Month: October 2014

Emerging Technologies conference (EmTech 2014)

Emerging Technologies conference (EmTech 2014)

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I had the good fortune to attend and speak at the 2014 MIT EmTech conference. I was particularly struck by Astro Teller and Yoky Matusoka talks. There were also awesome content on robotics, climate issues, hacking the mind, etc.

Here’s a link to videos of all presentations. http://www.technologyreview.com/emtech/14/video/

Astro Teller – Google [x]

  • GoogleX has a fluid structure and shared resources. Teller effectively functions as a board member for all projects.
  • Why is 10x the right measurement?
    • Get away from incremental thinking
    • “If just looking for a 10% improvement, engineers will start by improving the current <car>”
    • Radical requirement forces dropping assumptions
  • Philosophy of moonshot thinking
    • Enormous problem that can be named
    • Radical solution – if solution is clear/straightforward/well understood – nice, but not the ethos of their culture
    • Based on science and technology – and needing a breakthrough
  • Interesting – they have marketing in the group, but called by a different name … “Head of getting moonshots ready for the outside world”… can’t have “marketing” as it ‘scares off the innovators’ – [MH – Contrast this to ‘lean startup’ mindset, where marketing & customer focus, is front and center]
  • Projects are picked through a process that depends on Larry and Sergey intuition.
  • Google glass is not just a computer for your face – the real calling of wearables in general is to get out of your way – in exchange for being on your face needs to just work – no UI.
    • e.g. Teller’s life is ‘leveled up’ when glasses on and ‘leveled down’ when not – how to help digital world and physical world work without the schism. New Google glass leader is trained to be sensitive to getting technology out of the way using technology rather than thinking of technology as a benefit of itself alone.
  • Solve for X
    • More people should be doing Google X like things
    • Solve for X is a distilled version of this – find something that would make the world a radically better place – lots of incremental users
    • Originally thought there might be a pipeline problem – initially pushing hard for a conference to drink from firehose of new idea – but this turns out to not be the challenge. Actually want to do this, important for the world.
    • Structuring of molecules – hold same amount of gas at 1/4 of the pressure
    • Nick Negroponte – beam power to spaceship as it lifts off – capture and convert the heat
  • Project Loon – next year or so there will be a semi permanent circle of balloons in southern hemisphere

Michael Commentary:

** Very cool – sufficiently deep pockets to be able to solve the hard things, then worry about customers/market dynamics later.

Yoky Matsuoka – NEST (Google)

  • Started with a big problem – but one that can be embodied in a consumer product – easy to use and enriches your life
  • Background
    • Robots and neuroscience intersection – understand more of how human brain works using robotics tech
    • Use neuro understanding to build the right robots
    • See if robotic thecnoogy can help people with neuro problems
    • Created the center for Sensorimotor neural engineering
    • Relationship between device and human – tech can understand people – tech can do too much (people don’t learn) – too little not helpful — Ying Yang. Yokyworks engineering for the human experience
  • NEST
    • Solving big problems – solve problems that consumer apps …
    • 50% of domestic energy use is from heating and cooling
    • People are not good at doing this – potential to save at least 20% of the energy
    • 3 of 5 deaths happen in homes without working smoke alarms
    • Advanced technology in a beautiful package (otherwise known as the inner geek)
    • Saved over 2 billion kw hours – at least as compared with just running with fixed thermostat setting
    • Growing upsides from connectivity – collaborations
      • With Mercedes: The car knows when people are getting home
      • With Whirlpool – reduce noise by running only when people are away, run the fluff cycle when about to be home
    • Lessons
      • Continuing to learn about customers and deployment environment is critical
      • Initial assumption: if someone has purchased the nest, they will want to save power – hence a heavy focus on learning when to turn off the system.
      • However, for many buyers, the appeal is not energy saving, as much as beauty and adaptation to different household needs. Hence aggressive power saving was making them unhappy – NEST quickly adapted to a more refined approach.
      • Biggest surprise about how people actually use these devices – people touch the thermostat all the time. 1.6 touches per day.
    • Motivations: Matsuoka has an amazing background – the question came up for why she chose to do a thermostat. Turns out that some of her more forward thinking approaches did not gain market acceptance (robots for rehabilitation in the home, etc). NEST was the obvious and necessary next step as a way to gain acceptance for sophisticated devices in the home.

Michael Commentary:

** Nest is an amazing success story, but the main lesson here is around market dynamics, and the success Matsuoka had in identifying a necessary and viable innovation stepping stone.

Innovation and startups – a simple manifesto

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Innovation is a dance between culture and technology. A matching of what’s possible with the magic of adoption of new things. It’s no good creating a technology only to discover that there’s nowhere for it to go. We have few chances to influence what will be, so those that we have should be treasured.

In 2011 I moved with my family from Australia to California to set up Citrix Startup Accelerator. The underlying idea is that we can be more effective at inventing the future, and seeing what’s coming next, not just by running research in house, but also by aligning with the ‘innovation machines’ of Silicon Valley and other global entrepreneurial communities.