OCE Discovery07: Remarkable?

I attended the Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery07 event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre yesterday, May 1, 2007. Is it worthy of mention? One major wow moment: disembodied 3D holographic virtual Ray Kurzweil addressing the audience live from the podium:

Kurzweil

Take me to your leader.

The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent after the jump…

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The Good: Great Thinkers

The #1 reason I went to this event was to see Richard Florida. Then I heard about Kurzweil and Homer-Dixon, which sealed the deal. I was impressed by OCE’s speaker selections. These three thinkers are something of a holy trinity for me: Homer-Dixon (sometimes referred to as “Dr. Doom”) tells a cautionary tale of an increasingly complex future and a civilization at risk of collapse; Kurzweil offers a techno-utopian vision of exponential technological progress leading to the singularity and Florida describes a new and emerging economic and social paradigm – the creative class and creative age that is quickly usurping the industrial age as the driver of economic development.

My work and interests lie in the space between these ideas, their intersections and debates, where culture & creativity, technology and public policy collide. How do we solve the problems of the future? How can technology help us? How do we tap the creative potential of each and every one of us? Great material and I was glad to see and hear them in-person, or whatever you’d call virtual Kurzweil.

The Bad: No free wireless.

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre should be ashamed of their wireless Internet access pricing policies. Technology bloggers in attendance could not access the internet from the show floor. The only way to have wifi on the floor is to pay $395 per day for a wireless internet account(!), like exhibitors were forced to do. Many of the exhibitors were student researchers and startup companies. Wireless access effectively doubled the cost of their space on the trade show floor. Disgusting.

Guests’ only option was a 3rd-party commercial wifi provider 2 levels up at $10/hour. This is inexcusable in 2007. Inside the MTCC, I felt like I had been transported back to the land that time forgot. Several of us left the venue in search of a decent coffee, sweet power and wifi. This is time we could have been talking to exhibitors.

Instead of looking at their wireless offering as an incremental revenue opportunity, MTCC could be leading by offering ubiquitous wifi that is reliable, cheap and easy to provision for any event. This is basic required infrastructure to support blog coverage, follow-on mainstream media coverage, enhanced visitor experiences and better results to attendees and exhibitors.

Why do I even have to explain this? It insults us both, dear reader.

The Indifferent: The Trade Show = Dead Media

Traditional trade shows feel increasingly irrelevant. The more abstract and “knowledge-intensive” the thing you are trying to “display” is, the more difficult it will be to connect with an audience in any meaningful way. After a very short while, every busy technical diagram large-format poster on a trade show booth divider looks identical. It all blurs together into a meaningless mush of undifferentiated experience.

In response to a question from Sara Diamond, President of OCAD, Florida stated that “it is incumbent upon technology and science to reach out to arts, design and media to make their innovations meaningful to people, to customers”. The trade show format is certainly well past its expiry date. If organizations like OCE are interested in creating a meaningful buzz around Ontario’s innovators, then this is a perfect opportunity to reinvent the trade show by bringing some creativity, design thinking and community-driven energy to the table.

Make it worth talking about!!

I do not know what OCE’s barometers of success are, but as far as I can tell I am the only blogger who picked up the event, i.e. it was unremarkable. A search on Technorati, Google News and Google Blogsearch shows nothing on either blogs or MSM sources. This must be a source of concern for OCE when it evaluates the event.

Less emphasis on creating speaking platforms for politicians and government agencies and more emphasis on visitor experience and compelling content could actually get the message out there (a message I believe in): the best innovative minds are Canadian and many of the best of them work here in a place called Ontario, ready to take on the world.

5 thoughts on “OCE Discovery07: Remarkable?”

  1. >Homer-Dixon (sometimes referred to as “Dr. Doom�) tells a
    >cautionary tale of an increasingly complex future and a
    >civilization at risk of collapse;

    Homer-Dixon has it wrong. Complex systems do not collapse: they become more resilient. It is demonstrated in nature, where the ecology is complex and highly linked. The loss of one component will not bring down a complex network, but in a simple network a single change would be.

    What he is probably means by “complex” is probably better termed “hungry.” Our demands are increasing, and so our appetite will too. The end result will be that we will end up looking like India, which is a country where demand outstrips supply in every aspect of life. The entire country is like a giant entropy-increasing active-sponge, which sucks up and digests every concentration of power and wealth, to distribute it to as many people down the chain as it can. That is the way most of the world lives, but North America (due to it’s short 500 year old history) has not hit that plateau yet.

    What happens in a complex world is that you lose the individual ability to make decisions and control your fate. d they follow the swarm rather than take charge of it. In a sense, that mentality would be the end of the detached Western approach to life, with it’s cool and easy mastery of a easy and yielding world, and ability to plan for the future in isolation by ignoring the rest of the world.

  2. Mark, you went to the event to hear what Florida, Kurzweil and Homer-Dixon had to say, yet you wrote more about the lack of free WiFi than about what they said. I’m guessing that they didn’t say anything new.

    If so, that would explain why the event was “unremarkable”. I suspect that if any of those three is going so say something new, it’ll be at a more significant event.

    Which would not make this event a failure. I imagine its goal was to bring together people involved with OCE in one way or another, and it may well have succeeded. I think you’re commingling the world of grant applications etc. with the world of BarCamp when they’re really like oil and water.

    As for the message you think should be taken “out there”, why? Do any Ontarians really need to be convinced that there are some good minds among us? I would argue that such puffery is not only a waste of money but is counterproductive in that it gives the illusion that something is being accomplished.

  3. First, thanks Hasan for a fascinating counterpoint. India as a giant entropy sponge is an image that will stick with me. I think what Homer-Dixon is highlighting is exactly that loss of “cool and easy mastery” of the world the West has become accustomed to. He’s pointing to the difficulties of decision-makers and technocrats in managing complexity.

    Rohan is correct, Florida, Kurzweil and Homer-Dixon didn’t say anything new. I had heard their talks before, or read them, and wasn’t about to summarize them again here.

    As for the message, I think it is an important one. Maybe not to most Ontarians, but there is value in providing a platform for those involved in commercializing technology research to tell their stories and to make connections to commercialize their research.

    My concern was that that platform could have been improved to get those individual stories to be told. Specifically, comping prominent technology bloggers in various tech domains to visit and cover the event would have been very smart in my opinion.

  4. Mark, that’s an excellent point about how OCE could have comped prominent tech bloggers to cover the event. The high price tag no doubt kept many people away (that’s why I didn’t go). This illustrates my point about oil and water: OCE lives in one world, bloggers in another. It need not stay that way, but OCE lives in the world of large command-and-control organizations (which include all governments and most educational institutions), and inviting the rabble is not something that comes naturally.

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