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Technology Emboldening Innovators on the Ground, in the Air and Beyond

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A future in which passengers order air taxis, victims of serious accidents tap neurotechnology to rise above limitations and AI/machine learning-fueled space exploration allows astronauts to trek deeper into the universe – for longer periods – was boldly presented on Monday, 28 October, at the Dare Mighty Things technology conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Envisioning the soaring progress that can be made in the coming years was the order of the day, and considering how much progress technology already has set in motion, why not dream (and dare) big? As one of the sessions contended, there is the truly impossible and the regular impossible. “Regular impossible we can do,” said presenter James Beacham, a particle physicist at Large Hadron Collider.

Below are a handful of highlights from the event:

Need a Taxi? Look Up!
In a session titled “The Urban Air Mobility Evolution,” presenter Dr. Anita Sengupta, co-founder and chief product officer with Airspace Experience Technologies, cited statistics such as US$1.9 billion gallons of fuel wasted each year due to vehicles stalled in traffic and 97 hours per year that typical urban commuters spend inching their way to work.

With urbanization intensifying in much of the world, Sengupta suggested that the path forward is providing a new ecosystem of urban air taxis. Her company is on the front lines of navigating the obstacles of transitioning commutes skyward, acknowledging that regulatory and logistical challenges remain considerable at this stage.

Still, Sengupta said energy-efficient, tilt-wing aircrafts can be deployed to make commuting in urban areas much swifter and more enjoyable. She said obstacle-avoidance in the air is much easier than it is on the ground, and envisions a user experience that will include spacious cabins, accessible WiFi, minimal noise and breathtaking views, all for prices in line with a typical Uber fare. In addition to untangling commutes, Sengupta said this paradigm shift also would have major applications for improving emergency services.

Neurotechnology to Transform People’s Lives
Dr. Justin Sanchez, a life science research technical fellow at Battelle, addressed the future of neurotechnology. Already, Sanchez said, doctors are able to harness neurotechnology to stimulate patients’ memories, help people recall words and empower accident victims and others with physical disabilities to participate in routine activities, such as swiping a credit card or reaching out to touch a loved one.

The ability to solve medical issues without medication, in many cases by leveraging advanced artificial intelligence to translate neuron activity into actionable behavior, makes neurotechnology one of the more promising technology-driven fields on the healthcare landscape.

Sanchez said neurotechnology is advancing steadily and will soon provide capabilities that will spark major progress in an array of fields, such as bioelectronic medicine, brain-controlled vehicles, virtual reality and gaming.

Possibilities Abound in Tech Entrepreneurship
It took 18 years to go from the first Siri prototype to its widespread launch, recalled Adam Cheyer, co-founder of the enormously popular, voice-activated virtual assistant. But Cheyer said those who have conviction in their ideas and are willing to keep iterating have the chance to strike it big in this era of technology innovation, and improve millions of people’s lives along the way.

Cheyer said it is important for tech entrepreneurs to “look for trends and triggers” to time the commercial rollout of their ideas because “timing is everything.”

He also emphasized the need to follow the data. Citing another of his major ventures, Change.org, Cheyer said the original concept was for Change.org to be known as a social network, but analysis of the website’s analytics revealed the petition component was appealing to visitors, so that became the focal point.

Aiming big – both in terms of the number of users affected by an idea and the amount of revenue that can be generated – are other keys in tech entrepreneurship, said Cheyer, in addition to visualizing success.

The Space Race is Just Beginning
While impressive strides have been made in space exploration in recent decades, technology is expected to set in motion even larger breakthroughs in the not-too-distant future.

Dr. Linda Godwin, one of two retired astronauts to present at Dare Mighty Things, cited NASA’s goal of going to the moon to stay by 2024.


Another presenter, Dr. Steve Chien, head of the AI Group at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the ultimate challenge will be hunting for life in another star system – which will need to be a full AI mission because of distance and logistics, he said.

Chien said machine learning and AI are essential for advancing space exploration by converting massive data sets into practical knowledge, managing anomalies and improving space missions with more efficient scheduling and data collection. 

What This Means for You
James Beacham is right – the regular impossible is being done right now. But if the trends identified from the Dare Mighty Things conference is any indication, today’s technology leaders need to prepare themselves for the even more sweeping innovations of the future, because conquering the truly impossible isn’t that far off.

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