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The world's highest paid female CEO is a lawyer, a pharma industry tycoon, founder of Sirius radio and a leading innovator in the emerging field of "transhumanism." She was also born a man.

The woman, who prefers not to be called even that, is Martine Rothblatt and she's coming to Durham next May, for what we expect will be an enlightening discussion about her experience as a transgender person in business and her visions of a future in which humans live after death as digital beings.

Welcome to Moogfest, where fascinating individuals and controversial topics take center stage in an international-in-scope festival all about the future and intersection of music, art and technology.

News of the lineup is starting to trickle out after six months of preparation by the Moog team and local fundraisers. It was only in May that the festival announced plans to move from the hometown of Moog Music, Asheville, to the tech and startup-centric town of Durham, where organizers hoped more corporations would get behind the event and help make it profitable for the first time. 

Rothblatt has grabbed national headlines in recent years because of her status as a transgender woman and her wild success in business, along with countercultural views about technology and life after death. Here's a nine-page profile of the woman in New York Magazine. 

Expect to hear more on the topic of transhumanism at Moogfest from British contemporary artist Neil Harbisson, who has been deemed the world's first human Cyborg because an antenna in his brain allows the colorblind man to hear images and paint sounds (More explanation in his TED Talk below). He leads a global movement to help other people become Cyborgs.


Joining them in the daytime lineup is Jaron Lanier, a New York based computer philosopher and technology writer who is thought to have coined or popularized the term "virtual reality" in the 1980s. He's also been named one of 100 most influential people in the world by Time for his research in VR and work in augmented and virtual reality at Microsoft. A recent piece by Technology Review discusses his lab's work with multi-person augmented reality. He's also a celebrated classical musician and visual artist. 

In recent years, Lanier has been less bullish on technology, claiming in 2013 that it destroyed the middle class, jobs and even democracy. He's featured in a recent New Yorker Magazine piece about artificial intelligence entitled "The Doomsday Invention."

Martine Rothblatt and Jaron Lanier
Martine Rothblatt, left, is a lawyer, entrepreneur and CEO of United Therapeutics and Jaron Lanier is a technology writer who runs a Microsoft lab focused on virtual reality. Both are headliners of Moogfest 2016. Credit: Creative Commons
Crowds will likely also anticipate a performance by a robotic marimba player designed by the Georgia Tech Center of Music Technology. Named Shimon, the robot is built on computational models that can interact with music and other musicians and improvise to create new music (video below). Shimon will be joined by Gil Weinberg, who founded the center and a music startup called ZOOZ Mobile.

Members of various Google teams will take part in a "talk show" called The Future led by Google Doodle team lead Ryan GermickThey will be joined by dozens of other presenters through partnerships with the MIT Media Lab, Duke University, design and consulting firm IDEO, The New Museum's incubator New Inc., Gray Area Foundation for the Arts and the creative EyeO Festival.

Expect plenty of interactive experiences too. Several podcasts will be recorded in front of live audiences. Research Triangle Park and others will commission interactive media art installations. And there will be numerous workshops and interactive experiences for kids and adults throughout the three-day event.  Yo Gabba Gabba will even make an appearance. 

For more Moogfest context, read my recap of the 2014 event in Asheville. And for the lineup of electronic musicians, bands, rappers, hip hop artists and more, visit the Moogfest website.