[ExI] my Convergence08 Adventure

John Grigg possiblepaths2050 at gmail.com
Thu Nov 20 09:19:45 UTC 2008

My trip to Convergence08 turned out to go extremely well and I had a
great time.  My volunteer position was to hawk books at a table in the
hall.  I ended up selling almost everything they assigned me.  "Read all
about the possible end of the world, edited by Nick Bostrom!"  I took
many pics with my cell phone and will send them this way soon.

The "unconference" format was very cool.  A huge wall poster schedule
was put up and anyone who wanted to create a topic that they would be
speaking about and group hosting could do so.  The response was huge
and at any time a dozen or more interesting things were going on.  I
felt like a human pinball trying to take in as much as I could.

The event was held at the Computer History Museum and they had a vast
and amazingly thorough collection of computers.  I felt old as I
realized many of the "ancient" machines were from my adult years! hee
Actually, though, the conference was held upstairs and the museum
itself was downstairs.  We were so busy that most conference attendees
did not even visit the museum.  But I toured it and was astonished at
the vast assortment of computers and how well they had documented
their development and evolution.  They even had a Babbage calculating

I regret that we did not have organized tours for conference attendees
to see the museum.  It would have been so cool to be in a group of
geeks (especially the likes of Robert Freitas, Ralph Merkle, Keith
Henson, etc.)
and reminisce about various machines and advancements!

Before the conference I toured downtown San Jose.  I toured the Tech
Museum of Innovation and they are a top notch kid's museum that adults
can definitely enjoy.  The space and oceanic sections were especially
good.  I took lots of pics.  They had a "once in a lifetime" Leonardo
DaVinci show (on loan from Italy) but it was very expensive and so I
passed on it and just took in the regular parts of the museum.  But I
still enjoyed myself.

Afterward, I visited the San Jose University and their (far more impressive
than ASU's!) library.  What impressed me was that it was set up to
feel more like a public library, with the latest best sellers, music
and audiobooks available.  ASU librarians should be taking notes.

I enjoyed gathering around with the Imminst leadership and discussing matters
As they recorded it for U-stream.  Justin, Bruce, Susan, and Shannon
(I might have
missed someone, sorry) are sharp folks and very dedicated.

The Imminst made about $53,000 last year (much of it from
advertising).  The possibility
Of an operations officer to help run things was brought up.  This
would be a demanding but
paid position.  Also, the idea of hiring proposal writing experts to
raise money by obtaining
grant money was considered.  I brought up my thoughts about having a
specific officer whose
sole responsibility Is to help seed and grow Imminst student bodies
throughout the globe.
But this was seen as not a good idea because the Methuselah Mouse
Project student groups already exist and are expanding.

Some key moments for me were the following.  Fred Moulton laughing so hard you
could hear him throughout the auditorium when a sincere young man said the Torah
says man's lifespan is maximum allotted lifespan is 120 years and if
you calculate the
number of heartbeats in that life it would be 4.5 billion, the same
age as the known
universe.  I thought it was kind of deep.

Paul Saffo was the opening guest speaker and is a supposedly major
league futurist.
He brought up some good points  but I really disagreed with his
comment "the future
will look much like today, But with much better gizmos."  This is
certainly lacking in
transhumanist vision.  But then as one Prominent transhumanist in
attendance said,
"they seem confused around here as to whether they even really want to use the
word transhumanist."

Denise Caruso was the naysayer during the synthetic biology panel.  I
agree with her that
Necessary precautions to protect people and the environment must be
made, but she
Really poured out the fear and insecurity vibe.  She even dared bring
up the "pre-cautionary
Principle."  When she did this I wanted to immediately jump up and
lecture her about Max and Natasha's pro-actionary Principle and how
fear must not dominate and overcome us.

A Dept. of Defense civilian biochemist attended the conference on
official business
and sat next to me during the Friday restaurant get together.  She knew nothing
about transhumanism and so I went into detail about various terms and gave her
the run-down on various organizations, websites and mailing lists.  A
very lovely lady.

I spoke with a NYC based architecture professor who gave a
presentation about the
Timeship project of Saul Kent and Bill Faloon.  This cryonics
temple/body repository
project that I had thought was "DOA" is supposedly back on line.  A
coffee table book
about the project has been produced and land for the site has been
purchased.  But the
construction budget has been targeted at a whopping 300 million+, far
larger than the
fortunes of Kent and Faloon.  The prof was a good man, a classic New Yorker, and
very interested in my life.

Terry Grossman, the popular anti-aging doctor was in attendance.  I
felt almost lightheaded
as he read a laundry list of medical tests every person should have
done.  In another group
with him one of his patients took out his laptop and showed the
program he had devised for
himself with Dr. Grossman's help.  This guy was an engineer and it
sure showed with his charts and records. lol

Gregory Benford, the powerhouse science fiction author and physics
professor, was there
promoting his biotech company.  Yes, you heard me right, Gregory
Benford is now yet
another up and coming biotech mogul! lol  He claimed to have a very
promising anti-
alzheimer's drug in the works (along with anti-aging stuff).  I was
rather in awe of him
and spent a lunch listening to him talk.  He seems to enjoy having an
audience. lol  Benford
was in fine form when during the synthetic biology panel he made a
dryly sarcastic reply to a
"precautionary principle" advocate who got to be tiring.

I met Scott Cragg (I think it was his name), who is a newbie to
transhumanism and was
absolutely brimming with excitement.  He wants to create "birthright"
machines" that will
follow each person through their life, coaching and protecting them.
He did a group
on how transhumanists should ally to do open source work based around
Burning Man.

While holding a microphone during a Q & A session a man motioned to me
wanting to make
a comment during someone else's question.  I said no, but then looked
at the name tag and
said, "oh, go right ahead Keith!"  It was our bright and persecuted
friend, Keith Henson.  A
man of almost Extropian legend to me.  I could kick myself that I did
not make time to
speak one on one with him.

I bumped into my good friend Spike.  It was so cool to see him and it
was sad that he
could not attend the conference (though he did hang out with the
resident transhumanist
brain trust in the evening, lucky bastard).  I tried to use my cell
phone to take a pic of
the two of us together but I kept on missing one or both of us! lol
Then he tried to do
it but without any luck.  Finally, I asked a passerby to do it and now
I have a memory
of the two of us there.  You rock, Spike!

It was so cool seeing our resident geniuses, Eliezer and Anders there.
 Eliezer has put on
weight and has a sweet ready smile.  It was such fun seeing him
playfully question Anders
about his AI presentation.  And speaking of smiles, Anders still has
his trademark smile and
has fortunately not lost his charming Swedish accent.  The rumor is
that Nick Bostrom (not
in attendance) has.

I finally met Michael Annisimov, charming transhumanist provocateur.
He has quite a bit of
boyish charm and he and his friends kept on breaking up into laughter
during Michael's lifeboat presentation.  I had no idea the end of the
world could be so darn funny!  Annisimov, like me, has painfully light
sensitive eyes and so has almost fully closed eyes in many pictures.

I found with both Michael and Eliezer, they each had quite a following
of admirers/groupies/
minions. hee  This is especially true of Eliezer!  "And thus said
Eliezer" was something I heard one way or another during the course of
the conference.

Kennita Watson did a group on cryonics acceptance, and the attendees
were more focused on the technical aspects of it rather than the usual
"religious objections/I won't fit into the future" subjects.  Kennita
was her usual fun and energetic self.  Tanya Jones was in the

And speaking of Tanya, she did a group presentation about Alcor goals
and plans.  But as I was bouncing around the groups (so many!) I just
got a glimpse of the things she must have covered, one of them being
how important it is for Alcor to pre-position standby equipment so
that they don't have to deal with customs.  Her group was well
attended and she was bright and charming as usual.

It was great to meet Professor James Hughes.  He told me a post I had
written regarding the ASU conference on transhumanism had a positive
effect.  Now a transhumanist representative will be present at all the
future conferences to balance things out.  Dr. "J" is a charming
fellow and it was cool speaking with him.  But I did disagree with him
(as many did) about his presentation called "digital surfs and
electronic buddha's."  His point was that future society will be so
automated that people will either not work or only put in a 10-20 hour
week.  I think as is the case now, better tools will not stop 40+ hour
work weeks a century from now.  But it was still an interesting
presentation.  His co-presenter, Michael LaTorra, talked to us about
detaching from the ego to gain psychological strength.  I wanted to
stay and hear more but I left to bounce around and take in other
presentations.  I will have to find out what I missed from Michael.

I met Stuart LaForge, an extropy list poster.  It was cool to put a
face to the name.  He told
me about his work in biotech and his frustrations due to the current
administration.  And he
encouraged me, saying that being an "everyman" rather than a scientist
or engineer, etc., is
still making a contribution to the cause.

My friend Shannon Vyff was my supervisor as I did my volunteering
duties and it was so great
to get to know her better.  She had a table set up promoting her 21st
Century Kids book.  I was amazed at how she juggled so many things as
the conference progressed.  Shannon deals with severe chronic pain due
to a nerve/abdominal condition and I deeply respect her mental and
physical endurance.  A great lady.

Seeing Bruce and Susan is always a delight.  They are the "first
couple" of the Imminst and truly awesome people.  A very cool moment
happened when Susan was in Bruce's lap (they are so romantic) and they
were talking to Ben Goetzl and another person.  As I got my cell phone
camera aimed there way Bruce gave me the finger, with a hardcore metal
expression on his face! LOL  Susan slapped his hand for being so
mischievious. hee  When I said goodbye to Bruce I had a lump in my

Oh, and Ben looks more than ever like a young old testament prophet
due to his long long locks of hair.  I had a discussion with him over
snacks and had to disagree with him that organized religion is going
to simply fade away over time.  I see it changing, but definitely not
going away.  Ben was great on the panels and always seemed to have a
funny observation that caused the audience to break into serious

It was very cool to finally meet my Mormon Transhumanist Association
friend, Lincoln Cannon.  We were hotel roommates and it was such a
pleasure to stay up late talking about our lives and how transhumanism
fits into it all.  My thanks to Lincoln for his friendship and

Though I have known Natasha Vita-More for many years through the net
and greatly admired her for her achievements and big heart, I had
never had a real world sit down visit.  And so it was incredibly cool
to join her at lunch and get to know her better.  Her lunch group sat
outside on a balcony and we discussed current events and the gay
marriage issue.  I said if people are concerned about this than they
will be even more upset when some folks want to marry an android or an
uplifted dolphin.  When Natasha first greeted me at the conference,
she gave me a big hug, which was so great.  And then she asked me (she
knows me too well) "John, do you need rescuing?" LOL

The day I left the city the newspaper headlines told of an Asian
engineer who after being fired from his job shot to death three senior
executives from his former company.  The killer was married with three
kids and was known for being a friendly, easy going guy.  I wonder
what drove him off the edge?

I had a wonderful time exploring San Jose and the Tech Museum of
Innovation, attending the Convergence08 Conference, and lastly
visiting the Computer History Museum.  I did the best I could to
document my experience so I could share it with others.

My pictures:


Best wishes,

John Grigg

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