Dec 03

InSITE Fellows Looking Into the Future at TEDxSilliconAlley

Disclosure: if you are not into futuristic type themes (articial intelligence, etc) skip to “practical takeawys“.

Few InSITE Fellows got a sneak peak into the future at the TEDxSilliconAlley event themed “The Rise of the Machines” this past Monday, December 3, 2012.  The theme of many of the talks were about turning the imagined “what if” questions (What if we had flying robots that followed us around? What if we could fix our broken coffee maker by 3D printing a part in our home without going to a hardware store? Wjat of we could extend our intelligence? What if we could live forever?) to reality (demos of flying robots, you can now own a reasonably priced 3D printer in your home, thanks to Makerbot and while you can’t really live forever – just yet – humans have extended their lifespan by many years and have extended their intelligence exponentially through technology).

Keynote speakers were Juan Enriquez and Ray Kurzweil. Juan Enriquez is recognized as the world’s leading catalysts in life sciences, he’s published numerous books including Homo Evolutis and As the Future Catches You. He’s an entrepreneur and one of the most prominent VC’s in biotech and life sciences.

If you looked up the word “future”, Ray Kurweil’s name is likely to show up. Kurzweil is the most prolific inventor of our century, including his inventions of flatbed scanner, text to speech synthesizer, the famous Kurzweil Keyboards – look up the story about Stevie Wonder and Kurzweil– and many more. He’s written many books and as Bill Gates mentioned, is the “best person at predicting the future”.

Juan Enriquez and Ray Kurzweil discussed Ray’s most recent book “The Secret of Human Thought Revealed – How to Create a Mind” explores reverse engineering the brain to understand how it works and how it can be applied to create intelligent machines. Key takeaway – anything a human does or thinks can be seen as a hierarchical-pattern recognizer and can therefore be replicated through artificial intelligence. If you are interested to learn more, I highly recommend reading his books or as Yusuf Roso (Fellow, MBA Columbia 2014) suggested watching this documentary.

While I truly enjoyed this conference and do enjoy partaking in a dialogue with “futurists”, I wanted to share some practical takeaways.

In my view, intellectual curiosity is at the core of these conversations, asking “What If?” and recognizing patterns that can in a way look into the future (no matter how unrealistic they may seem) allows for creativity. It also teaches you how to recognize patterns and therefore helps you either start meaningful and sustainable companies or invest in startups that can generate future returns and be sustained over time. To keep up with the exponential growth of technology and innovation one must wander into the future. Many successful entrepreneurs are good at recognizing patterns and they do in a way “live in the future”. Maybe that’s why they are never “too late to market”?

This post was written by Christina Yugai, MBA Class of 2014, NYU Stern School of Business

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