Ars Technica Live Brings Tech Talks to Eli’s

On the third Wednesday of each month, Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland opens its doors to a no-cost, free-wheeling program of in-depth conversations with some of the Bay Area’s most creative minds, sponsored by the technology site Ars Technica.


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Photo by Pat Mazzera

Come for the tater tots and the punk rock ambience. Stay for the science, technology, and culture. Or vice versa. On the third Wednesday of each month, Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland opens its doors to a no-cost, free-wheeling program of in-depth conversations with some of the Bay Area’s most creative minds, sponsored by the technology site Ars Technica.

Originally hosted at Longitude, the late, lamented tiki bar, the Ars Technica Live recording session and podcast was inaugurated in April 2016. Ars Technica culture editor Annalee Newitz usually co-hosts the event with one of her colleagues. Guests have ranged from environmental scientist Lynn Ingram to Test.com founder

Norman Chan to anthropologist Krish Seetah, who studies the history of butchery (and was heckled by PETA members).

“One of the things we try to do when we [schedule] guests is hit various areas of nerdom,” Newitz said in an interview. “One month we’ll have someone who’s involved in legal policy. The next we’ll have someone who’s involved in defense tech.”

Audience size can vary, depending on the guest and topic.

Newitz said a “ton” of people arrived to hear hacker, journalist, and security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire.

“We had just had this election,” Newitz said, “and they were worried about safety and security online—safety from the government, basically.”

Founder of the influential science fiction and science site io9.com and author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, Newitz has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley and was an Electronic Frontier Foundation policy analyst. Recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship, she was at one time culture editor for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Working for the Bay Guardian, Newitz said, “set me on a course of never having a job in a normal place.”

She has spent her career thinking about, writing about, and using computer networks. Her experience informs her acclaimed new novel, Autonomous.

“It’s basically a coming-of-age story about a robot who is just trying to figure out his place in the world and why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Don’t think, though, that it’s anything like a novelization of Pixar’s WALL•E. Paladin, one of the book’s robotic main characters, is heavily weaponized and intends to kill a likable pharmaceutical pirate who has made a deadly mistake with her products. Set in 2144, the book grapples with issues around health care, patent law, artificial intelligence, and the concept of ownership.

“I wanted the book set far enough in the future that it would be believable that there would be things like artificially intelligent robots,” Newitz said. “I wanted the geopolitics of the world to be significantly different from our own but still recognizable.”

Newitz said she and Paladin think a lot alike. “Like a lot of nerds, I tend to be superanalytical about everything, including emotional situations or sex. Anything I’m supposed to be not thinking about, I usually spend way too much time thinking about. So it was easy for me to imagine a character who analyzes everything.”

Newitz said she spent much time outlining the plot and researching the science for her novel: “I’m a giant planning nerd.”

Yet she’s also capable of snap decisions. Within minutes of walking through the door, Newitz knew Eli’s was the right Ars Technica Live venue. “I went into the restroom and was like, ‘All this graffiti makes me feel at home.’”

Although Newitz resides in San Francisco, she’s glad Ars Technica Live calls Oakland home. “Oakland often gets overshadowed by San Francisco, which it shouldn’t,” she said. “It has its own identity, it’s own relationship to California history, its own industries. Now is a great time to be celebrating that.”

 

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