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iMeme 07: Musing with tech's top people

Fortune's iMeme conference in July brings together top tech thinkers on a dizzying range of topics. With change coming faster and new ideas emerging every day, at iMeme we slow down and talk it all through.

By David Kirkpatrick, Fortune senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Even as we live more and more of our lives online, the impulse to gather in physical space grows stronger. So we are organizing something called Fortune's iMeme: The Thinkers of Tech, a gathering in San Francisco in mid-July. There Fortune's staff will sit down together with some of the smartest technology leaders to make sense of where we are going.

We hope ideas will flow freely in a loosely-structured forum, with luminaries ranging from Hewlett-Packard (Charts, Fortune 500) CEO Mark Hurd to former Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison (who co-founded Garageband.com). I have the privilege of leading the discussions, in the tradition of Brainstorm, a conference Fortune hosted five times in Aspen. (Details about iMeme can be found here.)

The opening session will look at how some of the most successful Internet companies are seeking to make themselves into platforms that give other companies opportunities to thrive. I'll moderate a discussion among Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, Marissa Mayer of Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab (which operates Second Life), and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. The final session will feature HP's Hurd on that company's amazing evolution.

On the first day we'll hear Cisco (Charts, Fortune 500) CEO John Chambers talk with Qualcomm's (Charts, Fortune 500) Paul Jacobs and Telstra's Sol Trujillo about what's happening in telecom; Sun (Charts, Fortune 500) CEO Jonathan Schwartz will discuss the challenges of running a computer giant in the Internet age; environmentalist Amory Lovins will sit on a panel examining why tech is going crazy about matters green; and Verisign (Charts) CEO Stratton Sclavos joins a conversation about why identity and trust are so critical to the further growth of the Internet and the economy as a whole.

At dinner, a trio of the world's most thoughtful scientists and futurists will give us their predictions of the next important memes, or rapidly-spreading ideas. We're especially pleased to welcome Richard Dawkins, the biologist who coined the word "meme" (and author of the current bestseller "The God Delusion"). He'll be joined by genomics pioneer Craig Venter as well as Bill Joy, who Fortune called "the Edison of the Internet." I expect a mind-blowing conversation.

The next day, Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks, joins Harrison, HP CTO Shane Robison and top music industry executives to take stock of the wrenching changes digital technology has had on that industry and what it portends for others. Venture capitalists including Mike Moritz, Jim Breyer, and Fred Wilson will discuss the pleasures and terrors of their profession.

To help us deconstruct the growing open-source movement we've gathered Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and an open-source entrepreneur, with Mitchell Baker of Mozilla and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Wikia( where he aims to develop an open-source search engine).

I'll interview Vint Cerf of Google onstage as he takes stock of the next phase of the Internet phenomenon he played a big role in launching. And leaders of new and old media will debate the future. Will giants like NBC, represented by digital chief and rising star Beth Comstock, prevail over the burgeoning insurgents? Glam Media CEO Samir Arora gives the insurgent view, with Jeremy Allaire of Brightcove explaining how he's arming both sides in this battle.

Another session will look at how man is merging with machines as computers get smarter and stunning new interfaces get access directly to our minds. Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Motorola, along with John Gage of Sun and others, will examine the growing opportunities for tech globally, and another panel will explore opportunities and challenges in developing countries. The CEOs of Zillow, Slide and Craigslist will explain how the energies of empowered individuals help build their Internet businesses. And top executives of Google, Yahoo and Ask.com will debate the reshaping of online services, as search grows ever more important and advertising morphs alongside it.

Fortune's aim in organizing iMeme, and mine in hosting it, is to find in all these diverse sessions some larger whole. Discerning where we are all going together in this topsy-turvy industry has never been more challenging. I see the conference as a sort of real-world extension of this weekly column - bringing the debates I write about each week onstage and into a room. There, together, we will compose the story of what's next. Top of page