The future of tech lies in artificial intelligence, data and privacy. That was the message delivered last week at EmTech, MIT Technology Review's annual fall event held in Cambridge, Mass. The conference -- which focuses on emerging technology -- draws CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, policy leaders, innovators, business leaders and entrepreneurs looking to identify upcoming trends in tech over the next few years.
Big data, privacy and robots dominated the conferences. Whether it was examining corporate responsibility around privacy, robots at work or the significance of data, these three topics were the biggest themes when talking about the upcoming future of tech.
Looking to the future of data and smart tech
Jason Pontin, MIT Technology Review's editor in chief, opened the show discussing our reliance on technology. Data is becoming a business's biggest commodity, he said. Our devices can now collect data in ways the average consumer won't even notice, and that data can help companies gain an advantage over the competition. But Pontin said it's important to evaluate what our machines want from us, because we can't assume they have, or will continue to have, any loyalty to the consumer's interest. As humans and computers get more connected, it's important to consider the implications of the data we relay across devices on a daily basis, Pontin said.
Creating smart machines
Yann LeCun, director of AI Research at Facebook, expanded on the topic of smart technology. LeCun was hired to head up and build an AI research group in what Pontin described as an "arms race" in Silicon Valley to determine how to best use artificial intelligence in the tech world. LeCun's presentation, "Teaching Machines to Understand Us," outlined the growing focus on creating a smarter user experience by helping computers learn to reason and, ultimately, understand us.
To demonstrate this new effort in AI, LeCun played a video in which a human asked a computer system questions about images, and the computer was able to answer them. A practical application of this technology could be to help those with impaired vision, who might not have a good user experience when scrolling through the countless images on Facebook. The technology would also help improve the virtual assistant experience, something Facebook is working on with Facebook M, which is currently in developer beta testing.
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Data and corporate responsibility
Joseph Coray, vice president of Technology and Life Science Practice at the Hartford Financial Services Group, talked about big data and corporate responsibility. Coray said big data can help companies uncover lost revenue in the form of fraud, by evaluating trends and uncovering inconsistencies that a human might not discover. It's another example, he said, of how companies can harness data to make it work in a positive way, saving revenue and reducing fraud.
But on the flip side, he noted, companies need to understand that the data they capture has significance. Therefore, companies investing in data -- which is most companies these days -- need to consider how they're exploiting that information and also how they're protecting it.Businesses can't just focus on the positives they gain from data capture, Coray warned.
Artificial intelligence at work
Are robots really capable of taking jobs away from human workers? Arturo Baroncelli, business development manager of Comau Robotics, told the audience that "robots are among us, but not much in industry." However, three industries that are early and prolific adopters of robotics are food, fashion and cars. Baroncelli said there is a lot of talk about the future of drones and robots at work, but the focus remains on making robots work with us, rather than against us. Essentially, no one wants to take away your job with a robot, but they would like to make your job easier and safer through artificial intelligence, Baroncelli said.