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The Conference's FAQ

The first conference was held in 1984 in Marin County, California. It was organized by Stewart Brand and the people at Whole Earth and The Point Foundation. The conference was catalyzed by the publication of Steven Levy's book "Hs: The Heroes of the Computer Revolution". Stewart felt that it would be really great to get some of the people mentioned in that book together for a weekend and "see what happened". It was a resounding success resulting in a video documentary which aired nationwide on PBS.

Just the high points:

  • Invitation-only
  • 48 continuous hours of sessions and hands-on demos
  • Sessions are participatory, like hallway conversations
  • Free and open exchange of ideas
  • Strictly off the record
  • Peers sharing with peers
  • Everyone who attends is a potential speaker
  • Cross discipline synergies
  • No marketing or sales pitches
  • No proceedings

What is this conference all about?

Stewart Brand, the people at Whole Earth Catalog, and The Point Foundation started this conference in 1984. The conference was catalyzed by the publication of Steven Levy's book "Hs: The Heroes of the Computer Revolution". Stewart felt that it would be really great to get some of the people mentioned in that book together for a weekend and "see what happened". The first Hs Conference was held at the Marin Headlands, California, and was a resounding success resulting in a video documentary which aired nationwide on PBS.

Who is invited to The Conference?

Prior attendees suggest people to invite who will bring something to the conference: some idea, contribution, energy, or whatever it is that makes the conference succeed. The attendees are Hs: people who enjoy pushing the envelope, bypassing limits, discovering knowledge, inventing solutions, and adventuring into uncharted areas. We seek to invite Hs from all domains and professions (e.g. computer hardware designers, musicians, genetics, neurology, medicine, education, computer programmers, artists, etc.) from around the world.

Who are Hs?

Hs are hands-on tinkerers excited by the challenge of doing things that others say are impossible; people who have great fun finding ways to succeed by inventing interesting solutions; people who push the envelope. The original meaning of the word was a very positive one, people who are experts in their field who push the envelope trying to do the impossible. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology these people were referred to as Hs and this is the term that has survived.

What's the conference like?

The weekend is a continuous, high-powered, energetic exchange of ideas among the movers and shakers from a wide variety of disciplines. Throw a couple of hundred bright people like that together for a weekend, and you have a catalyst for the future.

Who attends the conference?

Attendees are the people who created the Personal Computer industry, who built the Internet and the Web, and who created the languages, algorithms, and tools that you use. Attendees have included: Apple fellows, IBM fellows, Microsoft fellows, Sun fellows, leading professors, artists, musicians, computer language and operating system designers, etc.

Why do they attend?

Here's what one attendee said as an answer to "Why do you attend?"

The conference for me is a way to come out of my daily life where I usually have to fit my unusual solutions and talents into little bits and cracks. Instead I can now fit them into a breath of fresh air. People can challenge my notions. Present me with whole new areas that I had neglected. Even if nothing at the conference directly relates to my work, I come away from the conference with totally new approaches to problems I have been faced with – approaches that are hybrid notions brought up at the conference.

Why should you attend?

This conference is a catalyst creating new ideas. Something special happens when a group of creative people from different fields gets together to discuss interesting challenges -- they often come up with unexpected solutions. From the conference every year contacts are made, ideas are formed, projects are initiated, or products are developed that change the world.

There are many "computer people" attending the conference, but most of them have quite varied interests and expertise in other disciplines. People from many different disciplines have found this conference invigorates their creativity and that the variety of sessions and discussions had a synergistic effect and were helpful in their own fields. We try to have a wide range of sessions appealing to the attendees. Sessions are even added to the schedule during the conference based on what people are talking about in the halls and during meals.

What subjects are discussed?

The agenda changes every year based on who's attending, what they want to present, and what they want to discuss.

Here are just a few session topics from past years: Landmines (how might they be detected and/or neutralized), game design, sculpture, cooking, musical instruments, music, computer graphics, performance art, virtual reality, cryptography, security, bio-engineering, bio-technology, genetic engineering, neural networks, science fiction, wireless, wireless crypto / security, user interface design, space launch vehicles, ham radio satellite technology, investing, power grid self-sufficiency, living in an analog world, living in a digital world, wearable computing, open systems / software / hardware, chaos theory, nanotechnology, lock picking, fun things to do with a laser pointer, etc.

Who are the speakers?

Other conferences have an audience and invited speakers. The Hs Conference does not have "speakers" and an "audience" -- it is a conference of people sharing with their peers. Everyone attending is considered to be a peer. Everyone attending is expected to speak on topics in which they are expert and actively doing things. Some people speak every year; some people speak every few years that they attend. From the famous and very wealthy to the starving grad student, everyone treats each other as a peer.

Are there any exhibits?

No. Instead, we have space for attendees to demonstrate and share their works-in-progress, favorite toys and gizmos, especially those things that they have created. There are demonstrations and impromptu sessions going on all day and all night.

What about food and lodging?

The conference fee includes lodging and lots of food and drinks. There will be continuous munchies, and meals too. We even have midnight meals on Friday and Saturday nights, since many people stay up all night and need their nourishment.

Is it a computer conference?

No. And it’s not a conference about any specific computer, operating system, or computer language. Nor is it a “trade show”.

Is it a Science Fiction “Con”?

No, but several Science Fiction authors attend.

Is it about breaking into systems?

No, it’s not a gathering of crackers, phone phreaks, and criminals.