PopTech 2008

  • October 22-25, 2008
  • Camden, Maine

Pop!Tech '08 covered the scarcities humans and organizations will encounter this century – and how a wealth of new innovations, bottom-up approaches to collaboration and insights into collective wisdom might hold the keys to addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

Speakers

Chris Anderson

Editor-in-Chief, Wired magazine
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The Google economy: Chris Anderson explores the scarcities of time, money, happiness, attention, and reputation.

The Google economy: Chris Anderson explores the scarcities of time, money, happiness, attention, and reputation.

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Stephen Badylak

Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh
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Regenerative medicine: Regenerative medicine expert Dr. Badylak shocked the medical world when two of his patients re-grew severed fingertips in just six weeks. Learn how he and his colleagues are applying this breakthrough solution to help Iraqi war... More

Regenerative medicine: Regenerative medicine expert Dr. Badylak shocked the medical world when two of his patients re-grew severed fingertips in just six weeks. Learn how he and his colleagues are applying this breakthrough solution to help Iraqi war veterans re-grow tissue and body parts lost in battle.

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Chandler Burr

Journalist, The New York Times
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The Perfect Pairing of Taste and Scent: Chandler Burr is the perfume critic for The New York Times, and the author, most recently, of the book The Perfect Scent. If you didn’t know this, it would be pretty easy to mistake him for a scientist. He... More

The Perfect Pairing of Taste and Scent: Chandler Burr is the perfume critic for The New York Times, and the author, most recently, of the book The Perfect Scent. If you didn’t know this, it would be pretty easy to mistake him for a scientist. He ably throws around terms from organic chemistry — the language of aldehydes, esters, and carbon dioxide distillation. Burr also possesses a keen nose, with the seeming ability to identify any perfume, no matter how obscure. In his very funny and informative talk today, he had the audience smell a number of different scents in rapid succession. He then offered a story about each one — from an analysis of the different grades of patchouli, to a detailed explanation of orris butter, to the tale of some of Chanel’s most storied scents. Some might think of scent as a mere frivolous luxury, but perfume is a lens for looking at culture and commerce. “Every bottle of perfume contains the world,” Burr said to the audience. “It contains every country you can imagine, farmers, smugglers, botanists, chemists, artists…bad economic policy, good economic policy, climate change…if you lost your hearing and your vision, you would still be connected to the world through the art of perfume.”

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Rufus Cappadocia

Cellist
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Performance: Rapidly-rising, uncategorizeable cellist Rufus Cappadocia joins forces with a group of incredible Haitian drummers for one of the most rousing performances of Pop!Tech ‘08.

Performance: Rapidly-rising, uncategorizeable cellist Rufus Cappadocia joins forces with a group of incredible Haitian drummers for one of the most rousing performances of Pop!Tech ‘08.

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Dickson Despommier

Microbiologist and professor, Columbia University

Sustainable Visions: In his vision of the world, we used to live in the biosphere - a self-sustaining world, that’s circular and complete. We live in the technosphere; a world where we create problems and use up resources and then have to come up... More

Sustainable Visions: In his vision of the world, we used to live in the biosphere - a self-sustaining world, that’s circular and complete. We live in the technosphere; a world where we create problems and use up resources and then have to come up with solutions to those issues. So even if we have resources to provide food for everyone in the world, we’ve created unsustainable systems that make it difficult - look at agricultural runoff, which appears to be a requirement for feeding ourselves, but is killing off the seas through pollution. Do we have to choose between raising food crops or restoring the environment, he asks. “We’ve created machines that can catch the dust from a tail of a comet and analyse it,” he says. “And if we can do that, what I’m about to tell you is a piece of cake.”

His suggestion is to use soil-free agronomy; hydroponics, aeroponics and drip irrigation - to build urban vertical farms, raising crops in tall buildings. This creates more jobs in cities, lets farmers move into urban areas, One acre of strawberries grown inside was the equivalent of 30 acres of strawberries grown outside, freeing up 29 acres of land outside. How do we do it? The systems are already there, and new technologies aren’t needed. All we need to do, he says, is simply start to imagine that it’s possible.

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Kelly Dobson

Artist & Technologist
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Machine therapy: Dobson is making a personal, societal and psychoanalytical study of machine design and its effects on peoples’ everyday lives. Watch as she exhibits Screambody, Blendie and Omo, three fascinating robots that respond to – and influence – their users in provocative ways.

Machine therapy: Dobson is making a personal, societal and psychoanalytical study of machine design and its effects on peoples’ everyday lives. Watch as she exhibits Screambody, Blendie and Omo, three fascinating robots that respond to – and influence – their users in provocative ways.

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Juan Enriquez

Chairman & CEO, Biotechonomy LLC
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Financial commandments: Debt crisis expert Juan Enriquez details 10 non-partisan financial commandments for the President elect at Pop!Tech '08.

Financial commandments: Debt crisis expert Juan Enriquez details 10 non-partisan financial commandments for the President elect at Pop!Tech '08.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Author
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Extraordinary Impacts: Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker contributor and author, wants to talk about how we limit human potential. Only one in six kids from poor schools who could perform athletically in college sports actually get a scholarship.... More

Extraordinary Impacts: Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker contributor and author, wants to talk about how we limit human potential. Only one in six kids from poor schools who could perform athletically in college sports actually get a scholarship. Why? This is the capitalization rate: what percentage of people successfully achieve the things that they could? And there are three things that hold down capitalization rates in the US, he says. The first is poverty. “I have a friend who finds kids from poor schools and gets them scholarships. But the high school they go to requires them to cross gang lines, which means none of the boys can go .”

What other conditions are there? He looks to one of the best junior hockey teams in Canada. What’s strange is the birthdates of most of them are in the first half of the year. Why? In the world of hockey, the cut-off date is January 1. The selectors pick the big kids, regardless of their skill - and then give them 10 years of special training. By the time they’re 17 or 18 the kids who were just the biggest are now also the best.

This is an extraordinary constraint on capitalization. Common sense would say that if you started a second, parallel hockey league which June 1 you should be able to develop twice as many great hockey players. The cap rate . The cap rate isn’t limited by poverty, but by the stupidity of the officials who don’t recognize they aren’t good at growing talent.

He refers to James Flynn, an academic who got really interested in why Chinese immigrants to the US vastly outperform white Americans. Within one generation, they’re achieving at an extraordinary rate. The difference is not usefully described by differences in IQ. The cap rates for people who are smart enough to be a professional who end up being a professional is vastly different in different communities: 78% in Chinese American community rather than 60% in the white community? How are they able to capitalize on this? Flynn suggests it’s because they work harder, and Gladwell agrees. But why?

If you take a group of Chinese schoolkids and a group of American 10-year-olds and give them a complex maths task and time them at it, you’ll find the American kids give up after 2 minutes; the Chinese kids will still be working after 15 minutes. It’s about persistence: it’s the consequence of ingrained cultural notions of how hard you should work.

This is a cultural problem. Why is this discussion so important? Our initial thought is always to argue that there is some innate difference in ability. That’s wrong: what cap rates say is that there’s another explanation - to do with poverty, stupidity and culture. “We have a scarcity of achievement in the US because we’re squandering it. But it’s not bad news, it’s good news - because it’s not scarcity we have to live with: we can do something about it.”

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Saul Griffith

Co-founder, Low Cost Eyeglasses, Squid Labs, Potenco, Instructables.com, HowToons & Makani Power
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Your Personal Energy Audit: How do you add up how much power you use in your life? The average American uses the equivalent of 120 100W light bulbs burning permanently. And Saul Griffith uses more than that. He’s done a micro-level study of... More

Your Personal Energy Audit: How do you add up how much power you use in your life? The average American uses the equivalent of 120 100W light bulbs burning permanently. And Saul Griffith uses more than that. He’s done a micro-level study of everything in his life - building his house, the things he owns, what he eats, his share of the internet, the clothes he wears. It’s his life in “absolute, excruciating detail” - but could be the best way to understand where you can most easily make inroads.

That’s why he’s started a personal audit tool, WattzOn, which allows everyone to do the same exercise and figure out a good estimate for your power consumption. And, he says, it’s better than a traditional carbon calculators - because they’re trying to crowdsource all this data so that it gets more accurate the more people use it.

But what’s the actual consequence of using all this power? It’s carbon emissions.

The problem, he says is not about having enough fossil fuels - there is actually an abundance of these. The issue is, in fact, about not putting the carbon you produce from burning fossil fuels up in the atmosphere.

So here’s the big question for our time: what is the temperature we choose for humanity? And how do we get there? He suggests that we take a climate model we want to achieve and then work back from there. If we want to limit the temperature increase the world will experience over the next century to just a couple of degrees, we need to cut the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere from 8 gigatonnes per year to 2 gigatonnes.

Getting the power redistributed away from burning fossil fuels is difficult. “The scale of the challenge is enormous. To achieve what we need through wind power - we’d need to build one large turbine every fives minutes. To get where we get with nuclear, we need to build nuclear plant every week for a year. “

It only becomes possible if we take radical action. Perhaps we take companies that have a great energy debt - like can manufacturers, like Coca-Cola - and turn them into companies making solar panels. Or we take companies like Nokia, Apple, Intel and AMD and get them making solar cells.

Plus, on top of this, we have to reduce our own consumption – because other people will be increasing theirs. Griffith himself has reduced travel, food and drink consumption. He suggests we need to make stuff last 10 times as long and only own 10% of the stuff he owns at the moment: you should be issued a Rolex watch and a Mont Blanc pen at birth and it’s the only timepiece and writing implement you can ever use - and maybe you hand it on to your children on your deathbed.

“I’m assuming we’re going to do this heroic effort,” he says. “It’s not a Manhattan project or Apollo - this is much more like World War 2, except everybody is on the same side.”

Perhaps, he suggests, that the recession that we’re currently experiencing is a useful message – if we can emerge from it without increasing our power use.

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Imogen Heap

Singer Songwriter
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Performance: Imogen Heap is an ethereal, Grammy-nominated, electronic chanteuse. Bear witness to her powers of improvisation and see her perform the global smash hit “Hide and Seek” live on the Pop!Tech stage.

Performance: Imogen Heap is an ethereal, Grammy-nominated, electronic chanteuse. Bear witness to her powers of improvisation and see her perform the global smash hit “Hide and Seek” live on the Pop!Tech stage.

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Valdis Krebs

Founder & Chief Scientist, orgnet.com

The Wealth of Networks: With all the buzz about social networks, is it really so surprising to learn that inanimate objects have networks as well? Researcher and data junkie Valdis Krebs has developed social networking software called InFlow, which... More

The Wealth of Networks: With all the buzz about social networks, is it really so surprising to learn that inanimate objects have networks as well? Researcher and data junkie Valdis Krebs has developed social networking software called InFlow, which he recently used to map the purchases of political books from Amazon.com.

Analyzing political book purchases revealed some interesting trends: Krebs noted that patterns could be found in the purchases. In an early analysis of the political book purchases, after coloring the dots representing left-leaning books blue and the more conservative titles red, Krebs saw that books had a common intersection: the book “What Went Wrong?”, a book about Islam.

As the election loomed closer, he ran the software again in early October. This time, there were no shared titles. There were also now two, disparate blue groups with no intersection: one with a general group of titles and one with titles only about Obama. The general group of blue books had a wider variety of titles, where the red titles were much more concentrated on just a few titles. And the red books now included some titles that weren’t top hits before, such as “Rules for Radicals” and some of the Obama titles.

The crowd posited some ideas as to what was causing the changes, but one thing was clear: the books we purchase have their own stories to tell. For more on Krebs and his theory of Network Weaving, check out his blog.

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Erin McKean

CEO, Wordnik.com

The Logophile’s Boot Camp: It’s not every day you get to make up words, then have them vetted (or not) by someone who actually puts words into dictionaries. Erin wove a fascinating story of the English language, and how we know the origins of... More

The Logophile’s Boot Camp: It’s not every day you get to make up words, then have them vetted (or not) by someone who actually puts words into dictionaries. Erin wove a fascinating story of the English language, and how we know the origins of many words, but most remain a mystery. She gave a crash course on the history of the word “nice”, which has meant at various times stupid; promiscuous; extravagant; delicate; over-refined; dainty; cultured; and pleasant. That’s a lot of history for a word with four letters.

Erin taught that English was recognized as a distinct language in 449, what emphatic in-fixing is (dropping a word in the middle of a sentence like “abso-flipping-lutely”), and that catachresis is not a disease, it’s when a new word is created by mistake. We learned there are websites devoted to documenting eggcorns, which are the resultant words from catachresis, and snow clones (when you swap out one word for another in a common phrase such as “X is the new Y”).

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Joe Navarro

Author & Educator

Reading the Language of Nonverbal Communication: Former FBI agent Joe Navarro is a master of reading body language. For 25 years, he honed his skills working as a counter-intelligence special agent, where he learned that our physical actions are... More

Reading the Language of Nonverbal Communication: Former FBI agent Joe Navarro is a master of reading body language. For 25 years, he honed his skills working as a counter-intelligence special agent, where he learned that our physical actions are often direct insights into what we are thinking.

To get us thinking about what we all say without using words, he led the Pop!Tech crowd in a few gestures, pursing lips (negativity), “templing” one’s fingers (thinking), rubbing eyes (reluctance – such as when a friend asks you to help him move). These gestures are hard-coded, Navarro says. Even people who have been blind since birth rub their eyes when they are asked to do something they don’t really want to do.

Non-verbal communication helps us assess danger and communicate our social status to others almost instantaneously. And it’s not just gestures, but colors, too. Research shows that blue is the color of confidence and pragmatism, which is why politicians so often stand in front of blue screens and backdrops.

He mentioned the power of symbols both large and small, and critiqued photos of some current politicians to demonstrate the symbolism of rolled-up sleeves (Barack Obama) versus cufflinks (Joe Biden). Two-piece suits are preferred over three-piece in politics because they communicate a sense of openness.

The power of humility and dignity in gestures is often underrated, says Navarro. Gandhi stood up to the British Empire in a loincloth; Argentine mothers faced down armies to save their children. No three-piece blue suit could have achieved that.

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Jay Parkinson

Founder, The Future Well
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Medicine 2.0: Parkinson re-imagines the doctor/patient relationship, marrying social networking, IM, video chat, SMS and PayPal with old-fashioned, doctor-in-your-neighborhood, quality care. Pay a virtual visit to his Web 2.0 primary care practice,... More

Medicine 2.0: Parkinson re-imagines the doctor/patient relationship, marrying social networking, IM, video chat, SMS and PayPal with old-fashioned, doctor-in-your-neighborhood, quality care. Pay a virtual visit to his Web 2.0 primary care practice, Hello Health, which offers a new way of keeping people well.

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Paul Polak

Founder, International Development Enterprises (IDE)

Scaling the Pyramid: Entrepeneur and inventor Paul Polak has spoken at Pop!Tech before - inspiring the crowd with his talk about his view of how to alleviate poverty. This time he’s back to tell us what he’s doing today with his new... More

Scaling the Pyramid: Entrepeneur and inventor Paul Polak has spoken at Pop!Tech before - inspiring the crowd with his talk about his view of how to alleviate poverty. This time he’s back to tell us what he’s doing today with his new ventures.

One of the projects Polak is involved in puts 200 watt solar panels in remote villages in places like Burma. What’s the value of that? Well, you could get people to pay for charging their cellphones (50 cents a time). Or you could light 125 homes. It puts things in perspective.

“We know just about everything there is to know about affluent customers in the west, he says. But we know just about nothing about 90% of the customers in the world. And designers work in the same way - and so a revolution in design is required to reverse this. We have to go and come up with really world-changing solutions.” Courses focused on this at MIT, Stanford and CalTech have proved so good that they’re expanding to 100 universities. But there’s more.

“We’ve heard about creative capitalism, and the chance for big companies to serve the world’s poorest customers,” he says. “My contention is that multinationals will only enter emerging markets seriously when other companies demonstrate you can earn huge profits from serving the bottom billion.”

To this end, he has formed a company, Windhorse, which is focused on making those products and selling them in the developing world. Polak is joined on stage by a colleague, who demonstrates some of those products, including a hand-sized electrochlorinator kit that can help clean drinking water that you can sell for a penny a liter. He shows a cheap reflector which can help boost by giving up to 7x sunlight and therefore cutting the number of solar cells you need to buy. He also shows a portable microscope, which can be deployed to help combat diseases like malaria and TB in the field.

Polak explains his business model: microfranchises where you are able to offer on-the-spot diagnosis for $2 a time, making it affordable for people on the spot.

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Gustav Praekelt

Co-founder & Managing Director, Praekelt Foundation

John Priscu

Professor, Department of Land Resources & Environmental Sciences, Montana State University
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Sustainable Visions: Join polar scientist John Priscu – and his autonomous robots – as he takes us miles below the Antarctic ice to search for living organisms that may have been cut off from the rest of the planet’s ecosystem for millions of years.

Sustainable Visions: Join polar scientist John Priscu – and his autonomous robots – as he takes us miles below the Antarctic ice to search for living organisms that may have been cut off from the rest of the planet’s ecosystem for millions of years.

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Pamela Ronald

Professor, Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis
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Sustainable Visions: You might think that genetically engineered agriculture and organic farming are diametrically opposed, but Pamela Ronald - chair of the Plant Genomics Program at UC Davis - argues the two go together like peanut butter and... More

Sustainable Visions: You might think that genetically engineered agriculture and organic farming are diametrically opposed, but Pamela Ronald - chair of the Plant Genomics Program at UC Davis - argues the two go together like peanut butter and chocolate. In this informative Pop!Tech talk, Ronald describes how marrying organic farming techniques with G.E. crops holds the potential to help solve the impending global food crisis.

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Sanjit "Bunker" Roy

Founder, Barefoot College

Bunker Roy: Scaling the Pyramid: In 1965 Bunker Roy decided to work in a village in Bihar, India during a famine. “I want to be an unskilled laborer, digging wells for five years,” he told his mother - who was shocked because she thought he was... More

Bunker Roy: Scaling the Pyramid: In 1965 Bunker Roy decided to work in a village in Bihar, India during a famine. “I want to be an unskilled laborer, digging wells for five years,” he told his mother - who was shocked because she thought he was throwing away his good job and expensive education. “But that,” he said, “Was when my real education started.”

He ended up starting the Barefoot College, an organization based in Rajasthan that tries to harness the knowledge of ordinary people, and help them learn new things.

The college campus was built by the people who go there, people who knew how to build but can’t read and write. It’s won awards - although he had to return a $50,000 architecture prize because the organizers wouldn’t believe there was no architect involved.

Among the projects he has focused on is capturing rain water. It’s such a simple thing, he says, but makes a massive difference. Catching the water from school rooftops frees up children to go to school instead of spending hours going off to collect it. They are now collecting 93 million liters in schools all around India, and millions of children are benefiting from this simple technology.

The entire campus is solar powered, and many of the engineers who build solar cookers and devices are women. Teaching women non-traditional skills - fixing water pumps, building solar systems for villages. They’ve now solar electrified around 500 villages across the country, reaching around 125,000 people.

It’s now spreading to other countries around the world - and the people they’ve chosen to educate as solar engineers are mothers and grandmothers.

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Carl Safina

President, Blue Ocean Institute
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Oceans in Balance: Carl Safina spends a lot of time on the ocean and what he’s seen is beyond alarming. A reformed fisherman (at one point he was even hunting Mako sharks), Carl noticed over the years that the fish he was after were becoming... More

Oceans in Balance: Carl Safina spends a lot of time on the ocean and what he’s seen is beyond alarming. A reformed fisherman (at one point he was even hunting Mako sharks), Carl noticed over the years that the fish he was after were becoming scarcer and scarcer. One day chasing tuna, he experienced a moment of epiphany that changed him from hunter to protector.

The creatures in the sea, he realized, were as much part of our world as we are and yet we’ve been treating their habitat both like an endless food source and a dumping ground. In 1990, he founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, where he worked for a decade. Then in 2003, he co-founded the Blue Ocean Institute, whose goal is to use science, art and literature to inspire a closer relationship to the sea and implement conservation solutions.

As part of the Pop!Tech opening remarks, Carl showed the crowd images of baby albatross chicks stuffed with swallowed cigarette lighters, hundreds of carcasses of sharks who were killed just for their fins, and the vast waste of unwanted fish that’s the sad outcome of commercial shrimp fishing. Carl says that in the (relatively) short time we’ve been on the planet, we’ve eaten 90% of the fish in the sea. In the same way our endless quest for land has wiped out whole species of animals, so has our desire for unfettered access to seafood erased entire populations of fish.

So what can we do? In keeping with a key theme of the conference, one simple action is to consume less. And when you do eat seafood, ensure you are eating something that has been safely, sustainably caught or harvested. The Blue Ocean Institute provides a Guide to Ocean-Friendly Seafood on its site to help us make more informed choices.

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Lincoln Schatz

Artist

Portraits and performance: Lincoln Schatz's generative video portraits are unique in allowing for a subject to interact with the environment over time. His work proposes portraiture as a combination of performance, voyeurism, and process. See photo... More

Portraits and performance: Lincoln Schatz's generative video portraits are unique in allowing for a subject to interact with the environment over time. His work proposes portraiture as a combination of performance, voyeurism, and process. See photo on Flickr.

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Suzanne Seggerman

Co-Founder & President, Games for Change (G4C)
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Serious games: Seggerman argues that games are engaging the most serious issues of our day: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poverty, global warming and the genocide in Darfur.

Serious games: Seggerman argues that games are engaging the most serious issues of our day: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poverty, global warming and the genocide in Darfur.

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Gary Slutkin

Executive Director, Cease Fire

Benjamin Zander

Cellist & Conductor
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PopTech 2008 is part of the PopTech series of events.

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