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April 11–13, 2017
Boston, MA

MIT’s Plasma Science Fusion Center and Ginkgo Bioworks
April 11, 2017



Field Trip to MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and Ginkgo Bioworks

12:00 PM

Buses depart from hotel

12:15 PM

Tour begins

3:45 PM

Buses return to hotel (approximate arrival, 4:00 PM)

6:00 PM
First-Timers Reception
6:30 PM
Welcome Reception
7:00 PM
Welcome Dinner

7:30 AM


8:30 AM
Len Kleinrock, TTI/Vanguard Advisory Board
Conference Welcome
8:50 AM

Michael Stonebraker, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Tamr, and Adjunct Professor, Systems & Networking, MIT
The 800-Pound Gorilla of Big Data

If you have a big data problem, you have one of three issues: A Volume problem (too much data), a Velocity problem (it’s coming at you too fast), or a Variety problem (it’s coming at you from too many sources). Volume and velocity are mostly manageable with current tools, but when it comes to Variety, we have issues of data curation (no common schemas, dirty data, entity consolidation, etc.) that we can solve for maybe 15, 25, possibly 50 data sources. Large organizations today, the FedExes and Verizons of the world, have 5000, even 10,000 data sources coming in. GE has 325 different procurement systems, and probably each one of them has Staples as a vendor. Consistently getting the best price from among all the systems would save GE hundreds of millions of dollars. Companies operate in dozens, even hundreds, of countries and jurisdictions, each with its own set of HR rules, and can’t even say how many employees they have, because there are hundreds of definitions of “employee.” Variety is the 800-lb gorilla of data.

9:35 AM

Reid Williams, Bioscience Resident, IDEO (@_reidw_)
Nomad: Real-Time Data Streams for the Distributed Web

Data is a beautiful thing, but currently it's too hard to share live data, to process data, and share real time insights, or to connect visualizations to live data. Nomad is a decentralized system for subscribing to, processing, and publishing data in the form of ordered message streams. Nomad is decentralized: There are no message brokers through which messages pass. Nomad uses IPFS to create a peer-to-peer network of nodes that routes messages from publisher to subscriber. Streams are published by nodes that are identified by a public key hash, making Nomad a permissionless system. Anyone can create a new node, subscribe to existing streams, and publish a stream without signing up for any proprietary service.

10:15 AM
Coffee Break
10:45 AM

Adam Gazzaley, Founder & Executive Director, Neuroscape, and Professor, UC San Francisco (@adamgazz)
The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World

Rapid advances in information technology are transforming our lives for the better. But our brains did not evolve for an information-saturated world. Indeed, the very essence of what makes us most human—our ability to set high-level goals—collides with our brain’s fundamental limitations in cognitive control. We struggle with interruptions and distractions that emerge from both our inner and outer worlds. There are, though, practical strategies for modifying our behavior. Research at UC San Francisco has found ways to enhance our brain's function so that we can better survive and thrive in the information age.

11:20 AM

John Osborne, General Manager, R&D, Kroger, and Chairman, ZigBee Alliance
ZigBee: Retail and the Internet of Things

IoT networks are steadily improving retail environments. Stage one consists of simple applications, such as monitoring the cold chain in freezer and refrigerator cases. Stage two integrates long battery life sensors, hand-held devices, point-of-sale devices, and video management software into a single network. We’ll also discuss what comes next.

11:55 AM

Paul Glimcher, Director, Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making, and Professor of Neural Science, Economics and Psychology, NYU, and Director, Kavli HUMAN Project
The Human Project

Until now, most large-scale studies of humans have either focused on very specific domains of inquiry or have relied on between-subjects approaches. While these previous studies have been invaluable for revealing important biological factors in cardiac health or social factors in retirement choices, no single repository contains anything like a complete record of the health, education, genetics, environmental, and lifestyle profiles of a large group of individuals at the within-subject level, despite emerging evidence about the dynamic interplay between biology, behavior, and the environment, which points to a pressing need for just the kind of large-scale, long-term synoptic dataset that does not yet exist at the within-subject level. There is also growing evidence that just such a synoptic dataset may now be obtainable—at least at moderate scale—using contemporary big data approaches. To this end, we introduce the HUMAN Project, a public private partnership between NYU and Data Cubed, Inc., aggregating data from 4,000 perfectly representative New York City households in all five boroughs (roughly 10,000 individuals) whose biology and behavior will be measured using an unprecedented array of modalities over 20 years.

12:35 PM
Members’ Working Lunch
1:50 PM

Bill Schafer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fairledger (@wjschafer)
Enabling Sustainability with Blockchain and Mobile Devices

Today, simple transfers of money can be effected with cellphones, but the blockchain has the potential to unlock the entire financial system for many, including rural farmers in Africa—savings accounts, bonds that you can buy with your phone, futures markets, and crop insurance, to name a few. The blockchain will also transform farmers’ relationships with the multinational firms—Nestle, Coca-Cola, et al.—that they supply. Was this cocoa grown in a sustainable manner? A broker can certify it and pay a crop bonus on the spot. From food safety to counterfeit parts, the blockchain’s contribution to authenticating people and goods is being realized.

2:25 PM

Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Postdoctoral Fellow, Indiana University   
Finding Fake News

Two-thirds of all American adults access the news through social media. But social networks and social media recommendations lead to information bubbles, and personalization and recommendations, by maximizing the click-through rate, lead to ideological polarization. Consequently, rumors, false news, conspiracy theories, and now even fake news sites are increasingly worrisome phenomena. While media organizations (, PolitiFact,, et al.) have stepped up their efforts to verify news, political scientists tell us that fact-checking efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive. To address some of these challenges, researchers at Indiana University are working on an open platform for the automatic tracking of both online fake news and fact-checking on social media. The goal of the platform, named Hoaxy, is to reconstruct the diffusion networks induced by hoaxes and their corrections as they are shared online and spread from person to person.

3:00 PM

Martin Reeves, Senior Partner & Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group (@MartinKReeves)
How to Build a Business That Lasts 100 Years

In a hyperconnected world, business leaders need to ask themselves not only “How good is my company’s game?” but also “How long will that game last”? We'll look at the five different approaches to strategy necessary in today’s interconnected environment, their algorithmic foundations, and the hidden links between the worlds of strategy, biology, and complex adaptive systems.

3:35 PM
Coffee Break
4:05 PM

Alex ("Sandy") Pentland, Chief Technology Officer, Endor, and Toshiba Professor of Media, Arts, and Sciences, MIT
Using Social Physics to Transcend the Limitations of Traditional Machine Learning

The developers of the emerging field of Social Physics, Alex Pentland and Yaniv Altshuler, have created a new predictive intelligence platform that can automate the process of answering predictive business questions, without requiring data-cleaning or preprocessing. The platform has been extensively validated in a variety of use cases and data types, consistently demonstrating its ability to generate—in minutes—ad-hoc high-accuracy predictions that are on a par with the performance of internal teams of data scientist and machine-learning experts.

4:45 PM

Patrick Henry Winston, Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, MIT
What’s Next After What’s Next: Our Storytelling Future

Machine learning and deep nets lie at the heart of computer systems that exhibit a measure of intelligence. But whatever they do, they do not do what we do. Our intelligence is of a different kind. We can tell the story of what we are doing. We can think about the stories we tell ourselves. We communicate and explain. These symbolic abilities separated us from other animals a little more than 50,000 years ago and understanding them, and how they might work with systems based on machine learning, would have world-changing consequences. The Genesis System, developed at MIT, understands simple stories, answers questions, teaches instructively, tells persuasively, notes what it is experiencing, and explains what it is doing.

5:20 PM

End of First Conference Day

6:30 PM
7:00 PM
Reception at Hotel
Dinner at Hotel

Thursday April 13
7:30 AM


8:30 AM

Jennifer Hasler, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
A Roadmap to Achieve Large Neuromorphic Hardware Systems

In 40 years, the computational energy efficiency of battery-operated devices has improved by a staggering factor of 1000. The optimism around Moore’s Law makes us believe more is possible, even as we are hitting many performance walls. But where will it come from? First, another 1000-fold improvement in computational energy efficiency can be gained if we take advantage of the opportunities of straightforward translation of current algorithms to physical computation approaches. Neurobiology provides some further answers. Just within the brain itself we find unbelievable connectedness. Computations routinely performed by the human brain would take thousands of digital supercomputers if operated at the brain’s 20 watts. The next increase requires that we understand how the human cortex and the rest of the nervous system uses physical computation. These capabilities require better understanding of the connectivity between computational blocks, particularly the need for highly local connectivity with highly local and distributed memory elements. Much like Feynman claimed in 1959, computation has far, far more room until we reach the bottom. In fact, it may be possible to achieve an additional 100,000-fold improvement in computational energy efficiency. The past 40 years may have just been the beginning of what is possible.

9:10 AM

C. Karen Liu, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
Synthesizing Natural Movement for Humans and Robots

Creating realistic virtual humans has traditionally been considered a research problem in computer animation primarily for entertainment applications. With the recent breakthrough in collaborative robots and deep reinforcement learning, accurately modeling human movements and behaviors has become a challenge faced by researchers in robotics, artificial intelligence, as well as computer animation. In this talk, I will focus on two different yet highly relevant problems: how to teach robots to move like humans, and how to teach robots to interact with humans.

9:50 AM

Simon Levin, Distinguished University Professor, Princeton University
Modularity, Connectedness, and Critical Transitions

In various systems, from neural networks to the global economy, connectedness allows for the benefits of flows of information and materials, and fosters the development of complex feedbacks and strategies that lead to richer interactions and faster growth. There are costs as well as benefits to such connections, however, and hyperconnectedness introduces systemic risk, contagion, and the potential for collapse. Intermediate modularity has numerous advantages; evolution has adopted that strategy, and there are lessons for businesses and societies.

10:30 AM
Coffee Break
11:00 AM

David Robert Grimes, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Gray Laboratories (@drg1985)
Paranoia for the People—The Rise of Conspiracy Theories in the 21st Century

Conspiratorial ideation (e.g., the moon landings were faked; climate-change is a hoax; vaccination is dangerous) is the tendency of individuals to believe that events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organizations. Public acceptance of these ostensibly explanatory conjectures remains high, even when they are non-falsifiable, lacking in evidence, or demonstrably false. Social media exacerbates the problem by providing fertile ground for conspiracy theories to rapidly propagate, moreover, dedicated echo chambers can insulate these beliefs from critical examination. We'll examine what makes conspiracy theories so virile, including recent mathematical models that aim to understand the viability of such beliefs and models of how they spread. And we'll see how much damage such claims can cause, and why in our hyper-connected era its more imperative than ever to combat false narratives.

11:35 AM

Jonathan Taplin, Director Emeritus, Annenberg Innovation Lab, and Clinical Professor of Communication, USC (@jonathantaplin)
Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy

Beginning in the 1990s, a small group of libertarian entrepreneurs hijacked the original decentralized vision of the Internet and in the process created three monopoly firms—Facebook, Amazon, and Google—that now determine the future of the music, film, television, publishing, and news industries. Online life, at one time the provenance of hackers and scientific researchers, began to be shaped around the values of the men who founded these companies, including Peter Thiel and Larry Page, tolerating piracy of books, music, and film while at the same time promoting opaque business practices and subordinating privacy of individual users to create the surveillance marketing monoculture in which we now live. The enormous profits that have come with this concentration of power tell their own story.

12:05 PM

Arun Sundararajan, Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences, NYU (@digitalarun)
The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism

Giving someone a ride, having a guest in your spare room, running errands for someone, participating in a supper club—these are not revolutionary concepts. What is new, in the “sharing economy,” is that you are not helping a friend for free; you are providing these services to a stranger for money. The transition to “crowd-based capitalism” is a new way of organizing economic activity that may supplant the traditional corporate-centered model. An intriguing mix of “gift” and “market” emerges when we study a raft of real-world examples that includes Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Etsy, TaskRabbit, France’s BlaBlaCar, China’s Didi Kuaidi, and India’s Ola. Will this new paradigm change economic growth and the future of work? Will we live in a world of empowered entrepreneurs who enjoy professional flexibility and independence? Or will we become disenfranchised digital laborers scurrying between platforms in search of the next wedge of piecework?

12:45 PM
Nicholas Negroponte, TTI/Vanguard Advisory Board
Connectivity as a Human Right
12:55 PM

TTI/Vanguard Announcements

1:00 PM
Members’ Working Lunch
2:05 PM

Jordi Puig-Suari, Professor, CalPoly, and Co-inventor, CubeSat (#CubeSat)
CubeSat: An Accidental Space Revolution

A new spirit of innovation—sometimes called New Space or Space 2.0—is changing the space business. The CubeSats standard, developed nearly two decades ago to improve hands-on space systems training for college students, has become an integral part of it. At first, the project had no significant funding or support. Nonetheless, over 500 CubeSats have been launched, and the launch rate is growing to hundreds of spacecraft a year. An industrial ecosystem has emerged to support this class of spacecraft, with a growing number of companies using CubeSats as the basis for their business plan. How could a small student project have such a significant effect on a multi-billion-dollar industry? Understanding and answering this question is interesting in its own right and important, since it may serve as a model for future technology revolutions.  

2:40 PM

Nicole Immorlica, Senior Researcher, Microsoft
Data as Labor: The Future of Work in the Age of Automation

From the plow to the printing press to the bar code, humans have used machines to augment and replace human labor. Today, they are moving into higher skilled, thinking tasks. Partly due to this, societies are seeing dramatic rises in productivity, but with lagging returns for wage earners and growing income disparities between them and business owners. Although we call these technologies, such as vehicles that need no human drivers, “autonomous,” they could hardly exist without us. In particular, they cannot run without the data we provide. We should consider the production of this data as labor, and compensate humans accordingly.

3:20 PM

Bob Lucky, TTI/Vanguard Advisory Board
Conference Reflections

4:00 PM
Meeting Closes

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