Brenda Cooper

FireGlobal 2009: The Hottest Spot in Seattle?

We may have a new in place to be seen in Seattle.  At the least, we have a new must-see conference, FiRe Global.  Put together by Mark Anderson, FiRe Global has a clear mission:  use technology to help save the world.

Mark has impressive strengths.  For one, he thinks well.  For years he has produced the successful  SNS technology newsletter, and he has racked up a number of “firsts” in prediction, including predicting the current recession.  He is also very good at putting the right people together.  This showed at the FiRe Global West Coast conference, where he collected an impressive group of researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers, science fiction writers, media personalities, educators, and heroes.  The mix included Michael Dell (CEO of Dell computers), multiple NPR correspondents, the head of Washington State Department of Commerce (Rogers Weed), Nobelist Lee Hartwell, author Greg Bear, futurist Glen Hiemstra, and more.

I feel lucky to have been on the Advisory Board and to host a team on stage.

I won’t be able to share the whole day.  It would fill a book.  The conference started at 7:00 AM and went until 9:00 PM without very much breathing time at all. I’ll do my best to capture the highlights.  The opening message was that now is a time to act, that for all intents and purposes our ability to solve problems in America is broken, and yet that we have better tools than ever before.   We need to use them.

To repeat – FiRe Global West Coast was all about using technology to save the world.

That means understanding the problem.  We were told how challenged the oceans are, and reminded that the beautiful sound we saw out the window behind us in dying.  We were reminded that American children are educated about the same way they were educated when we were children, in s pit of the new tools, that textbooks in some Washington State schools are eighteen (18!) years old and some urban schools don’t have enough computers to put together a single decent lab.  We were reminded that the dialogue of the American people with our elected officials is often a long line of two to three minute speeches that accomplish little and that permits can take years to acquire, thus shutting out startup companies from whole businesses.

There are solutions and possibilities.  We learned about a grant that will allow the University of Washington to put miles of fiber-optic cables on the bottom of the ocean to better understand the vastly unexplored sea and power real-time data. We heard about experiments that uncovered unknown super-learner children at schools who were unknown until the school moved to one technology device per child.  We were given ideas about entrepreneurial zones and about frameworks for government / citizen interaction.  We saw a number of new companies with great ideas in health care, green technology, and communications.

Of course, just to mix it up, there was some typical technology.  An interview with Michael Dell (Dell Computers), and another one with Rob Glaser (Real Networks).

It was an exhilarating, interesting day.  I took home story ideas, futurist ideas, and even new ways to think about my city job in technology.  The real proof of the effectiveness of FiRe Global will be the new ideas and synergies that come from the event.  I’m betting there will be some.

Related articles, blogs, and wikis:

Xconomy:  Top 10 Highlights from FiRe Global: Michael Dell, Lee Hartwell, Irwin Jacobs, and More
Briar Dudley’s blog at the Seattle Times: FiRE: Dell still not a netbook fan, especially with Windows 7
Moconews:  Michael Dell Says Phone Coming In 2010; May Use Platforms Beyond Android

Wiki from the CTO Challenge:  Mygov.wetpaint.com

The twitter hashtag is #FireGlobal.

I will blog elsewhere later about the CTO Challenge I hosted (Led by Chetan Sharma).