Techonomy Events

Program Chief Ross on Techonomy 2017: Glass-Half-Full Edition

Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison (left) and food expert Amanda Little (right) in conversation during the “Feed Me” session at Techonomy 2017. Photo: Paul Sakuma Photography

A number of folks contacted me after reading my post last week encouraging me to stay positive and turn my focus to the glass-half-full side of things. I’m going to give it a try. It’s a little easier, given my otherwise-declining confidence in the survival of democracy in America got a boost from the Alabama election victory of Doug Jones over Roy Moore.

So as promised, here are some of the more exciting, encouraging, optimistic, and positive nuggets from the conversations at Techonomy 2017.  After all…doesn’t every cloud have a silver lining?

From the opening session, Can We Handle the Coming Convergence of Man and Machine?:

Mary Lou Jepsen, CEO and founder of Openwater spoke about not only the transformation of healthcare, but also TELEPATHY!! – “I figured out a way, a discontinuity in Moore’s law in the optics, that enables a wearable with MRI resolution that can transform healthcare costs…It also enables telepathy communication with human thought alone, to transcend language.”

Amazon’s Rohit Prasad on the liberating convenience brought to humanity by voice interfaces – “…we’re trying to improve daily convenience… A lot of us here grew up with Star Trek. And you’ll remember the convenience of being able to talk to a computer without any touch. It was just so liberating as a concept. So we brought that to fruition with Echo.”

And UCSD’s Benjamin H. Bratton spoke about a new geopolitical structure around         “hemispherical stacks.” It’s a whole new way of organizing the world!

Check out this presentation by DARPA’s Justin Sanchez on brain-machine interfaces for a look at what’s possible now. He also talked about new technology that is emerging from the convergence of synthetic bio and neuroscience.

IBM Research and Cognitive Computing boss John Kelly on the fact that perhaps humans won’t become totally irrelevant: “…we often think of man versus machine. But every study I’ve seen, and all of our experience with AI, is that man and machine always beats a man or a machine…”

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam on the speedy promise of upcoming 5G networks: “A typical wireless network today delivers about 200 milliseconds of delay. So you hear a lot about autonomous cars and virtual reality and augmented reality. They need around 50 to 90 milliseconds of delay. 5G will deliver less than one millisecond of delay.”

Chris Urmson, Aurora CEO (and former tech lead of Google’s self-driving car project) on The Path to Autonomous Mobility panel: “I think there will be places in the U.S. [and] in the rest of the world within the next two years where you’ll be able to call a driverless car. It’ll come pick you up and take you where you want to go.”

Michael Marks, chairman of construction startup Katerra says they can build a 24-unit apartment building “in about 60 days.” By next summer, it will be down to about 30 days. These guys don’t just “build,” they design and manufacture all the building components in their factory.

On the same panel, PlanGrid CEO Tracy Young (who makes software for construction sites but always wanted to be a builder) told us that in an industry that is 91 percent male, “…females can work just as hard and good in the construction industry. In fact, one of my best friends is a superintendent and he’s like, texting me. He’s like, “We’re seeing a lot of female carpenters coming out into the field and they’re good.” And I was like, “What the hell did you expect?”

Journalist-author food expert (and failed vegan and vegetarian) Amanda Little spoke about Rethinking Food Tech. To research her new book coming out next year called The Fate of Food, she traveled to 13 countries and 18 states investigating food production innovation. Her presentation looked at techniques that utilize “…technology applications compatible with agro-ecology priorities, so instead of using technology to corrupt the food system, it’s using technology to correct the food system.” Some examples—introducing advanced seed tech for indigenous farming community;  remote control farming with soil sensors; using modern breeding techniques to bring back ancient, nutritious plants back; and bringing insect eating to modern palates (something speaker John Chambers of Cisco spoke about as well).

Little then sat down with Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison for a conversation that encompassed the company’s goal to become “the leading health and well-being food company” to the eating habits of millennials. Morrison also spoke about her decision to step down from President Trump’s Manufacturing Council and the duty and honor of serving your country. At the time, I tweeted “strikes me that Denise Morrison is a great example of why we need more female CEOs.” Everyone should watch the video (or read the transcript). You will also learn that Campbell’s is the second-largest carrot grower in the United States.

Given the current climate, it strikes me that female leadership might be an appropriate topic to end this article on!  We need more of them, if we are to responsibly and intentionally navigate the exciting and complicated world we’re being pushed toward by rapid advances in tech.

Happy holidays, goodbye to 2017, and here’s to 2018…whatever it brings!

Tags: