From Vision to Reality: Time Machine 2019, Day Two


If there was one prevailing theme on day one of Time Machine 2019, SparkCognition’s global AI and future tech summit, it’s that the time is now to face the challenges of AI head-on. Sharing ideas is instrumental to the process, but Time Machine is just as much about taking action and executing on those ideas. 

Former CEO of Cisco John Chambers set the tone for day two during his captivating keynote by stating that “We’re in an environment  you disrupt or you get disrupted yourself.” This level of brutal honesty is necessary when your industry is on the cusp of a major market transition, and who better than the master of market transitions to help you kick things into gear?

From Chambers’ eye-opening keynote to SparkCognition CEO Amir Husain’s powerful closer, three major themes emerged from day two of Time Machine 2019: 

  1. The transformative power of risk-taking
  2. The importance of taking action
  3. Learning through trial and error

Whether you’re in tech, health, defense, industry, or policy, all of these themes are critical in the age of artificial intelligence. So let’s take a closer look at each one:

The Transformative Power of Risk-Taking

With a major technological movement taking place almost every 10 years, how can companies get comfortable with the pace of change? In his keynote, Chambers stated that “Doing the right thing for too long is what gets you in more trouble than taking risks.” He reiterated the importance of companies having a culture that embraces risks as opportunities and lessons learned, further emphasizing that how you handle your setbacks is just as important as how you handle your successes.

On a panel titled Investing in Future Tech, Rumi Morales of Outlier Ventures argued that a lot of transformational bets do not happen during times of economic growth, leading many companies to dodge AI solutions altogether. She wants to see more companies taking larger bets on larger transformations while considering the impact AI will have on future industries.

Discussing AI innovation within the DoD, Greg Allen of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) talked about how the department has embraced the unfamiliar. The department is currently working with extraordinary amounts of data, mature AI technology, and a partner to help test a pilot program for identifying wildfires, and he believes this is an excellent learning opportunity for the department. 

Ultimately, facing the fear of uncertainty head-on is essential to turning ideas into reality.

The Importance of Taking Action

Regardless of the industry in question, the speed of innovation is critical. Oil and gas companies, in particular, have been slower to take advantage of digital tools in daily operations. In an oil and gas panel, Ken Topolinsky of Hunt Oil Company noted the importance of demographics, explaining that the segment of the workforce with five or less years of industry experience is far more open-minded and digital savvy compared to industry veterans. Geir Engdahl of Cognite said there is a lot of interest and proof of concepts, but actually putting things into production and scaling is much rarer.

On the national security front, Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work echoed General Tony Thomas’ sentiments that the US Department of Defense is behind, suggesting that we’ve lost two years despite having a national defense strategy with AI and machine learning being top priorities. He elaborated that there was no clear signal from the top that the department was going to devote time, money, and energy to AI research and development in the near future. However, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper recently declared to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that AI was his number one priority, and Secretary Work anticipates an acceleration in departmental efforts following Esper’s comments.

In the age of artificial intelligence, change and success is an ongoing process that requires companies from top to bottom to take action and commit.

Learning Through Trial and Error

John Chambers’ parting words for day two attendees were to imagine what’s possible and to follow your dreams, and when you get knocked down, “Don’t jump right back up! Understand why you got knocked down, and view that as a red badge of courage.” He claims the average startup has people that have been in three to five companies, almost all of them experiencing setbacks and getting knocked down. But that didn’t stop them from chasing innovation.

Amir Husain, in his closing presentation, further emphasized the power of learning through trial and error. On one of his final slides, he outlined four critical steps in the cycle: 1) Perception; 2) Decision; 3) Action; and 4) Learning. Once key takeaways are gathered, the cycle begins again until more robust solutions are found. Trial-and-error advances critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and a willingness to take more risks to find the best solutions possible. Each of these components are crucial to maintaining a competitive edge in the global AI race.

Day two of Time Machine 2019 provided our audience with one key takeaway: Ideas mean nothing without action. AI comes packaged with lots of hype and promises, but it won’t live to up to its true potential unless companies—from leadership teams to associates—turn their collective vision into reality.

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