EmTech 2015 conference highlights

The EmTech 2015 conference showcased emerging technologies you might soon see in a range of industries.

As always, this year’s EmTech conference — the seventeenth since the conference’s launch in 1999 — delivered a panoply of ideas and insights relevant today and in the coming years. Though the format evolves, the speakers change and the food gets better, the one constant continues to be a healthy appetite from all the attendees to see what’s next.

Over three days conference attendees absorb talks on topics ranging from Rethinking Urban Architecture to the Robots Among Us. Speakers from leading academic institutions, advocacy groups, government, investors and companies large and small deliver the talks. Some talks are tactical (the various applications of drones and key challenges going forward) while others are highly interdisciplinary and still nascent (Artificial Intelligence). Even considering the variety it’s clear that the topics for this year fell into several thematic buckets:

AI and robotics

In the next two to five years, dedicated Deep Learning chips will be built directly into devices to facilitate real-time image recognition and autonomy. While AI [and the robotics that come of it] still has a ways to go, real applications of it are starting to emerge: real-time language translation, medical image analysis, and advanced biometric authentication, to name a few.

Energy storage

Though new energy production technologies (solar, wind, tidal and many others) often are in the limelight, energy storage is overlooked. Yet, without storage many of these alternatives will never be economically viable against the incumbents (oil and gas). Whereas the cost of battery technology today hovers between $250-$500/kWh, new materials, battery design and manufacturing techniques are evolving rapidly to drive down energy storage to an economically feasible cost target of about $100/kWh.

Materials

Combining new materials architectures and additive manufacturing techniques is producing objects that not only have form but also function. In a particularly compelling EmTech presentation, graduate students used a 3D Printer to demonstrate the printing of a dress consisting of 2,279 triangular panels and 3,316 interconnected hinges using a single folded piece. Some are heralding this as the new 4D Printing movement.

Biomedicine

Venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson, named his two biggest trends in tech today: (1) Deep Learning and (2) CRISPR. CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — makes it possible to edit genes quickly and cheaply. It has the potential to not only cure hereditary diseases forever but also radically transform the biomedical space, again.

Underlying these themes are broad seismic shifts happening around us everyday: urban population growth, increased energy demand, new economic models, generational changes, privacy concerns, security, our health and others. As our societal concerns evolve, inevitably our technology focus will too.

Another theme — Virtual Reality — started to emerge near the end of the conference so it looks like that will be a fundamental discussion area for next year’s EmTech.

Originally published here on December 8, 2015. A majority of this piece was written by John Steggles.