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So what do an avant-garde filmmaker, a failed presidential candidate, a professor of surgery and a top Google executive have in common?
Not a lot, in truth, except that they are all speaking at the same entrepreneurs conference this weekend.
It is one of the odder line-ups among a crescendo of conferences echoing through Silicon Valley and San Francisco – a reassuring reverberation that information technology is returning to rude health in the region.
But when David Lynch, the director of cult movie and TV classics such as Eraserhead and Twin Peaks, rubs shoulders with Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Fogarty, professor of surgery at Stanford University and Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search products, the guest lists are perhaps becoming recherché enough to suggest the Valley is vertiginous in its aspirations again.
David Lynch’s keynote at The Indus Entrepreneurs conference (www.tiecon.org) in Santa Clara will explore the frontiers of consciousness with a quantum physicist and a brain researcher from the Maharishi University of Management. It will feature a live demonstration of brain-wave changes that take place during transcendental meditation – no less.
I have been meditating on the shape of my inner lip, as well as pulling faces in the mirror, since attending the CardTech/SecurTech smartcard conference in San Francisco last week.
Yes, it was more interesting than it sounds. Tom Harkins, chief operating officer of Edentify, talked to me about his company’s take on biometrics. Instead of proving identity through fingerprints or iris recognition, Edentify has a product his company describes as a combination of “a robust inner-lip analysis technology with existing voice and facial recognition technologies to create a multi-modal, spoof-proof biometric solution.”
Apparently, the inner lip is also a unique identifier, and it works no matter whether you laugh, scowl or attempt to impersonate a contestant at the World Gurning Championships.
Meanwhile, Olivier Piou, chief executive of Axalto, performed a dazzling display of prestidigitation with an array of smartcards, convincing me that those slivers of chips in credit and identity cards now have powerful enough processors in them to be miniature computers and that I could probably write this column on them if I could somehow hook them up to a keyboard.
He did make the cards sound better than a high-powered Windows Vista PC – they are probably far more secure and can be booted instantly on and off to perform their tasks as they are passed over readers that provide them with their flash of power.
Perhaps smartcards are the answer to cheap computers for the developing world. Intel has been demonstrating clunky PCs attached to car batteries for Indian rural communities and Paul Otellini, chief executive, was at another conference last week, the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin, Texas to unveil a $1bn programme over five years to improve access to technology in emerging economies.
Not to be outdone, Intel’s rival Advanced Micro Devices gave details of progress on its 50x15 programme to get half the world connected affordably to the internet by 2015.
When Silicon Valley companies emphasise ideals like this, it is perhaps another sign of affluence and well-being in IT with the emergence of their philanthropic natures.
Except that in this case, the motivation is more to kick-start PC adoption in emerging markets and find new areas of growth for a mature industry – PCs have penetrated less than 3 per cent of these markets compared with 80 per cent of the US.
Back in San Francisco next week, conference junkies may shun JavaOne, the SIIA software strategy summit and the Spring Processor Forum for a grounding in how to lasso Web 2.0 clouds of ideas for the benefit of the enterprise.
They may not be aware that one of the latest Web 2.0 trends is “unconferences”, but attending the Gartner Symposium/IT Expo should soon put them right.
David Smith, Gartner vice president, tells me he will boil down Web 2.0’s importance to three key areas of technology, community and business models. Ajax technologies that have created dynamic self-updating web pages and sites are likely to be adopted rapidly by business along with features such as RSS feeds and mash-ups where applications such as Google Maps can be merged with company data. The business model of advertising paying for services will attract interest and, on the community side, wikis are beginning to be used as a collaborative tool in businesses.
I am keeping up with all these conferences through Google Calendar, the latest collaborative Web 2.0 tool that encourages users to share their event diaries.
Today, it tells me I will be at the crème de la crème of colourful tech conferences in Los Angeles. If you want to see cars bursting though walls, female wrestlers, Roman centurions and Orcs battling elves amid a deafening din of rock music, then the E3 video games show or Disneyland on Acid, as it’s known, is the only place to be.