What Kind of FOO am I?

A little while back I put borrowed camping gear (thanks, Steve and Lee!) into a rental car and drove from San Francisco to Sebastopol to pitch my tent at FOO Camp, Tim O’Reilly’s annual jamboree of those-doing-cool-things-with-technology.

FOO (which stands for ‘friends of O’Reilly’) is a free, invitation-only unconference, and Tim and his colleagues at O’Reilly media are amazing hosts. There were delicious food and beverages, wifi and meeting rooms, showers and towels, and every other form of hospitality appropriate to the occasion.

FOO Camp 2012 sessions

My highlights included:

  • Listening to Andrew Ng and Peter Norvig describe their MOOCs – Massive, open, online courses — to teach all comers online about artificial intelligence. MOOCs are one of the innovations that will transform / disrupt the educational system in the coming years.
  • Learning about automated writing from Narrative Science’s Kris Hammond. Narrative Science can take a body of data (e.g. the stats from a baseball game) and generate from it individualized prose with varying angles and language. Because I assure you that Red Sox and Yankee fans do not want to read anything like the same story about the same game.
  • Conducting a session with Etsy’s Juliet Gorman and FutureAdvisor’s Bo Lu about the future of jobs and work in an increasingly digital economy. Juliet’s company uses technology to increase the amont of labor by giving craftspeople markets for their products. Bo’s uses tech to remove labor by automating the work of a financial advisor.
  • Having endless hallway, mealtime, and late-night conversations with ridiculously interesting and accomplished people. I wonder if many other people there felt like they were an admissions mistake. I sure did.

The legendary columnist Murray Kempton wrote that he loved New York because it “happens to be the only city under the eye of God where the librettist for Don Giovanni could find his closest friend in the author of “The Night Before Christmas.” Well, FOO Camp is the only place I’ve been where you wind up hanging out midmorning with the Obama campaign’s CTO, the guy at Google responsible for monitoring online repression and attempts to shut off the Internet around the world, one of the world’s leading competitive data scientists, and the guy who monetized Lolcats.

I hope I do enough interesting things in the next year to be invited back. Thanks, Tim and the rest of the O’Reilly gang; you put on a great Geekstock.