Cyborg Camp in Vancouver Successful, Filled with Irony

On Saturday, May 13, Mt. Pleasant’s MAkE hosted Vancouver’s first Cyborg Camp.

CyborgCamp first started back in 2008, and that first event’s speakers included Ward Cunningham, inventor of the first wiki, and a genuine cyborg. The cyborg was connected to an insulin pump 24/7.

Since that initial event CyborgCamps have been held in Portland, Seattle and Toronto. This event, organized by Nikolas Badminton and Kharis O’Connell, cannot be considered anything but successful.

It was one long day in Mt. Pleasant. Eight talented speakers each took between thirty and forty-five minutes to offer 120 attendees their perspectives on the integration of humanism and futurism. A wide range of topics managed to fit the bill, and most were roaringly received.

Not all of those roars were happy, though, and a speech by Alex Beim, the founder of Tangible Interaction, raised considerable controversy. Entitled “Forgetting Technology: becoming human again,” the speech opened with Alex’s consternation at not being able to maintain a tighter rein on his children’s use of tech on a Sunday afternoon, and continued on to bemoan the impersonality of modern technological living. It ended constructively, with Alex advocating for more emotionally supportive technology, but after six hours of mostly unbroken idealism (Kharis O’Connell’s discussion of the design limitations inherent to creating tech that won’t just be stolen in high-crime neighbourhoods also squarely addressed the world we live in rather than the one we desire), some audience members were jarred by his relative conservatism.

The conference’s opener, Amber Case, is a CyborgCamp veteran, and she spoke with authority on cyborg anthropology. Ben Bashford, a renowned English interaction designer, closed the conference with an avocation for minimally invasive technology. Many audience members had their phones out throughout the event; the irony was palpable.

The conference was not only unusually successful, but successful in an unusual way. Nik Badminton explains: “Typically it’s an un-conference, with speakers in the morning and then discussion in the afternoon. And I think that unsettles people, so we focused on just providing amazing speakers.”

Whether or not there’s going to be a CyborgCamp YVR in 2014 is somewhat in the air. But Badminton and Kharis are both adamant that attendees will have something to see next calendar year: “The next Cyborg Camp is going to be in Boston at MIT. I think we’re going to do something bigger. It’ll still be to do with humans and technology. I think there’s a chance to do something significantly bigger.”

“I think we’ll go for a minimum of 300 to 400 people next year, as a multiday event,” Badminton continued. “I think there’s an opportunity to merge that with music and culture more strongly, and the arts. A lot of people have talked about SXSW for Vancouver, but we don’t want that. We can carve out our own niche.”

Kharis O’Connell is also planning ahead.

“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so we’re not going to go fullout. Maybe we’ll expand with a hackathon,” says O’Connell. “We’re toying with ideas at the moment; this was a prototype version. Everyone has jumped in and made it great. It’s not like we want to turn into TED; the idea is to stay within the same kind of boundaries and themes.”

The greatest advantage of Cyborg Camp is that the same kind of boundaries and themes can mean anything; the intersection of humanity and technology is a boundless subject. Videos of the speeches will be available soon at their official website; pictures can be found here at the Statigram.

This was the first Cyborg Camp in Vancouver. Whether or not Badminton and O’Connell’s next event is under the same name, it will be a treat to attend any event they host in 2014.