Dr. Bruce Damer
Bruce Frederick Damer, PhD (born 31 January 1962) is a Canadian-American multi-disciplinary scientist, designer, and speaker. He works in evolutionary biology researching the question of the origin of life and the exploration and economic development of space. He also has a practice in the design of innovative software systems interfaces and a passion for collecting and curating historical archives in computing history and leading figures of the counter-culture.
Dr. Damer is associate researcher in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he collaborated with Prof. David Deamer to develop and publish (in 2015) the Coupled Phases model for the origin of life and in 2016 the full conception of the Terrestrial Origin of Life Hypothesis. This is perhaps the first "end-to-end" model proposed for life's origins. The model begins with simple dissolved solutes and presents a testable series of steps which would carry encapsulated molecular systems far from equilibrium to a system capable of sustained growth and evolution. Dr. Damer's TEDx talk and the Terrestrial Origins Wiki summarize this work.
From 1999 to 2009 Dr. Damer's company, DigitalSpace Corporation, was awarded contracts by NASA to build an open source 3D modeling platform for the simulation and design of space missions. He has recently completed a 30-year effort to design a concept spacecraft capable of harvesting resources from asteroids. In collaboration with Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and Julian Nott of Nott Technologies he has proposed SHEPHERD, a spacecraft using a fabric structure to safely encapsulate asteroids. Using an introduced atmosphere, SHEPHERD would then handle, relocate, and extract volatiles from the asteroid, including water; minerals such as nickel for 3D fabrication; and create biospheres to sustain human life in space. See Dr. Damer's TEDx talk on how SHEPHERD may be the key innovation to open the solar system to civilization and a future pathway for life itself.
Curation and Collection: DigiBarn Computer Museum
While working with Elixir and Xerox in the late 1980s, Dr. Damer began to collect artifacts and compile the oral history of computing focusing on the origin of the graphical user interface. Over the years he has built up one of the largest collections of computer artifacts and documents on the history of computing, now housed in his 5,000 square foot barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Silicon Valley. Opened to visitors by appointment since 2002, the DigiBarn Computer Museum collaborates with the Vintage Computer Festival and Computer History Museum to host important anniversary events and conduct numerous oral history projects, often featuring lesser-known innovators.
Historical Archives: Counter-Cultural Figures and Virtual Worlds
In the late 1990s, Dr. Damer met the American philosopher and storyteller Terence McKenna and formed a collaboration investigating the connection between computer virtual worlds and the inner worlds experienced through alternative states of consciousness. Following McKenna's death in 2000 he worked with Lorenzo Hagerty to digitally remaster McKenna's talks and collect his last remaining papers. In 2006 he became an agent for the estate of Dr.Timothy Leary and received the remaining books, news archive, record collection, and ephemera from Leary's archives. Working with the Internet Archive he established several online libraries of historical materials: Psychedelia, which contains unique materials from counter-cultural figures and Archiving Virtual Worlds focused on the early history of virtual worlds, and games, built in collaboration with Dr. Henry Lowood of Stanford University.
Software Design: 1990s Virtual Worlds
Beginning in the 1990s, Dr. Damer helped organize and develop the field of Internet-based multi-user virtual worlds through the Contact Consortium, which he established with anthropologist Jim Funaro. The Contact Consortium hosted many of the first online experiments in persistent 3D and 2D graphical environments with users interacting using avatars. His book Avatars: Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds (1997) chronicled the platforms and experiments during this innovative period. Dr. Damer collaborated with other researchers and entrepreneurs to found a number of conference series to forward the field including the annual Avatars conferences (1996-2004), Digital Biota (1997-99, 2001), and VLearn3D (1999-2002). At the Earth to Avatars conference in October 1996, several individuals met who would go on to new Internet venture (Reid Hoffman, John Sculley) and academic disciplines (Celia Pierce, Brenda Laurel). The Avatars98 conference was the first conference to be hosted entirely online in graphical virtual worlds. At the 1998 Digital Biota 2 meeting in Cambridge, UK, Richard Dawkins conceived of his book The God Delusion while listening to a speech by Douglas Adams. In 2000 Dr. Damer met with Prof. Dawkins in Oxford and first proposed a computer simulation framework and international competition for the origin of life that became his Evolution Grid project.
Software Innovation: 1980s Optical Computing, Early Computer User Interfaces
In the mid 1980s, while an undergraduate at the University of Victoria, Dr. Damer developed and presented architectures and simulation software for optical computing at IBM Canada Development Laboratory (now IBM Toronto Software Lab) and IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center and carried on this work as a graduate student at the University of Southern California. In 1987 he joined Elixir Technologies Corporation as one of the first two software developers and co-authored one of the first graphical desktop environments on IBM-compatible personal computers, drawing from the Xerox Star 8010 workstation. This software was sold worldwide by Xerox, IBM, and others to enterprises and governments generating electronic documents through high-speed laser printing systems
Dr. Damer attended public schools in Victoria and Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. In 1980 he began undergraduate studies in computer science at Cariboo College (now Thompson Rivers University), graduating with the a BSc from the University of Victoria in 1984. In 1981 he completed a study course in British history during a summer Guardian Study Vacation programme Royal Holloway College, U.K. In 1985 he began graduate studies in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California. In 1986 he completed his MSEE degree and determined that his desired PhD thesis topic, using computers to simulate emergent lifelike phenomena, was too ambitious for existing computers and networks and for his potential doctoral committee. He returned to this project in 2008, earning his PhD in 2011 at University College Dublin in Ireland for work on The EvoGrid: An Approach to Computational Origin of Life Endeavours (PDF).
Teaching and Posts
Dr. Damer is currently an associate researcher in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering, UC Santa Cruz. From 1985-87 he served as a research assistant and graduate student at the Optical Materials and Devices Laboratory, University of Southern California. From 1987-94 he was a software developer at Elixir Technologies Corporation and subsequently served as CTO, board member and advisor (2001-present). From 1991-94, he was a member, of the staff in the Department of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University, Prague, teaching software engineering approaches in special projects to student teams. During this same period Dr. Damer became involved in the development and re-integration of post-communist Czechosolovakia hosting Silicon Valley style networking functions, helping equip a laboratory at Charles University and organizing a US tour for a Czech professor to raise support for education. In 1997 he served on the staff of San Francisco State University Multimedia Studies Program. He currently serves as an advisor to the Transformative Technology Lab at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California. In the past 20 years Dr. Damer has presented seminars and course modules at hundreds of conferences, universities, and companies worldwide.
Design and Artwork
Dr. Damer's design portfolio ranges from early software user interfaces, avatar virtual world for learning and events, spacecraft concepts, chemical models for the origin of life, and recently, innovative costuming marrying Rennaissance themes with 21st Century wearable technology with the Cyberwearz project. Dr. Damer is a visual thinker using sketching to develop ideas. In his teenage years he produced a series of fantasy art/technology pieces called Weird Machines as well as published comic strips.
Intellectual Property Practice
In 1997 Lawrence Lessig attended a presentation about avatars and property in virtual worlds by Dr. Damer which influenced Lessig's first book Code and other Laws of Cyberspace. Dr. Damer became an avid early supporter of Lessig's Creative Commons, his DigiBarn being one of the initial sites to launch with the first CC licenses in 2002. In 2005 he helped draft part of a brief for the US Copyright Office to present to the US Congress on orphan works. Engaged by law firms such as K&L Gates, Dr. Damer has helped win a number of patent litigaton cases for clients through his expertise in the history of computing and user interfaces.
Storytelling Performances and Podcasts
Dr. Damer performs as a storyteller on a range of subjects under the moniker science + vision = hope. He began performing in 2003 and is featured at venues such as Burning Man, and the Esalen Institute. He also performs at music and art festivals worldwide including Buddhafield, Symbiosis, Rainbow Serpent, Earth Frequency, and Lightning in a Bottle, covering topics ranging through science, space, deep evolutionary history, questions of origins, and the meaning and future of the human enterprise. Many of these talks many be found online through podcasts such as the Joe Rogan Experience, the Psychedelic Salon, the Biota Podcast, the Space Show, the Dr. Future Show, the C-Realm, the Midwest Real Podcast, and the Tink Tink Club. A good selection of Dr. Damer's talks and philosophy as well as conversations and featured guest speakers are collected together in his own Levity Zone podcast.
Dr. Damer is a follower of a scientific version of the philosophy of liminality occupying a liminal boundary between rational, reductionist, materialist approaches to reality but open to inspiration from alternative states of consciousness. He has built a practice of intentionally seeking visionary experiences through meditative states that can be grounded in scientific insights or guiding stories. He has refined this philosophy since childhood when he occupied himself entering imaginal worlds and expressing those worlds through his artwork. Dr. Damer is currently researching a book based on interviews with other practitioners of what he terms the "endo way", meaning insights sourced through endogenous methods who then pragmatically apply their insights to real world applications.
Bruce Damer is married to Galen Brandt, a singer, musician, writer, and virtual reality performer and presenter of VR applications in medicine and psychology. Damer met her in 1996 in San Francisco when she attended his first conference on virtual worlds. The couple perform together at events mixing Brandt's song and storytelling with Damer's science and visionary fare.
Dr. Damer’s work has been covered in: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC World Service, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times, BoingBoing, Leonardo, CNNfn, CBS News, Space.com, MSNBC, CNET, Wired, Popular Science, Astrobiology.net, Discovery & History Channels, Christian Science Monitor, New Scientist, Suddeutchland Zeitung, Ars Electronica's CyberArts, Kybernetes, 3D Design, SIGGRAPH, COMDEX, InfoWorld, Knowledge Management, The Chronicle of Higher Education, ACM SIGCHI, Computer Graphics, CSCW, and elsewhere. Some of these are listed in media stories and in video and documentaries and in audio and interviews.
"The entire scope of my work since I was in my teen years is to try to understand how life came into being and how we humans can find a technological way to carry life forward, beyond the womb of the Earth. Of course I am also interested in other subjects and experiences in between these two very widely separated questions."
Contact and Booking
Dr. Damer is open to involvement in suitable creative endeavours and may be booked to present his work in science and technology as well as storytelling performances. Feel free to contact him here.
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