What to Watch: Futurists Talk Tech of Tomorrow

October 12, 2015 • Blog Post • By HPE Matter Staff Writer


  • At the 16th edition of The New Yorker Festival, a special spotlight was shown on the radical implications of technological advancements and examined their potential to reshape society in a special series of lectures titled Tech@Fest
  • Some of the most compelling emerging tech trends in the industry include intersections of digital and biology, artificial intelligence, Blockchain's Tamper-proof Ledger and insights into data breaches and cyber security

A view into the future of tech captured at The New Yorker Festival's Tech@Fest

In its 16th edition, The New Yorker Festival - which took place in Manhattan over the weekend of Oct. 2-4 - gathered the brightest minds in culture for discussions on everything from comedy to music to race, through interviews with the likes of Jason Segal, Mark Ronson and Toni Morrison. This year, the festival shined a special spotlight on the radical implications of technological advancements and examined their potential to reshape society in a special series of lectures titled Tech@Fest.

Tech@Fest featured innovators, scientists, engineers and futurists who offered their predictions on the future of technology. Here, HPE Matter shares their most compelling insights on the hottest emerging tech trends.

1. Intersections of Digital and Biology

In a discussion with Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, The New Yorkers Nicholas Thompson asked, "You have said that 'bio is the new digital'. What the hell does that mean?"

Ito pointed out that it was Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab, who said that, but elaborated, "It's not that all bio is becoming digital", but rather that "bio is starting to touch the whole world". According to Ito, approximately one third of MIT Media Lab researchers are focused on biology, but only a handful of them are actually biologists - the rest come from data sciences, art and engineering backgrounds. It's this confluence of perception, culture, nature and engineering, Ito claims, that creates the potential for disruptive breakthrough.

When asked to defend the many false starts of synthetic biology, coded genes and cloning, Ito remarked that almost all technology is oversold on the front end, resulting in a disappointed public, which leads them to dramatically underestimating the technologys actual potential. Today, he said, breakthroughs are occurring "at five or six times Moor's Law, which is tremendous, but every time we open up another thing, we realize that its way deeper than we thought."

2. Artificial Intelligence

When it comes to artificial intelligence today, Ito said, "the easy way to think about it is... anything that you can imagine a computer can probably do, they can probably do."

Rather than the gloomy outlook that has often accompanied discussions of artificial intelligence and the workforce, Ito sees these developments as having the potential to push society further: "Humans are really good at things that computers aren't". Rather than robots replacing the human workforce, however, Ito predicts a future where computers continue to augment and improve human capabilities.

3. Blockchains Tamper-proof Ledger

Bitcoin - and blockchain, the technology that powers it - has caused a lot of commotion in recent years. During a panel discussion on "The Future of Money", experts debated the potential for bitcoin to revolutionize the financial industry. At its core, the potential is in the linked, tamperproof transaction record maintained in the blockchain.

"The beauty of it is that you don't need to get a piece of paper signed", Michael Casey, senior adviser at the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab stated.

In the blockchain, every transaction is instantly recorded in the digital ledger, which dramatically simplifies the transaction process (this process currently takes 2-3 days in most banks), making money available instantaneously. But further, the blockchain technology is capable of executing "conditional contracts", such as copyrights.

Therefore, if a person claims rights to a particular photo shared on the internet, the blockchain will automatically impose a rights fee upon any user who attempts to download the photo for a presentation, even years down the line.

This has tremendous implications for contract, copyright and content laws on the Internet, particularly in the industries that have really grappled with the open-access implications of the web, such as the publishing and entertainment industries.

4. Data Breaches and Cyber Security

In recent years, high-profile data breaches have plagued business. From Target to Sony to Gawker, no industry is safe from a cyberattack. Gawker Media's founder Nick Denton participated in a Tech@Fest discussion called Cyber Privacy: Who Owns Your Information?

When asked to discuss the data protection responsibilities of corporations in the wake of the Gawker Media hack, Denton stated that he doesn't think that any company is ultimately safe and it would "be ridiculous to say so... we're certainly all waiting for the next hack of a Sony or an Ashley Madison."

"But the world doesn't have to be like that", stated panelist Cindy Cohn, attorney and executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "80 percent of our computer vulnerabilities are just unpatched things that we know about. We don't have a system set up so that the people who hold our data - who are increasingly not us - have the right incentives to really secure it."


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