Scifoo: How Would You Spend a Billion Dollars?

Scifoo is an annual "unconference" c0-hosted in Mountain View, California by Google, O'Reilly Media and Nature publishing. It's participant-driven, cross-pollinating, and highly unstructured, relying more on brainstorms and erasable white boards than PowerPoint presentations and lecture halls. According to Nature's page for Scifoo 2011:

200 leading scientists, technologists, writers and other thought-leaders will gather once more at the Googleplex for a weekend of unbridled discussion, demonstration and debate.

The event is invitation-only, but if your own position as global thought-leader has not yet been recognized, you can take comfort in these engaging short videos from past Scifoo conferences. In addition to filming the obligatory general overview, Nature also asked some of the attendees – including a climate scientist, an astrobiologist, and a Nobel laureate in physics – for short answers on specific topics, like fears for the futurepredictions for the next decade and our personal favorite question: "If you had $1 billion to spend on just one project, what would it be?"

Something that should inspire teachers: A good chunk of these experts' dream projects involved pushes for widespread education reform and dissemination of existing knowledge, rather than financing for advances in their particular specialties. We particularly liked skeptic Michael Shermer's vision of worldwide critical thinking programs that would teach students "not what to think, but how to think." (2:34)

For more information on Scifoo Camp, click here.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.


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  • I found this post and video really interesting. It got me thinking the same question they were posed: how would I use $1 billion to spend on a project? I agree that educational reform would be the place to invest the money, because by teaching the fundamentals from a young age, the whole world would be a different place. We could teach kids foreign languages at a younger age, focus on how they need to treat the environment with respect, etc.

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