Join the Lift venture trip to Korea

Cross posted from the Lift blog, hoping to reach all the Swiss entrepreneurs who read my blog. The venture trip is a great initiative enabled by Alpict and allowing Swiss start-ups to reach the Korean market in ideal conditions. We do the legwork and open the right doors, the entrepreneur gets new clients and contacts.

AlpictLast year we organized a venture trip to Asia, helping Swiss start-ups (Poken, Arimaz, KeyLemon, Secu4, Lighthouse, Pixelux) develop and promote themselves on the Korean Market.

The venture trip resulted in more than half the start-ups developing strong ties with the country of the morning calm, some finding new clients, others new suppliers (especially if you work in electronics or robotics). All entrepreneurs gathered unique experience on how to do business in Asia, and met key actors of one of the world’s most interesting, homogeneous and innovative market on earth. Did you know Korea is beating exportation records right now, and that many think that the crisis is already over there?

So if you like the opportunity to meet potential clients, suppliers, partners, or investors, have us arrange the meetings and translators for you, and an opportunity to showcase your product and services at Lift Asia, submit your application. The deadline has been extended to accommodate the July vacationers ๐Ÿ™‚

Look at the call for project and send us your application!

Flesh eating robots

Are we one step closer to abandoning this planet to robots? Maybe. But don’t worry, that thing can “determine whether material that it ingested was animal, vegetable or mineral. […] There are certain signatures form different kinds of materials that would distinguish vegetative biomass from other material.”

The question is: before or after it catches a piece of food?

‘Flesh-eating robot’ is actually a vegetarian, say inventors

The machine’s inventors say that the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot โ€“ known as Eatr for short โ€“ does indeed power its “biomass engine” by digesting organic material, but that it is not intended to chomp its way through battlefields of fallen soldiers. […]

“We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”

Link (thanks Steve)

Reminds me of James Auger’s fly eating robots he showed at Lift09.

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“No man that has been thunderstruck by Carla Bruni is ever in command of events”

Bruce Sterling gave Lift’s opening keynote in 2008. He answered our invitation to predict what the year ahead would have for us.

His talk was widely commented at the time (see Ewan Mcintosh, Hannes Gassert, David Roessli, Stephanie Booth), and as I was stuck in a train for six hours earlier this week (thanks Easyjet for canceling my flight!) I decided to watch it again.

Back in 2008, Bruce’s talk had left a weird impression on me, a mix of wonder – as I knew he was touching on critical issues – and misunderstanding. I was, like several other Lifters (see here), wondering why Bruce talked for so long about Carla Bruni, the wife (and artist, and copyright holder…) of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. He used her as an example of a black swan, defined by wikipedia as a “high-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare events beyond the realm of normal expectations”.

Now that the French government has passed an internet law from another age, now that Carla Bruni’s influence is getting more and more clear, I see Bruce’s point, how one single person can weight on a nation, in a very unexpected way.

Bruce gets an A+ for his science of predicting who and what will influence the future, and I am not even talking about the other points he raised (2008 will be a “crappy year”, the markets will go down, etc) that were also true.

Watch that talk again, it is worth 25 minutes of your time.

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Here is a transcript of the talk, in case you are not as familiar with Texan accent as you should be:

Thanks for showing up for the first keynote, my short, punchy, focused first keynote. I was asked by the organizers to talk about last year, or maybe the forthcoming year, this wasn’t entirely clear, maybe 2007 or 2008, because you know I am a science fiction writer, futurist, and I’ve been known to do things like that in the past. And I wanted to do that in a short, focused, punchy way, because I think it’s very much in Lift’s spirit.

What’s the punchiest possible thing you could say about the past year? And I’m like. That’s the way it was, now get after it. As per predicting the future – something I’ve been known to do in the past – the basic reason to do that is motivational, it’s moral boosting. The main reason people prosper is because they’re willing to get out of bed. Showing up is 90% of the job, really. It’s hardly ever because they have some kind of brilliant, lucid, accurate idea of what the year holds for them. That just does not happen. Showing up, persisting, doing it, going up out of bed, that’s what really counts.

What you want to be told by futurists are things that help you get up in the morning, like why this is gonna be a crucial year, these are really revolutionary times, everything hinges on the decisions that we make this month, only the bold deserve the fares, great fortunes are waiting and so forth. And I know how to do that. Really. Cause I’ve seen it done maybe a hundred times.

But this is a Lift audience, this is not the Silicon Valley, there are Europeans here. European being people who have a sense of historical continuity, actually see a little farther than just like last year, just next year, and really, frankly, for all kind of obvious reasons, 2008 is not gonna be a pivotal, revolutionary year. It’s not impossible that something really important happens in 2008, but really, that’s just not very plausible.

It’s a crap year, 2008.

We got this economic downturn waiting, everybody knows it’s coming. […] It’s election year in the US, they will be extremely preoccupied. China is having an Olympic which is nice, then they’re gonna be doing at least some of their incredible heaps of dirty laundry in 2008. India is doing great but they are completely surrounded by crazy Mujaheddin lunatics, they kind of have their hands full. And Europe is kind of doing pretty well, but Europe tends to do things slowly. I mean surely but slowly. Like a vast European python that eats five, or ten countries at a time, and then digests them. Slowly but surely. The worst problem that Europe has now – global warming – is like a 200 years old problem. It’s a slow problem, it’s a problem that we can say with great certainty our grand children will worry about. It’s not gonna be solved in 2008. That is not an issue, global warming is a way of life.

Even in the tech world which I love for it’s fast paced, it’s bull, it’s recklessness, is it really exciting to watch Microsoft eat Yahoo? Is there anybody, even inside Yahoo or Microsoft, who really thinks that’s the way forward? Is that an innovation? It’s not an innovation, that is a profoundly retrograde moving, that’s an aging monopoly shoring up it’s position by feeding on the week. Microsoft is boring. Gates left it was so boring. Gates would rather cure Malaria – which is 15 different kinds of impossible – rather than pretend that Microsoft is the road ahead. It’s that bad.

Given that these are the facts on the ground, and they are, I wanted to offer you something that was really focused and specific, a piece of futuristic prophecy, a flat out prediction, facts and figures that I’m sure that as Europeans you can use in 2008. Something that you can take from Lift and that will give you a valuable insight and genuinely brighten your life. Really punchy, focused, so let me explain to you how you can deal with a phenomena that you are certain to be confronting during the entirety of 2008. It is something that came out of nowhere, and it achieved fantastic press attention. It is defining the very character of our times, especially in Europe, and you have already seen a lot of it, more than you ever wanted to see, more than you expected to see, and you’re going to see more, and more, and more of it. And it’s a practical certainty that you will see it, and if you’re not prepared for this, if you don’t have the proper analytical tools, you will be overwhelmed by it, confused, sickened, bewildered.

Whereas if you do understand what’s going on, with an ability to anticipate developments there, you will be like an American that has been taught the rules of soccer. You’ll probably still won’t like it very much, but you’ll understand why it matters to people, and you’ll be able to put it in useful perspective, and get on with your life. And as I’m sure, you’ve guessed, I am referring to Carla Bruni. Madame Carla Sarkozy, the first lady of France. And you may ask why I bring up her name and her career – I mean exciting career – at a tech conference like Lift. That’s because Carla Bruni has become the first lady of France because of a tech conference. First time that Carla Bruni ever met Nicolas Sarkozy was at a little tech summit that the president of France threw for the recording artists. President Sarkozy does not like to see French artists suffer from piracy loses, and he’s especially irritated by internet zealots who declare that French music ought to be free when he knows that somebody somewhere is paying for it.

So president Sarkozy therefore has created a policy to civilize the internet, civilize the internet from a French perspective, and the first order of operation in his plan is to repress peer to peer networks on French soil. And since artists, like Carla, and copyright holders, like Carla, and backbone operators – which Carla is not yet – they all hate p2p networks and p2p networks gave a dime to president’s Sarkozy campaign or anybody else. His scheme is to make himself the European equivalent of Steve Jobs.

So Monsieur et Madame Sarkozy are the products of an Internet policy romance. Carla isn’t here at Lift, Carla has a whole lot of reasons to be here at Lift. Carla Sarkozy is what futurists refer to as a black swan. A black swan is a historical event which is significant and important, but so far fetched that it’s unpredictable even in principle. The attack on the world trade center was a black swan. Even if you know that Al Quaeda does not like crusaders, there was no sensible way to anticipate that. Similarly even if you know that politicians often have girlfriends, you can not know that one is suddenly going to become the Madame Dubarry of a French digital renaissance. But you know, black swans can be good as well as bad. Swans are beautiful creatures. And Carla Sarkozy is gorgeous. She’s a transnational European aristocrat who loves poetry, music and philosophy.

Sarkozy is like a politician who got a sour lemon, and then made some lemonade, and then he married the heiress of an entire italian lemon orchard. Carla took a bad situation – no Madame Sarkozy – and she turned it into a situation where there is a Madame Sarkozy who is extremely weird. With Carla on board he has more lemons than you and I can ever imagine, he’s like a lemon mogul. And it’s not like this was some pre-calculated master scheme, because no man that has been thunderstruck by Carla Bruni is ever in command of events. But he has multiplied his options radically. Cecilia bitterly resonated, just because he sent her alone into a hostile, terrorist country to rescue some hostages, which she did. Whereas Carla by contrast, is clearly capable of anything. She’s a charismatic, poetic, wealthy, sophisticated, profoundly promiscuous European aristocrat who is completely untroubled by bourgeois morality.

Now a story like that practically writes itself. There isn’t one journalist in this world who can’t write a Carla Sarkozy story in his or her sleep, which is why you will certainly be inundated by recurring title waves of Carla Bruni stories. In Europe in 2008 these are two adventurers, radicals, a decadent aristocrat married to a self made man and now they’re in power. They’re simply the most interesting story there is. Ok, that given. And it is given. Because you don’t get any choice about a black swan.

How does one get over this? This calls for some futurist scenarios. So let’s delimit the possibilities, shall we. What really matters in this situation? What are the two most important driving forces? I’d say there are 2: ambition and publicity. We got one axis which is ambition – Carla’s ambition – because a politicians is always ambitious. It’s a given, not a variable.

The other axis is publicity. Carla and president Sarkozy are notorious. They can not possibly turn the publicity faucet off. That is not within their power. But they can turn the faucet up. They can not make the press go away, they can feed it. And they have already both done that repeatedly and skillfully, either together or apart so we know this matters to them. So for these two axis we can form a quadrant of future possibilities, the four possible future worlds in 2008 of Monsieur et Madame Sarkozy.

They are four combinations. Low ambition high publicity. Low ambition low publicity. High ambition low publicity. And the last possibility, high ambition and high publicity. That’s all the two of them can do, they can do bold things loudly or bold things quietly, or mild things loudly, or mild things quietly. When they are in bed together, talking about their strategy, weeping, chuckling, consoling each other, whatever newly weds do, that’s pretty it.

So what will happen in 2008? Well we can not guess this, but we can describe it. First scenario: low ambition and low publicity. This is the “ends in tears” scenario. Carla has never been married before, she’s certainly never been a politician’s wife, that’s boring. The forces of conventionality overwhelm her. It’s just too much for her. She retreats from the public scene. She’s in depression, Cecilia was right about everything, Nicolas is too much for any woman to handle. He’s full of himself, he’s burning her out, the manic romance switched over to a depression. Divorce looms. They try not to say anything about it. Another public divorce would be unthinkable. They go to earth, they really try to hide. It has ended in tears.

Scenario number two. High publicity, low ambition. We can call this one the “first diva of France” scenario. Carla is happy to be the first lady of France, it’s a big honor. Respectability goes to her head. Meetings at the UN, the G7, […] she’s in Vogue, and womens wear daily, but never in the Economist or the New York Times. She records a new pop album, it sells pretty well, French population becomes proud of her, they don’t call her the Italian eyed green witch anymore. The first lady is pretty and talented, she’s a patroness of culture, she makes all the other first ladies of countries look like potato sacks. What French citizen can’t like that prospect? It has turned out pretty well as far as the population of France is concerned. The first diva of France scenario. So now, scenario number three.

Low publicity, high ambition. We can call this one the “power behind the throne” scenario. Carla Sarkozy has had a taste for famous men, famous men in power, now she’s finally gotten one at the very top of the heap. She only became a pop musician because she was bored. She was the mistress of musicians and she saw how easy it was to lead that life. The Bruni-Teddeschi family though are aristocrats, and they are not feeble in bread weak aristocrats, they are European industrial aristocrats. People with factories. People who make rubber tires, Carla is already richer than Sarkozy is, she’s six times richer than Sarkozy.

Carla wants to make industrial policy. That was why she courted Sarkozy in the first place. He’s a jittery, hyperactive politician, in need of an intimate counselor he will trust for that question. There will be his years as president, then he retires and take over the CEO of a major league recording company, then they really cash in. They are Carla incorporated, they are Carla Sarl. Maybe a baby while she’s first lady. Then they’ll have an industrial dynasty! The power behind the throne scenario.

And then the final scenario. High publicity, high ambition. They say than in any proper set of four futurist scenarios, there are three that are the Goldy Locks versions, you know that fairy tale, Goldy Locks and the three bears, it’s like three bowls of porridge, one is too hot, one is too cold, then one bowl of porridge is just right. So there are commonly four futurist scenarios, one is too cold, one is too hot, and one is just right. And then there is the fourth one. The weird one. And the weird one is commonly the most useful scenario, because the future tends to be weird.

High publicity, high ambition is the weird scenario. We’ll call this scenario “empress of Europe”. Nicolas is busy making his friend Tony Blair into the first president of Europe right now, not because he really likes Tony. Tony is a british leftist, and he speaks terrible French. But because Nicolas himself expects to have that job someday, after Tony Blair has turned that empty post into a real job with some power, then Sarkozy can become president of Europe. Tony is a gentleman, he will get out of the way, and as the kingmaker for the previous incumbent, not to mention being president of France, Sarkozy has a rather good shot at this job.

Now the last French leader who survived a divorce in office was emperor Napoleon. And if you were a student of French history, you might know that the outlines of contemporary Europe are similar to those of Napoleon’s empire at its greatest extent.ย  As the emperor took too many risks, it ended in silence and exile for him, but at least he abolished the holy roman empire and invented code Napoleon and rid Europe of a lot of annoying mediaeval clutter, which is clearly what Nicolas Sarkozy wants to do. They call him the “bling bling president”. The emperor Napoleon did not exactly lack for bling bling.

Glamour has its uses. Glamour can be a weapon. On the field of battle the morale is to the material as three is to one. So in this scenario we see things coming out of imperial Europe, 21st century Europe, that we haven’t seen coming out of Europe for maybe 2 or 300 years. We see world sweeping, aggressive Carla Sarkozy charm offenses. She’s a pop star with the power of a state behind her, she’s bigger than Bono, she’s bigger than the Rolling Stones. The two of them have cooked up a weird media art and culture intervention which is meant to wake the French population from its slumbers.

When Sarkozy says that he wants to lead a French renaissance, he’s in his deadly earnest. And since it can not be military, since it can not be economic, it’s pretty much got to be political and cultural. They are living in a hurricane of madness as Carla puts it her poetic way. And they are methodically steering the hurricane. This star couple’s intent is not only to conquer France, that would be too easy. Everybody else thinks the publicity firestorm will embarrass them, that they will have to sit down and shut up and stop bothering peop le with tabloid headlines but no. In the empress of Europe scenario the fire-born are at home in fire. A supermodel and a statesman can never get enough publicity, or enough power. They conquer France and they plan their assault on Europe, and you’ll be lucky if they stop there.

So, now we have our four future worlds. You don’t have to feel surprised or offended by this advent any longer. It’s not like you can predict the future. Carla and Nicolas, I promise you, they don’t know the future any better than you do. But it has become a spectator sport. You can amuse yourself by placing out odds on those different scenarios, and now I myself will judge it this way.

Ends in tears: 40% probability
First diva of France: 15% of probability.
Power behind the throne: 10%.
And Empress of Europe I would give a whopping, optimistic, caffeinated 35%. Because I’m a journalist, and although I know that fairier is always most likely, fantastic success is a much better story. There are those who claim the two of them have already gone too far. The muslim are offended, the hindus are offended, the pope was offended, elderly French catholics are offended by their behavior. Even for the British royal family who are not exactly noted for propriety, their romantic behavior seems a little at sea. Who can not cheer on a couple who can do all that?

If they get away with this, an entire generation of politicians around Europe will be liberated to have the same personal life all the rest of us do. In the 21st century they are not any major political figure who actually observes any victorian sexual propriety. They just cynically exploit sexual values, politics as a weapon against the population and against each other. You can ask any alluded gay in the republican party how well that kind works. That kind of tactics works but it’s evil. Bad for us.

Now I would not want to claim that Carla and Sarkozy are all that happens in 2008, even if they make themselves big news in that year. I can guarantee you that Carla has won herself a place in the history books. In 2028, journalists, historians will say “Carla Bruni” and people will say “wow, that sounds so early 21st century”.

Carla Bruni is not the only black swan that graces our world. The internet was a black swan too. In her younger days, internet, taken the street, has gotten pretty big. Big enough that Carla and Nicolas go to it. And they found each other there. And they get married. Instead of the industry going to Nicolas and Carla to politely ask them for political favors and some cultural content, the internet does not need political favors now, because it can make or break politicians. And it is full of content, most of it swiped or involuntary shared from the likes of Carla Bruni.

Now I don’t have time up here to run a similar futuristic scenario about the internet’s adventures in 2008, but I can tell you stories. Really. I can tell you stories about the future. When you have a good story about futurity you can smell it. You can smell taking on shape. You never guess the details – you never can – bvut you can smell the futurity coming through. Boy that will get you out of bed in the morning, it’s like coffee and bacon in another room.

90% of success, the way to survive this next year or any year, showing up when you succeed in reaching the future, it means than you survived long enough to see it. You survived long enough to become it. As a human being you can become the future, you can embody it. You can live it, and the future can be guessed at. But life is best enjoyed. So enjoy your conference ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me.ย 

How to recognize a good conference?

I get the question regularly: how to recognize bad conferences in advance? Let me offer a few hints, and hopefully save you from painful experiences.

  • Speakers <> sponsors
    Conferences want you to know who is supporting them, and who will be speaking. Compare these two lists, and if you see too many similarities, start wondering if some people bought their time on stage, and will therefore need to recoup their investment by pitching you their stuff. Things are not black or white (if you have Google as a sponsor you should not cancel that speech from Sergei and Larry), but that simple check is a strong indication on how the organizers plan to use your attention.
  • Program packing (and rhythm)
    Seven speakers on a forty minutes panel? The organizers are speaker-dropping you! They put as many people on stage as possible to maximize the chances of hooking you up. Problem is, the speakers will not have time to debate, just barely to present several slides under stress. Not very interesting. As a rule of thumb, count 15 to 20 minutes per speaker on a panel, i.e. a three speakers in one hour is ok, four is really the limit, above that it’s a non sense.
    On the other side, giving a speaker a one hour slot is extremely dangerous unless he is Steve Jobs or Gunter Pauli. Half of the room will fall asleep with no change of pace after thirty minutes.
  • Who is coming?
    Fundamental rule of conferences: a great event is not measured by who is speaking but by who is attending (speakers included of course). Can you see a participants list, and browse profiles? Do you see a bunch of wannabees or interesting people? Thing you will spend three to four days in the same room with these people, if you already have any sort of apprehension here is an answer: don’t go.
  • Is the conference for or non-profit?
    Davos, Poptech, TED, Lift, all good conferences (sorry for the self-promotion, at the same time I won’t tell you Lift sucks ๐Ÿ˜‰ are organized by not-for profit organizations. Why? Because not for profit institutions tend to be more independent, and because conferences are always happening under extremely intense financial constraints. The money that is not used to pay dividends is invested in the event, and it shows.
  • Look out for interactions
    It’s very simple: an interactive conference is (very likely) one that had to integrate a good audience. Can the audience propose talks? Is there a way to ask questions or interact with the speakers before and after their talk? Can you see who is attending, and contact the other participants in advance?
  • Are speakers physically attending (and for how long?)
    At a good conference, you will have a chance to meet the speakers as they are interested by the event itself, and will therefore stay. One of the magic of Davos is that their location is so remote you have to stay there. There is (rarely) such thing as someone showing up, giving his talk, and packing to go somewhere else.
    Don’t forget to also check if the speakers will talk on location or through video chat (a common trick is to “forget” to announce this tiny detail). Video is nice, but you lose all the intangibles, the body language, the prestance, and really the technologies currently available don’t work unless you pay millions. And that also means less chances for a coffee and a nice discussion during the break.
  • What is the balance of power between the organizers and the speakers?
    This one is trickier to spot, but it is extremely important. The organizer of a conference is a curator, and needs to ensure the program is coherent, that the speakers don’t repeat what has been said in a previous presentation, that the slides are not written in 6 points high font, etc. The organizer needs to be able to negotiate with the speaker, and ask for adaptations of the content to the event’s constraints. Can they do that?
    A first time conference will have a hard time, and you will probably see speakers not well prepared, and giving talks they have used all over the planet before showing up. Try to see if the situation is more balanced, if the conference is established and respected enough that it can work with (and not “for”, nor “against”) the speakers to deliver good content.
  • Price is misleading
    There is no correlation between the quality of a conference and it’s price. Some cheap conferences are extremely interesting, while very expensive ones can suck. As nothing is free in our world, a conference that won’t charge you at the door will have to find value somewhere. Will the organizers pitch themselves or their company? Are sponsors giving lengthy talks? Are the speakers a group of friends looking for media attention? Or is it really an act of love? The latter is quite rare, although not impossible. So look carefully at the program before you sign up.
    Paid conferences should be more independent and free of pitches, because by paying your ticket you relieve the organizers of some pressure, making them less dependent on sponsors. Check the program and the sponsors list, look at the website, try to feel if the focus is the conference brand (bad) or the content (good).
  • Logistics are an indicator (but not everything)
    Logistics are again very misleading. You can be in a very nice conference center and only use one of the second tier room (especially frequent with hotel venues). At the same time, you will forget you had a crappy sandwich if Bill Gates shared it with you. Conferences are an experience, and many things influence the quality of the time you will spend. Four years down the road you remember who you met, not the menu of the lunch, so don’t base too much of your assessment on the logistics.

What is your experience? Can you share your tips on how to recognize a good conference?

Fast food song

The art of creating a new form of art out of nothing: Fast Food Song.

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These things make me strangely optimistic, probably because they embody the unlimitedness of human imagination, anfd put humanity back in the middle of increasingly soulless cities.

A lucky TEDster

I’m happy to attend TED Global in ten days, the world’s most famous conference, organized and curated by my friend and mentor Bruno Giussani who concocted a fantastic program for the 700+ attendees who will gather in Oxford.

The conference will explore the “substance of things not seen”, and will be an occasion to see old friends (Stefana Broadbent, Itay Talgam, Jonathan and Flip of the IEC), Swiss rock stars (Bertrand Piccard, Sophie Hunger, Henry Markram, whom I never met as he was in bed with the flu the day of his talk at Lift08) and a bunch of speakers who will share their ideas worth spreading.

The program is an intriguing mix of performances and talks from some of the world’s brightest minds. I will get a chance to test the saying that attending TED is like extreme sports for the brain, an experience so intense you better get in shape before flying in.

I now anxiously face the usual question: attend with a laptop to share the experience with the broader world – taking some focus away from the talks, or leave my computer at home and go with a notebook and pen. The latter has my favors as of now. See you in Oxford? A few tickets remain as we speak, probably not for long…