Human beings have always been explorers and adventurers, pushing the boundaries of the human body and mind in the quest to discover unknown parts of our world. The extreme cold nearly killed Ernest Shackleton on his first expedition to Antarctica, as he battled snow blindness and frostbite. Deep sea divers must combat high pressure and claustrophobic darkness as they explore the unknown reaches of the ocean floor. Even researchers like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey must prepare their bodies and minds to live in relative isolation in order to spend decades in largely unpopulated regions among their animal subjects.

Space is the newest frontier that encompasses both mankind’s attraction to the unknown and its tenacity in the face of impossibility. Fifty years ago, the first man walked on the moon, and today, a manned mission to Mars feels within reach. However, space exploration has always required mental and physical fortitude, and the qualifications for becoming an astronaut are notoriously stringent. And despite the exponential learning curve in this field, we still don’t know how human beings will react — mentally or physiologically — to months or even years on extraterrestrial soil.

In this unscripted panel discussion, two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, New York Times fitness journalist Gretchen Reynolds, and outdoor photographer Michael Clark will examine the ways in which we can prepare our bodies and minds for survival in extreme, uncharted, and unknown environments.

As people continue to flock to cities, new developments in urban design, architecture, and technology are transforming how we live, work, commute, eat, and learn in urban environments. The rapid rise of the Digital Age has all but reinvented our day-to-day urban lives, as breakthroughs in science and technology muddy the waters between the physical world and the cyber world. There’s no doubt the New York, London, and Buenos Aires of today would shock city-dwellers from a century ago, who traveled without checking directions on an iPhone, lived in apartments insulated with asbestos, and had never heard of recycling plants.

But 21st century cities face new obstacles every day, which require bold solutions that will upend urban life once more. Population increases, housing crunches, food and water shortages, the spread of disease, and the onset of war are all problems accosting our rapidly-growing cities. Meanwhile, climate change is already starting to impact metropolises across the globe as rising temperatures and weather phenomena cause financial, infrastructural, and societal devastation. In the not too distant future, we will all be living in cities confronted with extreme environmental, social, and political challenges. We might even build cities on other planets altogether, where we will have a clean slate to plan ethical, resource-efficient, and eco-conscious urban spaces.

The Extremophile Cities panel discussion with urban designer Nicholas de Monchaux, architect and former astrophysicist Ann Pendleton-Jullian, urban soundscape designer Jake Harper, and business strategist Suparno Banerjee will address the complex issues and collective solutions of urban life in severe environments, from cites that might be underwater in a few decades to those we might create on other planets.

Zero-gravity environments. Alien intelligence. Sustainable algae-based food. The next universe is the ocean. In fact settling the oceans is the best way to save this planet, and the best way to save us from ourselves. The sustainability department at NASA Ames watched The Eight Great Moral Imperatives of Seasteading video series and invited Joe Quirk to speak to their engineers. Seasteading is not only a way to test space colonies at sea. It’s a way to end state political conflict forever and build sustainable societies on two-thirds of the worlds’ surface. Several companies have already begun.

The origin of life on Earth remains a hotly contested question among scientists. Maybe life began in the depths of the ocean, or with an electric spark, or in a small pond that repeatedly dried. Perhaps the answer to this question will be found through our understanding of the role that RNA played in the evolution of early life, or maybe there are myriad ways for life to start.

Figuring out the source of all life on our own planet is tricky enough, but scientists are also setting their sights on the possibility of the existence of life in space. In this case, we don’t mean Laika the dog orbiting Earth or human volunteers one day colonizing Mars, but life forms that originated and organized their own way of life on other planets. While we might not yet know if life exists outside of own biosphere or solar system, in order to discover and identify other living beings in the universe, we must first understand how life itself originates.

The Building Life from Scratch panel discussion will feature biologist Chris Kempes, botanist David Baum, chemist Kate Adamala, and journalist Alexandra Witze as they address one approach to the origins of life question: building new and different types of life from scratch.

Arch Mission’s Nova Spivak speaks about the successful 2019 launch to the moon.

The Arch Lunar Library™ represents the first in a series of lunar archives from the Arch Mission Foundation, designed to preserve the records of our civilization for up to billions of years. It is installed in the SpaceIL “Beresheet” lunar lander, scheduled to land on the Moon in April of 2019.

The Lunar Library contains a 30 million page archive of human history and civilization, covering all subjects, cultures, nations, languages, genres, and time periods.

The Library is housed within a 100 gram nanotechnology device that resembles a 120mm DVD. However it is actually composed of 25 nickel discs, each only 40 microns thick, that were made for the Arch Mission Foundation by NanoArchival.

From the early days of Oregon Trail in junior high computer labs to contemporary RPGs played by millions of users from their home PCs, electronic games provide a source of entertainment, escapism, and insight into human behavior. Games come in many forms, from abstract puzzles to adventure games with quests and backstories to simulations where players race cars and fly airplanes. Game design requires world building, which often mimics the complex landscape of narratives, behaviors, environments, and problem solving that we see in real life.

Technological advancements have allowed for new ways to experience gameplay, different platforms for game design, and creative methods of storytelling and strategizing. Social networks allow for increased interconnectivity between users, while mobile gaming enables location to become another dimension of game design. Gaming is still at the dawn of its evolution, and the elements of design continue to grow in dynamic and complex ways, allowing for surprising and interactive gameplay that is transforming this industry as we know it.

The Gaming panel discussion will feature game designers Frank LantzTarn AdamsLauren Scott, and Jonathan Blow as they explore the complexity of game design, strategy, and user interaction, and what we in the “real world” can learn from the virtual world.

Using our innate senses of creativity and invention, we can tell stories about all kinds of places that never were and might never be. We can talk about what life is like in a human colony on Mars or chronicle what would happen in an alternative history where World War II never took place. We can give people the ability to turn invisible or invent an Earth whose air has become unbreathable. We can describe a society that has made wealth illegal or create a world where humans don’t even exist. The limits are only as narrow as our imaginations.

World building requires consideration of the many different elements that make up complex systems. Geography, culture, government, technology, and even supernatural abilities are all in conversation with each other, connected like the threads of a spider web. Changing even one small component in an otherwise familiar construct can send ripples throughout these systems and alter the entire world in profound and unexpected ways.

The World Building panel discussion will tackle the issues and process of constructing imaginary worlds and what we can learn from them. This unscripted conversation features literature professor Michael Drout, speculative fiction writer Rebecca Roanhorse, and fantasy authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who collectively write under the pen name James S.A. Corey, and moderated by SFI Professor Cris Moore.

Time often feels like it’s moving at a different pace. Five minutes can feel like an eternity when you’re waiting for the heat from a habanero pepper to fade, but three hours can feel like no time at all when you’re having dinner with an old friend. Children seem to grow up at an astonishing rate, while under the same roof, our own grey hairs and wrinkles slowly appear, year after year. To a mayfly, one day is a lifetime, but to a planet, millennia are gone in a blip. Scientists have even discovered a species of jellyfish that reverts, phoenix-like, to an immature stage of life instead of dying. What does time mean to an immortal jellyfish?

Memories, traditions, and history might lend human beings a semblance of immortality, but we are constantly reckoning with the effects of time. Through technology, medicine, and even the creative arts, human beings have invented ways to slow the effects of aging, increase life expectancy, and appreciate the time we have on earth. To us, time might feel like a relentless arrow hurtling forward towards an unreachable target, but to our ever-expanding universe, time isn’t composed of a clearly delineated past, present, and future. Death comes for us all, as they say, but as our understanding of time shifts, perhaps it will no longer be considered the end.

This unscripted panel discussion with physicist Sean Carroll, chef Mark Miller, and molecular biologist Coleen Murphy will explore time from physical, experiential, and biological perspectives, using current scientific understanding as a springboard for to imagining how we might live, and die, in an interplanetary civilization.


Orangutans, octopuses, and ravens might appear to have little in common, but they are among the most intelligent species on Earth, capable of recognizing faces and using tools. For animals of lesser individual intelligence, they often make better decisions by using the collective wisdom of the entire group. Flocks of birds rely on group intel to find the best trees at dinnertime, and herds of elk improve their chances of survival by communicating with each other about the presence of dangerous predators.

But not all intelligence is biological. Advancements in AI and machine learning demonstrate a level of comprehension and problem solving that is rapidly approaching human-level brainpower. Computers are already able to win chess games against champions, make mathematical computations at warp speed, and mimic our language and conversations. Even networks like the Internet, the stock market, and the health care system are all forms of complex intelligence. And as we venture further into the universe, perhaps we will find forms of extraterrestrial intelligence that are biological, artificial, or something else altogether.

The Diverse Intelligence panel discussion will tackle the wide-ranging scope of intelligence, from the evolution of the human mind to the complex systems our technology has birthed to forms of intelligence that are yet to be invented or discovered. This unscripted panel features SFI President David Krakauer, anthropologist Erica Cartmill, sociologist Jacob Foster, and filmmaker Oscar Sharp.

The uniquely cataclysmic outcomes that climate change, food shortages, and once-in-a-lifetime weather events will have on Black people is a question that recent history has already begun to answer. Hurricanes Maria and Katrina, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, among other crises have made it clear that Black people and people of color will shoulder the burden of these coming crises.

The question of what fate will befall human kind as our world struggles, and fails, to support us has sometimes been reserved for scientists. Creative Black Futures asserts that these are quandaries well suited for poets, artists, and writers as well. We will consider afrofuturism, afropessimism, the role of interracial solidarity, and the potential for intergalactic colonialism.

Creative Black Futures will feature poet and writer Cyree Jarelle Johnson; multidisciplinary artist Kiyan Williams; writer Ras Mashramani; artist Marcelline Mandeng; and poet, curator, and artist An Duplan.