As we look back on 2015, we’re grateful for another impactful year at Techonomy. Through our conferences and publications, we explored how technology is changing a dizzying array of fields. We’re thankful for all the contributors, speakers, partners, and friends who made this possible. Of the hundreds of stories we published this year, here are the five that saw the widest reach:
Why The “Luxury” of Apple’s Watch is Besides the Point by David Kirkpatrick
As its launch approached in April 2015, media coverage of the Apple Watch and its progenitor Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, focused heavily on the product’s aesthetic qualities. Articles placed by the company in publications like The New Yorker emphasized peripheral design features like the box it comes in, the price point of higher-end models that can run well into five-figures, and and Ive’s own rarefied and genuinely luxurious habits. Yet he and the company conveyed little about the watch’s functional necessity for regular consumers—a fact that Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick found annoying and worrisome in this popular essay.
Apple’s amazing success, Kirkpatrick argued, arises from its ability to produce state-of-the-art technology at a cost affordable to large numbers of people. By positioning a key new product for consumers “on the wrong side of the world’s inequality divide,” Apple seemed to be taking a dangerous detour from that mission. Kirkpatrick’s concerns clearly struck a chord—when published on LinkedIn his piece pulled nearly half a million views.
How the Internet of Things Can Enhance Human Relationships by John Hagel and John Seeley Brown
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) might sound like a cold and inanimate place, where machines talk to other machines in languages only geeks can understand. Yet longtime Techonomy contributors John Hagel and John Seeley Brown argue that the IoT will actually enhance human relationships by automating life’s busywork and freeing up time for meaningful interaction between people. It will also produce volumes of data that will allow us to better understand and serve our friends, partners, and customers.
As a growing number of consumer and enterprise systems become interconnected, companies and organizations with the technical capability to tap into it will be at a major advantage. But as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff noted in an illuminating closing panel session at Techonomy 2015, the ultimate winners will be those companies that aggressively use the IoT to serve their customers, not just to save money or achieve cold efficiencies. The opportunities to do so will be legion.
At Techonomy, we are increasingly convinced of the importance of this increasing interconnection of everything. That’s is why both our major events in 2016–in New York on May 26 and Half Moon Bay California November 9-11–will focus on Man, Machines and the Network: How the Internet of Things is Transforming Business and Society.
Are 23andMe Customers Suckers or Empowered Consumers? by Meredith Salisbury
Many digital health companies offer free or discounted services in exchange for customer data. While some view this as sinister, Techonomy’s resident genomics expert Meredith Salisbury argued in this article and several others published during the year that more data sharing can lead to a healthier world. And with informed consent, she thinks patients will happily join research programs that can lead to better diagnostics, treatments, and public health interventions.
In making this point, Salisbury came to the defense of 23andMe, a consumer genomics company that has been a lightning rod for privacy scaremongers and a target for the FDA. Responding to criticisms of the company’s recent deals with Pfizer and Genentech, she argued that 23andMe has been plenty transparent about its data usage policies. Perhaps its customers deserve praise for voluntarily contributing data to research programs that will benefit us all.
Artificial Intelligence Catches Fire in Ethiopia by Christina Galbraith
Although still racked by poverty and unrest, Ethiopia has emerged as a thriving African hub for tech enterprise, reported science writer Christina Galbraith. In efforts driven heavily by large government projects, the country has a buzzing cluster of technical schools and software parks. It is home to over 700 computer tech companies, including a surprising number focused on artificial intelligence and robotics.
Ethiopia is one of many emerging countries that have seized on tech as a key to development. Vietnam, for example, also has a burgeoning tech sector that is driving opportunity for its 90 million people. Galbraith rightly notes that tech is not a silver bullet for underdevelopment, but there’s no denying that it allows people everywhere increasingly to participate in the global information economy.
Ubiquitous Biotech in a Time of Ignorance by Ryan Bethencourt
Despite lingering public distrust of life sciences companies, we may be at the cusp of a golden age of biotech innovation, reported Indie.Bio’s Ryan Bethencourt. With biotech research and early-stage companies attracting massive investment, new discoveries are emerging in a range of sectors, from clinical therapeutics to industrial biomaterials. And as growing connectivity puts the fruits of biotech research in the hands of ever more people, wider participation holds the potential to accelerate progress.
Yet to realize that full potential, the biotech industry needs concerted and thoughtful communications campaigns. Otherwise, we run the risk of public backlash against transformative opportunities that are not widely understood, Bethencourt believes. Bethencourt further explored this challenge in a sobering panel at our Bio conference in March 2015, where he also spoke in a session about the “can of miracles” that biotech innovation will soon unleash.
Will Greene is a writer and strategy consultant focused on Asia’s emerging R&D ecosystems. You can find him on LinkedIn.