The Biggest Ideas at Time Machine 2019, Day One


Time Machine 2019, SparkCognition’s annual AI summit, was one for the books. Time Machine is a global AI conference featuring 40+ leaders across a wide spectrum of industries to discuss the implications of AI. Our 2019 conference just came to a close, but the ideas that were discussed over the course of its two days are going to reverberate for a long time.

But even if you weren’t able to come join the conversation with us, we’d hate for you to miss out entirely. So here’s a rundown of some of the biggest, most important ideas that emerged over the course of the first day of Time Machine 2019:

Too many of our current systems will not be able to scale into the future

The infrastructure that powers our society is beginning to reach a breaking point. The population is growing, as is the importance of technology in our daily lives, but our current infrastructure isn’t going to be able to scale with it. 

Jon Damush, the Director of Boeing NeXt, described the fragility of our current airspace management system—with passenger travel expected to double in the next 15 years, plus the growing prevalence of unmanned drones, the future of air traffic will be too large for human controllers to safely manage the skies. Ford Motor Company’s Bill Frykman echoed these worries on the ground, where city roads, curbs, and general mobility access are already stretched far too thin. On a cybersecurity panel, speakers were in agreement that the threat landscape is growing too quickly for humans to keep up with. And Andrea Thomaz, CEO of Diligent Robotics, expressed her concern over the growing shortages and burnout of personnel in the healthcare industry.

The overall message was clear: the status quo is simply not sustainable, and an AI-powered future is the only way forward to take these pressures off our critical systems and enable them to scale with us.

AI’s impact on jobs is more complex than most realize

Obviously, many are worried that AI is going to automate away their jobs. Conversely, some have argued that there’s nothing to worry about because AI will create more jobs than it eliminates. The speakers at Time Machine 2019 painted a more nuanced picture. As the energy industry panel explained, the goal of automation is not to reduce the workforce, but to enhance human performance and eliminate human error. Technology can’t replace expert personnel, and will in fact require experts to guide it. 

Admiral Bobby R. Inman, USN (Ret.), confirmed that AI will create new jobs, but with the caveat that people will need different kinds of training and education for those jobs. The U.S. has historically treated education as a state and local matter, but Admiral Inman warned that to be ready for the AI revolution, education needs to be addressed at a national level as well. And Norman Morgan, head of the robotics program at Eanes ISD, offered an inside perspective, explaining that the younger generation is going to embrace robots and AI, but that schools need to do a better job of offering computer science and robotics programs.

AI and digital transformation have to be about people

Despite the stereotype, a good digital transformation can’t be all cold, unfeeling machines. The panel on the new digital ecosystem discussed this in depth, declaring that a genuine, successful digital transformation is not just a technology shift, but a culture shift, born out of a “customer obsession” and a desire to make things easier for both organization personnel and clients or customers. 

The healthcare panel spent time on this topic as well, expressing the hope that by having more machines to automate the quantitative end of medicine, human doctors might start placing more emphasis on empathy and human interaction.

According to Dr. Will Roper of the US Air Force, even the Pentagon is realizing this, and the Department of Defense is trying to shift their culture to better accommodate technological innovation: more delegating of authority, more rewards for taking risks, and a better relationship with private tech startups.

AI won’t always be easy, but the rewards are worth the challenges

Perhaps the most prevailing theme of day one of Time Machine was that AI isn’t always easy, and technological disruption might be fraught with roadblocks. There are still technological quandaries, and successful AI implementation in business can be a minefield. There are also deeper issues that need to be addressed, like how to maintain privacy when our technology needs our data to run, or what to do about the systemic biases AI systems inherit from human data.

But we need to start grappling with those challenges now, not just to keep from falling behind, but because AI has an incredible potential to be a force for good. Crystal Wang, the CEO of the Newland Group, presented a powerful message of unity, and how technology can bring the US and China together rather than further apart. Elise Neel of Verizon proclaimed that we as a society are at a turning point, and the power to shape our collective future is in our hands.

So perhaps the most important takeaway from the first day of Time Machine was that the time is now to face the issues AI brings head-on, and come together to create a more inspired, abundant, and expansive future.


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