past year.

New additions this year included:

  • Space Stage, where SpaceX and XCOR showed off some very cool, privately funded space vehicles. A
  • Burning-Man-esque….dodecahedron? (It’s a geometric shape I can’t describe in human language).  People were relaxing and singing karaoke when they needed a mind-rest from talks.
  • Massage/Cupping station.
  • Speed Dating and Relationship Discussions in the Red Room.
  • College Of Lockpicking
  • Crashspace 3D Printing Demonstration
  • Halcyon Molecular DNA microscope
  • BIL2012 Anthem!
  • Performances by Max Lugavere and Ancient Lasers

At the closing ceremony, Reichart auctioned off a chance to sit in on a live reading of Futurama, with the full cast (as well as himself and Simone for dates).  Their combined sexiness helped put a deposit for BIL2013! Maria Entraigues and myself also performed the first ever “BIL Anthem” – and we got Aubrey de Grey to jump on stage and bust out a smooth 16 bar rap verse about “biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, more biology…”  That was definitely a fitting way to end the conference.  Special thanks to Reichart, Maria, Aubrey and Simone for making that happen with 4 days notice!

In conclusion, BIL expanded my mind and now I have a thirst for knowledge – and meeting the people who possess it. I know I’m leaving out tons of amazing people I met, and I apologize in advance.  More posts coming!  I have a big list of similar conferences, concerts, and events like BIL in my Google Docs, and I hope to check a few dozen off the list by the time 2012 is over.

A Bitcoin For Your Thoughts

 

As the world transitions towards a completely digital, globalized network, one thing that has continued to be rather consistent has been currency.  Many people don’t stop to question the current monetary system, or its relevance to such a rapidly changing landscape of business.  Yet, a few people have been rethinking the role of currency as we transition towards a truly digital age.  We don’t actually trade gold for scarce goods anymore, so why should we still trade dollars and coins?  Aren’t those simply arbitrary placeholders for value?  We are relying on physical goods less and less, and their scarcity is also decreasing.

Advancements in 3D printing technologies will completely redesign the business models for future societies and economies, forcing us to find value in non-physical, often intangible products.  In Pandora’s Millions, by George O. Smith, a ‘matter duplicator’ creates an economic collapse and creates a new form of barter economy for the only scarce product left: skilled human labor. In this scenario, one would need to develop a new, digital currency.

Simone Syed is a futurist and consultant for Bitcoin.com, a new startup technology that could revolutionize the way we do business.  I got to ask her a few questions about Bitcoin and find out why it might be a good idea to pay attention to this new form of currency.

  • What is Bitcoin, and how does it work?

“Bitcoin is technology that makes it possible to transfer value across a normal Internet connection. This is much cheaper and more secure than using something like a credit card.

For example, every time you pay with a credit card, there’s a risk that the other person copies your card and starts spending your money. With Bitcoin, you’re never giving out the keys to your entire vault – you only transfer exactly the amount you want to pay. This virtually eliminates fraud and thus reduces fees. And with the additional revenue, merchants can lower prices and spend their profit on quality and service.”

  • Why should people use it?

“This is really two questions; the first being: “why should merchants use it?” The obvious answer is lower fees, reduced setup cost and ease of use. With Bitcoin payments, the only thing required is a computer or mobile phone with an Internet connection. Additionally, the payments can’t be reversed, which is a major source of lost revenue for many businesses.

Second: “why should the customer use it?” It gives the user the ability to pay quickly without putting their account and identity at risk. When you pay with a credit card, check or other classical payment method, you are placing yourself at risk for identity theft and fraudulent charges.”

  • Is it safe?

“Bitcoins are as safe as their storage medium. If you store your Bitcoins in a vault at a reputable Internet bank they can be very secure. On the other hand, if you keep your Bitcoin wallet unprotected, it’s possible that someone steals it from you or that you lose it. This is very similar to physical cash. The biggest risk right now is that Bitcoin is still very new and people are just starting to learn how to securely use and store them.”

  • Why couldn’t another copycat come out and make Bitcoin obsolete?

“Bitcoin benefits from something called a network effect. Since a lot of people already use Bitcoin, it’s much more valuable to join and trade with those existing people, than to start a new system and have no one to trade with. Also setting up a network of Bitcoin’s size is expensive: Right now the network ensuring Bitcoin’s security has more computational power than that of the world’s top 500 supercomputer projects combined.”

  • Do you think it will encourage criminal transactions, and make it harder for the government to trace illegal purchases (drugs, weapons, etc)?

“Bitcoin transactions are actually more traceable than cash transactions. There’s a public ledger where both participants of every Bitcoin transaction and the amounts sent are recorded. Also, Bitcoin is just a payment technology – all the bits need to be converted back into currency at some point, and all the exchanges are required to strictly comply with the same Anti-Money-Laundering and Know-Your-Customer regulations that banks and other businesses are subject to.”

  • Why can’t the Bitcoin go down in value?

“Bitcoin can certainly go down in value. It’s actually been rather volatile lately. But since Bitcoin is mainly used as a transactional medium, the specific exchange rate doesn’t matter to most people. In the end, you are just sending bits across the Internet and at the other end you get the amount of Dollars or Euros that you intended to send.”

  • Tell us about your mobile app.

“So far Bitcoins have been mainly used by payment experts and technologists, but we’d like to make Bitcoins useful not just for people who care about the cool tech, but the average person. Over the next few months we’ll roll out our whole suite of merchant and commerce tools on http://bitcoin.com/ and you’re more than welcome to sign up so you can be among the first to give it a spin.”

  • Do you fear a crackdown by the Federal Reserve?

“Not at all. I think people are overly worried about such things. When people first started paying using plastic cards, that must have seemed like a crazy idea as well, but after a while people got used to it. It’s quaint that we still use paper checks while the rest of the world has moved on to digital banking, but with Bitcoin we have a chance to leapfrog and truly improve our country’s payment infrastructure, stimulate commerce and create new jobs.”

BIL Conference: A Casual Convention of People Who Want To Change The World

Whether you have seen the fascinating and often mind expanding videos posted online, or have been lucky enough to go in person, you probably know about TED.  If you are like me (incredibly interested in technology but not really willing to spend thousands of dollars to go to a conference), check out TED’s cooler-yet-nerdier little brother BIL on the Queen Mary March 2-4th in Long Beach, CA.

BILder’s (as we like to call them) come from all around the world to share ideas, give talks, perform live music, teach classes, network, brainstorm ways to fix the world…whatever! That’s the beauty of BIL, what it is and what it will become is completely up to the BILders themselves – theres no concrete agenda.  It is what you make it.

It's kind of like this

Last year was my first BIL experience, and I can honestly say it set the tone for the rest of my year in the most positive way possible.  I met BIL co-founders Simone Syed and Reichart Von Wolfsheild when I hosted the after-party for the Los Angeles premiere of Transcendent Man – Ray Kurzweil‘s feature documentary about the Technological Singularity. I was demoing Ancient Lasers tracks for the singularity folks that night and they asked me if I wanted to play at BIL.

Once there I met some of the most fascinating people I have ever been graced to know.  I spend alot of time around people that don’t really share the same interests as me in my daily life, so it was so refreshing to hear phrases like “machine learning”, “brain hacking”, and “nanobot foglets” being thrown around in casual conversation. I got to meet Burning Man guru John Halcyon, Life extension author Aubrey De Grey, lifestyle blogger extraordinaire Judd Weiss, the folks from the Singularity University…The list goes on.

Aubrey de Grey Speaking at BIL 2011

After BIL, we all kept in touch and I personally know more than a couple new startups and other projects that were born from the conference and the connections it facilitated.  Its incredible to think about how much has happened since last year and how many new friends I made.

This year Ancient Lasers is performing with special guest Max Lugavere from Current TV Saturday, March 3rd at 8pm.  Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills, life extensionist author Aubrey de Grey, CEO of Virgin Galactic George Whitesides, XCOR co-founder Doug Jones, and many many more.

BIL 2012

I highly recommend coming to check it out, I promise you wont leave empty-headed.