BERKELEY -- It's no secret: People here love to talk.

You could say the tendency is uncharted. And on Oct. 25 and 26, during the inaugural Uncharted, The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, a two-day medley of minds, talking will be off the charts, unleashed and unlimited.

Independently owned local news site Berkeleyside hosts the extravaganza, with editor Lance Knobel curating the approximately 20 events. The primary action takes place on either side of downtown Berkeley's Addison Street, at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. A party from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, will serve unfettered conversation, hors d'oeuvres and libations.

Designed with the gladiator-style notions that contention leads to diverse thought and immersion breeds imaginative explosions, Uncharted is not a conference. And it's not about Berkeley, although the location is pivotal, Knobel insisted in an interview.

"It's the collision and mixing of different ideas and it's meant to be an experience with a diverse menu," he said. "Talking about ideas in Berkeley was a natural choice. Although it's only 120,000 people, Berkeley punches way above its weight."

After all, in the 1920s, Berkeley introduced professional policing and in the 1960s integration via busing found early roots on the city's streets, Knobel said. "Uncharted" will toss politics, race, food, environment, science, technology and public policy into the ring -- invited speakers, moderators and attendees are encouraged not to pull their punches.


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"If you just want to hear people talk about wine, maybe find another event," Knobel suggested, gently. "If you're intrigued by ideas and want to have them in a fun, active setting, this will be an absolute delight."

Celebrated conversation-starters include Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, social scientist Marina Gorbis of Silicon Valley's Institute for the Future, Nation Institute fellow Dani McClain, Qeyno Labs co-founder Kalimah Priforce and more.

The festival kicks off with a four-pronged opening session: entrepreneurship, surviving mass extinction, solving global poverty and Priforce's "mind bomb."

A mind bomb is a provocative idea, such as "Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin?" or "Money can buy happiness," Knobel explained. "We have four Thiel fellows coming with amazing ideas." Thiel fellows are students given a $100,000 no-strings-attached grant by the Thiel Foundation to drop out of college and bring their ambitious projects to life.

Before lunch, audiences can jaw on the subject of robot overlords, explore the new Bay Bridge in a novel way with the bridge's architect, Donald MacDonald, and get interactive with the first of two "Uncharted Labs."

"People have to work, it's not passive," Knobel promised. "Everyone speaking is a person interested in exploring ideas. They want a conversation; they aren't doctrinaire."

Afternoon sessions get political -- about wine, the 2014 midterm elections and whether or not we're born racist. Then it's on to climate change, civil rights and bridging social separation before an "Unplugged" lobby chat and the Friday night party.

Saturday starts with digital fabrication and doesn't stop until everyone's chewed on the meaty topics of food justice, the future of work, turncoat bad ideas, the rich, feminism and the mysterious "Hybrid Thinking."

Knobel relied on his background running the annual New York Times DealBook business and finance program to format Uncharted.

For pricing, he said organizers were "cost efficient," especially compared to the idea-generating TED and Aspen conferences, which he said cost $7,500 and $2,800 respectively. There are no speaker fees and other than a small profit the hosts hope to make, ticket sales and sponsorships will just cover production costs.

Still, some people have said the $390 inclusive festival fee and the $195 one-day pass are too pricey.

"It depends on perspective," Knobel acknowledged. "People who have been to these types of events and see our speakers say, 'Wow, it's a deal.' But for others, it's a stretch."

Knobel said there are scholarships for anyone who can't afford admission (Contact Greg Fuson at greg@berkeleyideas.com or 510-516-1866 for details.)

"We're eager to have a diverse audience," Knobel said. "All they have to do is tell us they need assistance and why they want to attend."

He predicted edited portions of the festival will eventually be available online and he's hoping the talking will not end once the first festival is a wrap. "Certainly, we want to hear from people before, during and afterwards," he said.

He needn't worry. People in Berkeley love to talk.

If You Go
What: Uncharted, The Berkeley Festival of Ideas
When: Oct. 25 to 26
Tickets and details: www.berkeleyideas.com or 510-516-1866