Cities Internet of Things Techonomy Events

A Field Guide to Techonomy NYC

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Photo by Rebecca Greenfield

When organizing a conference, you never really know it’s going to work until it’s over. So we were pretty darn gratified when so many people who came to Techonomy NYC told us that they’d found the conversations stimulating and the speakers amazing. Tech is rocking along, changing things right and left, and here you could just feel it happening. Here is what actually happened, with links to session videos and transcripts.

The day started off with GE Digital’s Bill Ruh talking about how the future of business is “driving productivity through data and analytics.” Then the deep-thinking Ruh was joined onstage by amazing speakers from Bayer, McKinsey and Verizon, for an in-depth conversation about what the Internet of Things means for society. Mark Bartolomeo of Verizon said he believes that that IoT, measurement, and analytics will enable a variety of sciences and disciplines to converge so society can achieve real sustainability and finally effectively address climate change. Then Accenture’s CTO Paul Daugherty came up and explained how artificial intelligence would become a critical overlay on such transformations.

Chris Hulls, CEO of Life360, a social network for families and neighborhoods, said that the winners in IoT may not be who you expect. (They might be companies like his.)

Then began a section on digital investing and finance. First, former Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer interviewed CEO Jon Stein of Betterment, who explained that in the future we’ll all be getting investment advice from a combination of “robo-advisors” like he creates and human advisors, working together. That was followed by a weighty discussion on the crazy potential of the blockchain, with William Mougayar, author of The Business Blockchain, and IBM’s James Wallis.

The medical technology superstar David Agus, author of The End of Illness and other bestsellers, a cancer doctor, and a professor of medicine and engineering at USC, wowed the audience with an acerbic and opinionated dissection of American medicine, compellingly authoritative.

A pair of speakers from MIT Media Lab and GoDaddy explained how a successful series of experiments using sensors in shoes and the school environment that tracked children’s behavior in a Montessori classroom point toward how we can help small local storeowners thrive.

Then we went to lunch, which wasn’t bad, courtesy of the NYU kitchens.

When we returned, my longtime close friend and journalistic colleague Jessi Hempel moderated a session including NYC CTO Minerva Tantoco on connected cities. João Barros of Veniam wowed the audience with a video of his company’s system for using moving vehicles to create a mesh of connectivity that turns on an entire city. A pilot is underway in NY, and Tantoco explained how Mayor de Blasio’s initiatives aim for similar goals.

Arun Sundararajan, perhaps 100 yards from his own office at NYU’s Stern School, explained his nuanced thinking about the future of The Sharing Economy, the title of his new book. He has some radical ideas about how we can regulate sharing economy companies without government needing to get out of its historic backwardness when it comes to tech-based progress. He engaged in some lively repartee with the highly-engaged audience.

Rana Foroohar of Time Magazine and author of Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business joined legendary New York venture capitalist Alan Patricof to discuss the role of finance in the future of tech. Foroohar believes Wall Street has taken way too central a role in the American economy. Patricof wasn’t sure about that, but raved about how exciting is the spirit of entrepreneurship he’s seeing.

Next, I interviewed two legends of modern marketing and advertising:  Carolyn Everson, who heads ad sales for all of Facebook, and Dave Morgan, whose Simulmedia is remaking the way advertisers think about TV by letting them target their ads to specific demographics much as if they were on the internet.

Then we were honored that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, joined us for a conversation with Bloomberg Washington bureau chief Megan Murphy. He spoke about a smart city challenge run by his department that demonstrated to many in the audience that he was one of the politicians who really gets it. “I didn’t know there were leaders in Washington so savvy about tech,” said one attendee. (You wouldn’t know it from reading the news, I’ll admit.) One of his many great lines: “We have to think of our transportation system as a system of systems.”

After that, we veered off, as Techonomy is wont to do, to hear Nina Tandon, CEO of Epibone, explain how her startup is literally growing human bones. Katrina Craigwell of GE then talked about the challenges of remaking a 125-year-old brand.

Then we ended the day with a dazzling presentation by danah boyd, of Data & Society and Microsoft Research, followed by a still-dazzling discussion when she was joined by Gillian Tett, North American editor of the Financial Times. They spoke about the values that hide inside of data and the risks that a data-rich society could be an unfair one. “The data means nothing,” said boyd in her presentation. “It’s the model. And that means the data plus the algorithm plus the interpretation. And there’s an amazing number of things that can go wrong in that process.” Tett herself, like boyd a trained anthropologist, said “Technology has the ability for us to rewrite all kinds of cultural patterns, but only if we employ our brains. Otherwise it just intensifies the existing cultural patterns in ways that are fantastically dangerous.”

It was a bracing and big-picture way to end a day of bracing, diverse and, we hope, big thinking about the complex and potentially beautiful world we’re all building together. This is why we do what we do.

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