A Bucket List for Our Changing Times

Microland
Microland
Jan 15 · 8 min read

Bucket lists serve a dual purpose. They are a roadmap into our future and they can inspire others. My bucket list has included learning the salsa, playing the drums, being a DJ and playing radio jockey for a day. Others want to learn archery, read Homer’s Iliad, compliment the boss (tough one!), drive an Aston Martin DB11, run the Badwater ultramarathon in Death Valley, dine at Noma in Copenhagen, ride a motorcycle on the old Silk Route…

At the start of 2020, I ran a critical eye over my own bucket list. It looked a bit old-fashioned and I quickly realized it needed a review. The world has changed, and my bucket list needed to change as well!

Most bucket lists begin with a dozen or so postcard-perfect places that require you to get on a plane. They reflect our natural wanderlust. But they also reflect our not-so-secret desire for exciting experiences that enrich our understanding of the world.

As the founder and leader of a 30-year-old technology company I thought, “Technology defines the success of an organization. Which places should today’s CEO put on their bucket list in order to be inspired and excited by what technology can achieve?” That is how my BucketList 2.0 was born.

Here are the first three places I believe any ambitious CEO wanting to combine travel, stumble across stimulating ideas and — dare I add? — get away from dreary conferences should begin with:

LEGO® factory in Billund, Denmark

Who hasn’t owned a bucket full of LEGO bricks and a handful of those cute yellow humanoids? Over the years, while the fundamental LEGO brick has remained the same, LEGO itself has evolved. It has added electronic games, pop-culture superheroes like Batman and Harry Potter, a range of programmable robots with sensors, intelligence and mechanical systems called Mindstorm, STEM toys and, in 2014, the CGI-based The LEGO Movie (a hit). The company which began in Billund, Denmark, a quick three-hour ride from Copenhagen, today uses autonomous robots to produce 1,140 LEGO pieces every second, or about 36 billion every year![i] Directed by a mainframe, an army of bots handle raw material, harvest finished bricks and move boxes to storage areas where cranebots pick them up for final decoration and packaging while optical sensors count the pieces. Even the decoration — painting each brick with precision — is done by machines.

Denmark has always been an inspiration for design and innovation. C++, Skype and Google Maps were developed by Danes (for the record, Skype was co-developed by a Dane and a Swede). LEGO is now inspiring other industries to leverage Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotics. One such company is Autodesk whose BrickBot can be used by the large-scale construction industry.[ii] Midway between Billund and Copenhagen is Odense, a town with a population of 180,000 which has more than 120 robotics companies.[iii] It is practically the robotics capital of the world and an unavoidable stop on the way to Billund.

Robotics is going to be central to every industry in the near future. The science of robotics combined with IoT will grow GDP without labor; robots will become the much sought-after “new demographic”; and national robot density (number of robots per 100,000 workers) will become the new metric for economic vigor. That’s reason enough to move LEGO in Billund to the top of my bucket list.

Four times a year LEGO conducts official tours of Billund. The 2-day tours get sold out fast. If I am lucky I may be able to book later this year for a tour in 2021. And while I am there, I also plan to drop in to Chef René Redzepi’s Noma to see how the best restaurant in the world uses continuous innovation to stay Number 1.[iv] [v]

Artificial Intelligence start-ups in Tel Aviv, Israel

Afternoon Skyline: Tel Aviv, Israel [xviii]

Like me, everyone who owns a smartphone cannot help but wonder at the miraculous advances being made in the area of photos and videos: Add-on lenses, Machine Learning-driven subject tracking, AI-assisted settings selections, computational photography (a combination of multiple images and related sensor data), Deep Fusion (a combination of pixels from multiple pictures to deliver exceptional detail)…and on the way are filters that can be applied selectively by objects in the image, 8K videos, laser-powered depth sensing and 3D scanning. But there are start-ups like ICI Vision in Tel Aviv that are deploying AI, Computer Vision, Image Processing, Retinal Projection, mini HD cameras, and tracking algorithms to project images directly on a person’s retina. This has staggering implications for the 340 million people globally with partial retinal damage.[vi] ICI Vision’s eyewear could restore their vision by projecting images to the healthy parts of the retina.

Tel-Aviv, with a population of 4.51 lakh[vii] has over 5,500 technology start-ups. I doubt if there is any other city with more technology start-ups per capita than Tel Aviv (it is the third country after the US and China to have the most number of companies listed on NASDAQ). Of the 5,500 start-ups, 1,150 are AI-related.[viii] These include Beyond Verbal that extracts emotions from verbal intonation using AI, and Arbe Robotics that provides high-resolution real-time 4D mapping for autonomous vehicles.

The tech industry in Israel is also super friendly. They are always happy to meet people and share a cup of nana — mint tea — which is the popular local way to relax and discuss ideas. Setting up a meeting with some of them can be just an email away. A good place to start is by visiting the website of the Tel Aviv Founders Club which features the cream of Israel’s startup founders and investors; pick a few names, check out their profiles (which contain links to their profiles on LinkedIn), get well-informed and start a conversation!

AI is seeping into every industry, from health care to manufacturing, from entertainment to transport and from consumer electronics to agriculture. Investors are betting on AI and the numbers tell their own story: SoftBank’s $108 billion AI-focused Vision Fund 2 has Apple, Foxconn, and Microsoft as participants.[ix] Last year Russia raised $2 billion from foreign investors for AI.[x] Volkswagen invested $2.6 billion in a self-driving start-up.[xi] From investors to governments and businesses, everyone is getting behind AI.

Visiting Tel Aviv will also give me a chance to drive down again to revisit Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Museum, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

For reasons I cannot completely explain, I want to stand again before the carob tree that was planted there to honor Oskar Schindler (in his presence). Maybe I am drawn to visit the place because, as writer Herbert Steinhouse wrote, “Schindler’s exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in.”[xii]

Daxing Airport in Beijing, China

Daxing Airport, Aerial View: Beijing, China [xix]

It is time to make a confession. Airports hold an irresistible allure for me. I am convinced others are secretly fascinated by airports too. This could well be because the antiseptic environments of airports create pockets of solitude and anonymity; they do not reflect any trace of their immediate environment; and they place us in a protective bubble between our hectic present and a yet-to-arrive future.

We all have our favorite airports. Mine are Changi in Singapore, Haneda in Tokyo and Incheon in Seoul. There are two surprising things common to these airports: All three are in the east and they are all in CNN’s list of the top airports of 2019![xiii] But I think a fourth airport in the east is about to make my fave list: Beijing’s recently opened $17 billion Daxing Airport.

I am currently wondering how to ensure my next trip takes me to Beijing! Or perhaps ensure a connecting flight from Daxing — which I believe is already a major tourist site.

Today’s airports are extremely busy. They have become hubs of exceptionally complex operations driven by sophisticated technology. Airports are now partnering airlines, cargo carriers, ground transport providers, car rentals, railway and metro systems, banks, retailers, hospitality and F&B specialists, entertainment businesses, health care providers, passport and visa agencies, customs, security experts, insurers, mobile service providers (Daxing is spread over 18 square miles), etc., in a bid to own the passenger and improve revenue streams instead of providing just a conduit through which passengers are moved from kerbside to airside.

Daxing is leading the way with how technology can be applied in spaces that have an eclectic mix of cultures, languages, businesses, services and regulatory requirements. It is using massive amounts of data to efficiently use and share assets, make travel frictionless, and reduce stress.

Daxing uses smart parking (passengers park on a designated panel in the parking area, robots ship the car to an empty space), facial recognition to seamlessly check in passengers (80% check ins will involve less than 10 minutes), paperless luggage tracking via RFID, Wi-Fi and 5G, automatic identification of prohibited items in luggage, real-time tracking of luggage over a mobile app or on WeChat[xiv], robots that inspect electrical rooms to cut down inspection time, and a fail-safe voice communication system (incredible in today’s overburdened mobile networks), solar farms with photovoltaic cells on car park roofs, hangars and cargo areas, 100% rainwater collection and heating powered by geothermal pumps located at the Yongding River basin.[xv] In effect, Daxing could be a template for smart cities of the future. For me, it is the Disney of Technology.

China has broken the traditional communist template of central planning with highly successful commercially-driven state enterprises. It has given birth to entrepreneurs like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, perhaps the most formidable force currently dictating global trends in the commercialization of technology. Incidentally, Jack Ma is an old friend.

Jack Ma at India Internet World 2000 [xvi]

He was our guest and a speaker at India Internet World 2000 which we hosted at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, in September 2000. [xvi] Naturally, when I visit Daxing, I’d definitely want to drop in for a chat with him. There can be few things more inspiring than a conversation with a person who is, literally, a global ambassador for technology itself.

Do you have technology-inspired ideas on your bucket list? If you do, it would be wonderful if you could share them in the comments section below.

- Pradeep Kar

Founder, Chairman and Managing Director

Microland

Connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/pradeep-kar/.

[i] https://gizmodo.com/exclusive-look-inside-the-lego-factory-5022769

[ii] https://roboticsandautomationnews.com/2018/07/30/autodesk-uses-lego-method-to-develop-modular-assembly-system-for-real-factories/18450/

[iii] https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/feature-how-denmark-became-the-unlikely-home-of-the-robotics-industry

[iv] https://www.fastcompany.com/1681512/how-the-best-restaurant-in-the-world-stays-that-way

[v] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/dining/noma-restaurant-copenhagen.html

[vi] https://www.israel21c.org/digital-glasses-offer-hope-of-sight-for-vision-impaired/

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Aviv

[viii] https://itrade.gov.il/usa/2019/08/19/artificial-intelligence-the-cutting-edge-of-israeli-innovation/

[ix] https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/25/softbank-announces-ai-focused-second-108-billion-vision-fund-with-lps-including-microsoft-apple-and-foxconn/

[x] https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/05/31/russia-raises-2bln-for-investment-in-artificial-intelligence-a65824

[xi] https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/12/vw-invests-2-6-billion-in-self-driving-startup-argo-ai-as-part-of-ford-alliance/

[xii] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Oskar_Schindler

[xiii] https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/skytrax-worlds-best-airports-2019/index.html

[xiv] https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201909/26/WS5d8c21cea310cf3e3556d97e.html

[xv] https://www.airport-technology.com/projects/beijing-daxing-international-airport-china/

[xvi] https://www.microland.com/about/our-journey/1998-2001

[xviii] EAZN/shutterstock.com

[xix] WaitForLight/shutterstock.com

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