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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