Sign Up for Beyond Mobile: Computing in 2021, Before Time Runs Out

5/16/11Follow @wroush

We’ve got 10 years to debate what computers will look like, and how they’ll work, in the year 2021. But you’ve only got one day left to sign up for Beyond Mobile: Computing in 2021, Xconomy San Francisco’s big spring infotech event at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA.

I hope you won’t think I’m nuts if I confess that one of my inspirations as we planned this event on the long-term future of computing was Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense. In a now-legendary Pentagon press conference in 2002, Rumsfeld said: “There are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns–the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

To me, this was one of the few things Rumsfeld ever said that made perfect sense, and I think it has interesting applications to the evolution of technology. The point of tomorrow’s event is to step back from the habitual Silicon Valley focus on week-to-week, month-to-month product development questions and try to sort out ”known unknowns” from the “unknown unknowns.”

In other words, what are the the trends in computing where we know something important is already underway, such as mobile and cloud computing, but it’s simply not clear exactly how things will turn out? (Will we still be carrying mobile devices in 2021, or will more and more computing power simply fade into the background, in the form of “smart spaces” embedded with sensors and processors? Will virtually all computing move to the cloud, or as our mobile devices gain processing power, might there be a pendulum swing back toward distributed computing?) And conversely, what are the directions from which totally surprising developments might arrive? For example, can we imagine some kind of breakthrough in quantum computing, 3-D imaging, or artificial intelligence that could qualitatively change our experience of computing by 2021?

If you’ve been following these pages the last couple of weeks, you’ve seen my pre-event interviews on these questions with visionaries like Bill Mark, vice president of SRI’s Information and Computing Sciences Division, and Dan Reed, leader of Microsoft’s eXtreme Computing Group. The event tomorrow night (from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at 333 Ravenswood Avenue on the SRI  campus) will be your chance to meet Mark and Reed in person, along with Larry Smarr, the founding director of Calit2, and ask them your own questions.

The chat and audience Q&A with Mark, Reed, and Smarr will be the core of the event. That will be followed by short presentations from three more local technology leaders: TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel, who’ll talk about the future of privacy in cyberspace; DrChrono co-founder Michael Nusimow, on the way mobile applications are already changing the healthcare industry; and Anybots founder and CEO Trevor Blackwell on the future of robotics and remote communication in the home and the workplace.

I hope you’ll join me for this exciting event. Sign up online before the event to save $30 (regular registration through Eventbrite costs $95, but the walk-in rate will be $125). If you work for a startup that’s less than three years old and has fewer than 20 employees, we’ve got a special deal for you—a $30 Startup Special rate. And current students get in at a huge discount—the student rate is just $10.

Wade Roush is Xconomy's chief correspondent and editor of Xconomy San Francisco. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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