During a three-day conference covering a range of technologies and industries, it is hard to determine which session or speaker was the best. With topics ranging from biofuels to the Internet, and representatives from Intel, Google, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota and University of California, Berkeley, there were too many highlights to count. Here are just a few from the Technology ReviewEmerging Technologies Conference.
What’s the Big Idea?
This late-morning keynote panel featured Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research and director of HP labs, Andrew A. Chien, vice president of research for Intel and Guido Jouret, chief technology officer for the emerging markets technology group at Cisco Systems.
Topics ranged from the state of broadband pipelines to augmented reality to concerns over data security. One especially interesting topic to the academic community was the relationship between companies and academic institutions and whether research is best provided internally at the companies or externally through universities.
“In many cases, we build infrastructure for the research community and put it out there and try to stimulate innovation on those platforms, trying to provide from an industry perspective the kinds of sustained engineering and infrastructure that is sometimes difficult to sustain in a university, so we're trying to do that in partnership with the academic community,” says Chien. “But fundamentally, we think of it as trying to identify and lower the energy barrier between innovation that happens outside of the company and innovation that can happen inside of the company and bring those things together to create opportunities for everyone.”
The determination of the state of broadband is that these wide pipelines of data need to be in place in order to make content delivered over the Internet reach its full potential. “Broadband really is one of the keys to democratizing and opening up access; the ability to innovate in the delivery of services,” says Chien, “and I think that has really been the fuel behind the Internet.”
The focus of this panel was different approaches and functions for building the metaverse as described by John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Google Maps, Gur KimChi, software architect for Microsoft Virtual Earth, Jerry Paffendorf, cofounder of Wello Horld, and John Lester, Boston operations director of Linden labs, creators of Second Life.
The metaverse is an immersive digital environment where individuals are represented by avatars. According to Lester, “people + tools + shared spaces = metaverse.” Second Life is the convergence of video games and reality. A user can walk through digitally fabricated worlds and interact in real time with other users through their avatars. Users create their own environment using the tools provided to them.
Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, on the other hand, are indexed digital representations of the real planet. Both take actual environments and aerial views of the earth and allow users to index their experiences and knowledge of a certain real-world place. According to Hanke, Google has coverage of more than 1/3 of the earth’s surface at a sub-meter level, meaning that through Google Earth a user can see detail greater than a meter on 1/3 of the planet. Microsoft’s Virtual Earth is similar to Google Earth in that it indexes the real world, but the primary goal of the project is to allow businesses to cache information about their product or service in order to provide users with that information regarding their spatially oriented searches. This technology is web-based and requires no download to access. This type of Internet experience is, according to KimChi, part of the GeoWeb.
Paffendorf’s interests lie between the real and the totally fabricated. He has done artistic projects connecting Internet platforms such as Second Life and Flickr together and is formerly of the Electric Sheep Company and the Metaverse Roadmap. His goal with Wello Horld is turning the Internet into a place itself. Not much information is currently available about Wello Horld as it is still in the early stages of development.
This panel was about current developments in chip technology, including nanoelectronics and semiconductors. Panelists included Marc Baldo, associate professor of electrical engineering at MIT and Mario Paniccia, director of the photonics technology lab at Intel.
Baldo discussed the theoretical and energy limitations on developing semiconductors at the nano level, but also projected possibilities for their development. Electrons act differently with semiconductors at the nano level than they do at the micro level. “Essentially, the electron goes straight through without even seeing a semiconductor; we call that ballistic transport, it’s like firing a bullet out of a gun,” said Baldo.
Since electrons travel freely at the nano level, there is little that can be done to restrain their transference. “It might seem a little crazy but it’s encouraging a return to mechanical switches,” said Baldo, “because the point of a mechanical switch is that when it’s off, it’s about as good an off position as it can be, because there’s a vacuum or an air gap between the contacts.”
Intel on the other hand is pursuing methods for optical transfer of data for its microprocessors, which, according to Paniccia, could provide in the not-so-distant future a terabit of processing power on a chip the size of a fingernail. “The goal is can we develop optical technology or optical communications based on the same processes that we use to build our silicon microprocessors,” he said.
The TR35 is a group of 35 engineers and innovators who by the age of 35 have stood out for their contributions to science and technology. They were each presented throughout the conference and were given an opportunity to give a 90-sec elevator pitch about their work. Among the 35, there were two who won the conference's Humanitarian of the Year and the Innovator of the Year awards. The Humanitarian of the Year is Tapan Parikh, awarded for his work on CAM: Mobile Applications for the Rural Developing World. Using cell phones and barcode technology, Parikh was able to assist merchants in managing their finances. The Innovator of the Year is David Berry, principal of Flagship Ventures, who was awarded for his work in developing renewable petroleum grown from microbes.