The 62nd World Science Fiction Convention

  • Sept. 2-6, 2004
  • Boston, MA

Program Brainstorming Introduction

  • This weblog is a place where you can give us your suggestions for Noreascon 4 programming. What great new ideas do you have and what things have you seen at other conventions that you'd like us to "steal"? (Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) To make a suggestion, please add a comment under the appropriate heading. Feel free to write a short description of the topic and even suggest appropriate program participants for it. If there's a lot of interest in a particular topic, we'll add a new heading for it.

    Please note: This is not the place to volunteer to be on Program. If you are interested in being on the Program, please see our Program Participant Selection FAQ.

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September 24, 2003

Science and Technology

This is where you can give us suggestions for program ideas relating to science and technology.

September 24, 2003 | Permalink


I have an alternative building discussion group scheduled for the Sheraton room: LIBERTY C Friday Sep. 3 at 1pm
(Open to all)

I wondered whether there are any earthship,strawbale,other experts who would be available?

Basic idea of the sig was "does alternative housing help fight global warming because it can be extremely energy efficient?".
Click on my name - email is at bottom of web site.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | August 20, 2004 08:08 PM

Considering that Burt Rutan & Scaled Composites have just announced that "Spaceship One" will make it's 1st attempt for the Ansari X Prize on September 29th, how about a panel to discuss the Ansari X Prize, its possible impact on future space flight, & the current status of all teams involved?

Posted by: Brian Knapp | July 27, 2004 04:26 PM


Posted by: Nani Babu | July 23, 2004 10:53 AM

If you have a global warming panel, I want to request again that both sides of the issue is represented.

Did you see the latest global warming study?
Spinach (of Popeye fame) is the newest solution for global warming.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | July 7, 2004 11:18 PM

I would love to see a Quantum Physics for beginners, or an orbital mechanics for dummies panel. Great stuff, and it helps when you read books or watch sci-fi.

Posted by: Tom Kunsman | June 9, 2004 12:04 PM

Be sure to get Professor (Dr.) Robert Katz (also author of 2 SF books) for the Diseases of the Future Panel, the Psychiatric Disorders of the Future and the Biotechnology panels. He has been a frequent program participant at cons. and will be at WorldCon.
Also it is a wonderful idea to have panels in the above 3 areas and also one mentioned on Quantum Physics for beginners -- PLEASE DO THAT ONE. And talk about String Theory. Having a better understanding of this "stuff" would greatly enhance reading SF novels that deal with it.

Posted by: Charlene T. D'Alessio | June 6, 2004 11:41 AM

I ran across an interesting article on preserving records of languages for the future -- including the long term future at What can we do to preserve information over the really long haul? Gregory Benford also wrote a book a few years ago on some similiar work.

Posted by: Mark Olson | April 2, 2004 04:32 PM

Sedna is interesting but I suggest widening the topic to the Kuiper Belt Objects and a "theological" discussion of what is a planet--Guy Consolmagno would be a good participant on this.

Posted by: Anthony Lewis | March 31, 2004 08:35 PM

"The End of Freedom?" Smart dust will watch everything we do; scanning technologies will monitor what we think; microbots will take action.

The only implausible part of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky is the happy ending!

Posted by: Taras Wolansky | March 31, 2004 12:25 PM

Panel Topic: Sedna, the 10th planet in the solar system?

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | March 16, 2004 10:07 AM

Panel Topic: Disabled in Space
I think this is always a good panel. I would like to see a story where a blind deaf mute was one of the radar operators on a spaceship.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | March 14, 2004 10:53 PM

Emergency Response in SF, or Starship Firefighters.
What happens when things go wrong?
When my dad was in the fire department, he hooked up to a hydrant, dragged the hose into the building, pointed it at the fire and squirted. Nowadays,(a very few,very well funded) Fire Departments are using GPS, intergrated helmet arrays that combine air supply monitoring and communications,Incident Command Systems, Personal Alert Safety Systems, thermal imaging, robots for bomb work, hazmat recon, realtime wireless video, etc.,etc.,etc. And that's just the stuff I'm familiar with,as a small city fireman. And I'm sure the cops and paramedics have similar changes. Many of the casualties at Chernobyl were firefighters. Emergency response folk battle hurricanes, forest fires with technology and science driven systems. And now your friendly neighborhood firefighter, paramedic and beat cop are likely to be the first to deal with such things as Bio, Chem, Rad or Nuke attacks and they'll have to deal with them for quite some time before the Feds gear up thier 'fast' response. This is a definate culture change driven by technology seems to me. Is there anyone out there in SF doing something with this?If so, who? If not, why? If it can be done,how should it be done?

Posted by: Stan Skarzynski | March 14, 2004 10:38 PM

Title: The Ethics of War Machines

Description: The military is investing serious resources into developing military robots. Some are perfectly benign like robot logistical transport vehicles. However others like pilotless fighter aircraft go well beyond to give robots the decision making authority of when and whom to kill. Aught we not be uncomfortable about turning over such decisions to machines that lack the ethical understanding of such actions?


Please give me a head's up on whether you will use this topic, as I am doing the programming for Concept 2004 and will use this one there if it doesn't get the prime time of Worldcon (I would prefer Worldcon as this is in my mind an important discussion).

Posted by: Peter Cohen | March 14, 2004 03:36 PM

How about a panel on building homes of the 21st century?

Click on my name to go to my Partial Torus of America web site, unique energy efficient homes.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | March 14, 2004 12:13 PM

I would be interested in a panel or talk about:
1.artificial intelligence (I know that they were going work on this at MIT and assume they still are); possible is time travel.

Posted by: Cat Calhou | March 7, 2004 08:37 PM

Update on the Mars missions Spirit and Opportunity, with 3-D images if possible

Update on Hubble and how we can work to save it

Update on Cassini mission

Beginning quantum physics for those without a science background--so much of current SF literature talks about quantum physics, it would be great to have an overview in layman's terms so as to understand the references better. Such as "what are quarks?" "what's a neutrino?" No math, please!

Posted by: Pam Furnace | March 5, 2004 12:46 PM

Hive Minds in Science Fiction and Reality:
There have been many interesting treatments of hive minds, (alien, human and machine) in science fiction. How do they compare to the possibilities of the hive mind species currently on earth? Is humanity a hive-mind, considering how linked it already is? If it isn't, at what point does it become one?

Posted by: Susan Weiner | February 21, 2004 12:19 PM

With the recent decision by NASA not to service the Hubble Space Telescope anymore (and to cancel servicing mission 4), this would be a good time to have a retrospective about Hubble's contributions to our understanding of the universe. I've previously given a "Hubble Highlights" talk at Mile High Con and at some astronomy departments. I plan to attend this Worldcon.

Posted by: Mike Brotherton | February 1, 2004 11:41 PM


A consistent theme of SF though the past century has been the conquest of space by people whose names and behavior are identifiably American or, at most, Western. What if it ain’t necessarily so? Forget about the American moon base – what does the fastest growing economy in the world, the dominant influence in southeast Asia and the holder of a big chunk of US Treasury notes envision as its future in space? Is a US-Chinese space race in the cards? Can we all just get along in space? Red Mars, here we come? Or does China have the technology to do more than send up a few orbiting astronauts? What about Chinese government cooperation with western space entrepreneurs? How do Chinese or Asian SF writers, if any, handle this theme?

Possible panelists: Joan Johnson-Freese, Naval War College, RI; Alice Slater, Globa Resource Action Center for the Environment, NY; Brian Harvey, author "China’s Space Program"; the usual suspects who populate con space panels.

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | January 27, 2004 06:37 PM

We will be having Junkyard Wars (and besides the traditional one, will be working on something for Artists and Costumers as well.)

Posted by: priscilla | January 26, 2004 10:25 AM

Here's one that I know has gone over beautifully at Arisia, except for this year when it was absent, and really ought to appear at WorldCon:

Junkyard Wars.

Someone PLEASE contact the NERDS ( and see if we can talk/beg/cajole them into putting on the Wars at Worldcon.

Posted by: Todd Holiman | January 26, 2004 01:12 AM

Priscilla mentioned diseases of the future. How about a complementary panel: psychiatric disorders of the future? Psychologists seem to be inventing new disorders all the time to justify 'aberrant' behaviour and, if Law and Order is to believed, defence barristers - sorry, defense attorneys - are using them all the time to justify getting their clients off. What sort of disorders will be discovered or emerge over the next fifty years. This could be either a humourous or deadly serious panel.

Posted by: David Stewart | January 15, 2004 01:29 PM

George W. Bush has unveiled his vision of the US Space Programme. What are the chances of it being fulfilled? A lot of pundits have already weighed in on this matter. But what do they know? Let's ask the experts: Science Fiction Fans.

Posted by: David Stewart | January 15, 2004 01:23 PM

Given the weather in Boston right now, is this a good time to talk about a global warming panel?

I have heard a bunch of scientist say that global warming is based on junk science. I keep asking for a panel where the two sides of global warming are represented. Have an honest discussion.

Also, I think there are wonderful scifi stories based of GW issues. Check out:

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | January 15, 2004 11:16 AM

There's a piece of NASA called the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). We should have a panel on this area, particularly since Jordan Kare has won an award from them:

People of interest who've won NIAC awards whom we may wish to contact include:

Microbots for Large-Scale Planetay Surface and Subsurface Exploration
Steven Dubowsky

"Biomining for In-Situ Resource Utilization"
Darin Ragozzine
Harvard University
(student award)

Astronaut Bio Suit System for Exploration Class Missions
Massachusetts Institute of Technolog

Electromagnetic Formation Flight
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted by: Laurie Mann | January 12, 2004 11:28 AM

How about a panel (perhaps even a mini-track) on Transhumanism and Posthumanism?

Posted by: Marlin May | January 12, 2004 11:01 AM


Fantasy Forensics - I'm also doing this one at Arisia, but it was Terry Prachett's idea. Real and imagined fantasy stuff -- do vampires get rigor mortis? Does Cthulu have fingerprints? Analyzing a crossbow wound, etc.

Current Forensics - is CSI really sci-fi? What going on with the lab scandals, etc.

Curse You Red Planet! -- The fate of Beagle 2 (if it is then known) and other expeditions to Mars.

Posted by: Lisa J. Steele | December 31, 2003 03:36 PM

Less-than-lethal weaponry? I'm doing a panel on that at Arisia in a couple of weeks. (Look for "Set Phasers on Stun") Drop me an email if you want to brainstorm or stop by the panel.

Second the suggestion of trying to get Alton Brown in, or maybe permission to do a Good Eats mini-marathon in the video room.

Posted by: Lisa J. Steele | December 31, 2003 03:29 PM

I pulled that section out of the "Times" and put it in the idea pile I'm accumulating. I'd like to do one on diseases of the future, also noted among the articles....

Posted by: priscilla | December 31, 2003 09:56 AM

And one more panel idea on "the future" -


In December 2003, the Sunday New York Times identified "some developments today that could have profound effects tomorrow… the causes of the next big things." These included a growing elderly population in developed nations; unanticipated epidemics; pressures on democracy from religious fundamentalism and the campaign against terrorism; the Internet and the rise of movement politics; high tech warfare; and the spread of global capitalism. What wild cards and longer-term trends should be added to this list? With what consequences? Leading SF authors are invited to explore key factors expected to shape society over the next fifty years.

Likely suspects: Kim Robinson, Octavia Butler, Greg Bear, Jack Womack, William Gibson, Alan Steele, Nancy Kress, Ursula LeGuin, Steve Baxter, Rudy Rucker

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | December 30, 2003 05:27 PM

David Stewart's idea on "what ever happened to the future?" would be a great topic. Here's a complimentary subject I can help organize:


Science fiction writers often use intuitive methods of trend extrapolation and media surveys to work out the background to stories set in the future. So do "professional futurists," the cadre of individuals from many disciplines who have been advising government agencies and corporations about the shape of possible futures over the past thirty years. What do futurists actually do? What range of methods do they use? Are futurists really writing non-fiction science fiction? Do science fiction writers have anything to learn from futurists - and vice versa? Panelists from both sides of the futurist/SF community will examine these issues.

Likely suspects: Futurists drawn from the Boston Chapter of the World Future Society: Seth Itzkan (Planet Tech and head of board of directors of Boston Chapter), Michele Bowman (Global Foresight Associates and co-director of Boston Chapter). SF participants drawn from the "Future Boston" workshop, which included David Alexander Smith, Alexander Jablokov, Steven Popkes, Sara Smith

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | December 30, 2003 05:01 PM

Zentinal beat me to it, but let me strongly support the idea of a presentation from the MIT Media Lab. Here's how I would put the subject; I'd be glad to help organize a panel:


What’s cookin’ at the Media Lab? MIT’s well known research organization has garnered a reputation as a leading-edge center for developments in machine understanding, affective computing, advanced interface design, nanomedia, silicon biology and digital expression, among other fields, that may influence how we use technology in the years ahead - not to mention provide fertile ideas for science fiction stories. This panel features presentations from Lab researchers on a sample of current activities.

Possible participants (more likely their assistants): Bruce Blumberg (synthetic characters), Cynthia Breazeal & Patty Maes (human-robot interaction), Judith Donath (sociable media), Joseph Jacobson (molecular machines), William Mitchell (smart cities). Commentary by Joe Haldeman, SF author and occasional teacher at MIT

Note: I got a lot of this info from their website -

Also, there is so much rich material here you could have a panel alone on robotics and another on computer interfaces/smart homes/smart cities research. And then there's the folks at the Computer Science & AI Lab... And a field trip to see, and maybe tour, the Frank Geahry building housing all the above by the time the con opens.

Posted by: Dennis Livingston | December 30, 2003 04:53 PM

Spacecraft Operator Training: You've seen the scientists at JPL during Mars Rover operations, but what goes on before spacecraft missions? Everyone involved trains, with scenarios specially thought up full of Things That Can Go Wrong. What's involved in playing, both from the perspective of people responding to the scenarios, and of the people who create them?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | December 12, 2003 04:41 AM

Re; Cooking and Food

Natick Labs is part of the Army Quartermaster Corps (I am sure they have some other name now). They develop food, clothing etc. for soldiers. For example, they developed shark repellant (WWII) and later MREs (some connection there?). They also developed extreme cold-weather gear, etc. They probably have some public relations officer who could arrange for speakers.

Posted by: Anthony Lewis | December 5, 2003 02:29 PM

If we could actually find someone who could speak authoritatively on this, that could be very cool.

Posted by: priscilla | December 1, 2003 11:22 AM

Has a panel on "Unusual Personalities in the History of Science" ever been done at a WorldCon? With Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle novels coming out, this may create more interest among the WorldCon population about the history of science.

I read Timothy Harris' "Coming of Age in the Milky Way" and was surprised to find out that Kepler was such a jerk and Sir Isaac Newton was such an oddball. There is certainly a lot that could be said about Nikola Tesla or, more recently, Kary Mullins.

Posted by: Michael Kingsley | December 1, 2003 09:10 AM

On The Future of TV, lets not forget the Broadcast Flag and various broadcasters saying that people who use TiVos to skip adverts are thieves. Combine this with DVD regions and the use of the DMCA to control what would have been fair use rights, and you have a more distopian view of the future of home entertainment. The Future of TV - utopia or distopia?

Posted by: Dave Clements | November 23, 2003 10:31 PM

OLEDs are in use on the newest Kodak digital cameras--Kodak has a bunch of the patents in that area. There are other technologies, like "Digital Ink" that in still in not-ready-for-commercial-use state, that carry the promise of making electronic paper, so that you can carry one "book" with "digital paper" in it and have any of several novels that you can flip through the pages of.... Perhaps there should be a panel looking at "Entertainment in the Future" from the perspective of downloading magazines and novels onto a Digital Ink bound volume, etc.

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | November 17, 2003 04:27 PM

On the future of television, USAToday has an article on OLED (organic light emmiting diode) so TV screens and monitors can be paper thin. You still may buy a newpaper from a street box but it could be digital.

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | November 17, 2003 12:52 PM

Is "Convergence" Occurring? Last decade, the biz buzzwork in entertainment was "convergence" -- the ideas that television, the Internet, radio, telephones, and entertainment were all going to merge together into one all-encompassing digital form, where telepresence, virtual reality, print, audio, and video would all come together. Are we really heading to the world of "Day Million," or is "Convergence" headed for the flying car scrapheap?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | November 16, 2003 06:01 AM

On the future of television, what will products like TIVO do to TV? View when you want to. Edit out commercials. Will comercials overlay the show so you can't edit it out?

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | November 14, 2003 02:25 PM

Would a panel on the technology of television be worth it? By 2006, the FCC has demanded that all US stations change their format to HDTV. The price of HDTVs has been dropping over time, but it's still up there at around $1500. How's HDTV going to change the market? What will it do to change the way we watch television? Also, what will the future bring to the tech of television?

Posted by: Bill Todd | November 14, 2003 05:18 AM

Language and linguistics is an area which often has an appeal to SF fans. There are several things that could be done here: linguistics in SF novels; speculation about what a truly weird language might look like (maybe a design a language workshop); something on where the current science and technology of the field are. On the last of these, there are many good sources of academic linguistics locally (MIT, Harvard, Brandeis) as well as numerous companies in the speech and language area. If nothing else, a panel like this might prove to MIT linguists that there are other points of view to theirs (humph!).

Posted by: David Elworthy | November 9, 2003 10:46 PM

What happened the future? We used to walk on the moon but that was 30 years ago. We used to travel at supersonic speeds but the world's only supersonic air-liner ceased operations last month. What went wrong?

Posted by: David Stewart | November 3, 2003 05:08 PM

On the future of cooking, you have the small pizza in Back to the Future II becoming big? You have the Spy Kids cooking freeze dried McDonalds. You have Fifth Element and the resturant coming to your hirise window.

What other future cooking movies did I forget?

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | November 2, 2003 04:07 PM

The suggestion of a panel on the science of cooking brought this to mind.

How about a panel on the future of food? Science fiction is full of people eating full meals as pills or squeezing fully nutritious goop into their mouths. What will we eat? What should we eat? Any food scientists out there who can talk about what they're working on, without violating their NDAs? ;-)

And don't forget, "Soylent Green is People!"

Posted by: Zentinal | November 1, 2003 10:33 PM

I _love_ that idea (and have all those books too.). We can do a demo (make mayonnaise) too.....(I've done this in various classes, btw....). Now, if we could only get Alton Brown.....?

Posted by: priscilla | November 1, 2003 01:47 PM

An interesting talk if someone can be recruited to do it:

The Science of Cooking

There are a number of books out there on this subject. No idea if any of the authors are in the Boston area though...

Posted by: Dave Clements | November 1, 2003 08:22 AM

What Goes around, Comes around -- Resurrected theories and ideas. Continental drift, cancers caused by virus, neural networks, and string theory are all ideas/theories which have in common that they enjoyed some popularity, went into eclipse, and then came roaring back years later, with new support and and supporters. Why can/do theories have such cyclic lives, and what makes for changes that cause hibernating theories and ideas, to come to life again?

Posted by: Paula Lieberman | October 30, 2003 03:44 AM

Items from Torcon worth repeating:

Astronomy News of the Year (only with a full timeslot this time!) - I'd be happy to contribute to this if I'm there.

Tall Technical Tales - always a goodie!

Posted by: Dave Clements | October 27, 2003 12:12 PM

Superconductivity 101

Superconductivity has gone through a revolution in the last 15 years, with higher critical temperature materials being found. As things settle down, maybe its time to review them from an SF perspective. Is there anything stopping room temperature superconductors? Can they be used as infinite batteries? Do they stay at the same temperature from one end to the other, and thus act as perfect heat pipes? What about their use technologically - in devices like SQUIDs, in power transmission, and in high field magnets?

There must be some professor at MIT or Harvard who could tlak about them!

Posted by: Dave Clements | October 27, 2003 12:11 PM

The MIT Media Lab seems to have fallen out of the spotlight lately. What have they been up to? Maybe the lab can send a representative over to do a presentation on recent developments. Do any members of the Con Com have contacts at MIT?

Posted by: Zentinal | October 24, 2003 10:45 PM

Terraforming Venus
Mars will be child's play. The Moon, Ganymede and Mercury are blank slates awaiting the atmosphere generators. Titan and Europa are halfway there already. But the real challenge in our solar system is right next door. What are the challenges? How do we go about making a heaven out of hell?

Posted by: Matt Jarpe | October 23, 2003 08:19 AM

How about a panel on the state of "less than lethal" weapons technology? I.e. stunguns, tasers, capture nets etc.

Posted by: Gary Echternacht | October 21, 2003 11:46 AM

Boston is one of the country's three great centers for biotechnology, and we are (arguably) entering the centry of biotech. We could bring together some biotech scientists and some writers (OK, I happen to be both) to discuss what is possible now, and what we might be able to achieve in the near and the far future.

Posted by: Matt Jarpe | October 15, 2003 01:05 PM

It doesn't cost much to ask!

I don't know whether he would speak for free or
not, but we'd never know without contacting him

Posted by: Laurie Mann | October 9, 2003 05:33 AM

Unfortunately, Would Pinker speak for "free"? Would he do it for a "free" convention membership?

Posted by: David J Van Deusen | October 8, 2003 09:45 PM

I've heard Pinker speak, and he is VERY good. I agree with Alex. Pinker would be a dynamite speaker.

Posted by: Laurie Mann | October 8, 2003 07:35 PM

One of the world's leading experts on language and how the mind is put together is at MIT: Steven Pinker, author of "Words and Rules" and "The Blank Slate". He's supposed to be a fun speaker; it'd be great to see him in person.

Posted by: Alex von Thorn | October 7, 2003 11:00 PM

Mass High Tech

Massachusetts has been home to many great inventions over the years - the minicomputer, the birth control pill, the first liquid fuel rocket. A panel of people (preferably people who actually worked on some of these projects, (is Ken Olsen still in Massachusetts?), or people knowledgeable about this topic) talk about the past, present and future of Massachusetts' technological innovations.

Posted by: Laurie Mann | October 7, 2003 08:27 AM

Implantable technologies. Which one(s) will be the first to achieve mass-market success? Mandibular Cell Phones? Liquid crystal mood patches? Glucose powered LEDs feeding fiber optic hairs? Where the heck would someone go to get a cell phone implant anyway, assuming that the FDA wouldn't allow such a thing in the U.S.?

Posted by: Zentinal | October 6, 2003 10:05 PM

There are a lot of new technologies out there on the Internet for people to publish their views, work together on projects or publish sofisticated websites. Technologies like Wiki, DocBook, weblogs or Forrest for instance.
A discussion on the merits of these technologies and how they have an effect on how we communicate about science fiction (fandom).

Matybe you should have a two-parter: first do a show and tell on the technologies and then have a panel discussion.

Posted by: Nico Veenkamp | October 3, 2003 05:59 AM

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