Friday, April 17, 2015

As you know, we buy books for homeless shelters in each city we visit. These are the centerpieces for our meals and are orchestrated through First Books, an educational charity. For the February meeting in San Diego, one of our clients asked if we would buy books for a battered women/children shelter here in L.A., Sojourn, at which she volunteers. So we did. First Books was so impressed that they’ve donated extra education materials and we have donated more things over the last few months. The last batch included a Kindle donated by our friend and former employee Carli Mellor. It ended up with a 14-year-old boy at the shelter who could not read and resisted learning. He became obsessed with the Kindle and is now reading. If the fact that he learned to read—all by himself using electronic tools that he previously had no access to—reminds you of Dr. Maryanne Wolf (Jersey City, Oct 2013) and her inspirational account of how she and Advisory Board Nicholas Negroponte dropped Motorola Xoom tablets into rural Ethiopia, you’re not alone. And if you’ve a lump in your throat now, again you’re not alone.

The Achilles Heel of the Kindle and other mobile devices is power, and the perfect battery is as elusive as the Holy Grail—as we’ve heard from Bob Lucky (Los Angeles, Nov 1998), Jerry Hallmark (Toronto, Apr 2002), Yet-Ming Chiang (Montreal, Apr 2004), Shalom Daskal (Montreal, Apr 2004), Rolland Pitts (Miami, Dec 2011), and Shani Keysar (Vienna, Jul 2013). Might a team of Stanford researchers led by Hongjie Dai be the Knights of the Electric Table with their flexible, robust, safe, and ultrafast-charging aluminum-ion battery? Google seems to be sniffing down the same trail… and

To what extent should big-data-based algorithms be left on their own to make decisions -- such as ad placement, medical recommendations, or insurance underwriting — and to what extent should humans intervene in an evaluatory context? Claudia Perlich (Pittsburgh, Oct 2012) and Danny Hillis weigh in on this matter that was also addressed by David Rothschild (Jersey City, Oct 2013), Daniel Tunkelang (Washington, D.C., Apr/May 2013), James Hendler (Atlanta, Feb 2014), David Barnes (Pittsburgh, Oct 2012), and others.

NASA's Curiosity Rover continues to unlock the secrets of Mars, with the latest being soil that is damp with liquid brine. Extraterrestrial sensors and the ability to place them elsewhere in the solar system, and move them around once they have arrived, are key to planetary science. We have tracked these three factors across the past decade and a half: Lynn Rothschild (San Jose, Sep 2000); Erika DeBenedictus (Vienna, Jul 2013); and Daniel Clancy (Phoenix, Dec 2003), Pamela Clark (Santa Monica, Dec 2007), and Vytas SunSpiral (Atlanta, Feb 2014).

We have heard about the multifaceted utility of natural silk fibers from Tiger Tao (San Diego, Feb 2015) and Todd Blackledge (Charlotte, Dec 2010), and we have heard about growing organ tissue on substrates from Dusko Ilic (London, Jul 2014), Lawrence Bonassar (San Jose, Feb 2012), and Nynke Van Den Akker (Vienna, Jul 2013), but research out of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology combines these by cultivating cardiac tissue on a substrate of the spider silk protein spidroin.

At our robotics meeting in Boston a year ago, we were introduced to robots with names like Jimmy, EDI, and Boxie (respectively presented by Brian David Johnson, Marco Tempest, and Alex Reben), and we learned from Colin Angle that the overwhelming majority of Roomba owners name their vacuum cleaners. Now we learn that factory workers — and owners — have a similar propensity.

While on the topic of the interaction between little exoskeletal creatures and humans, Might urban-dwelling ants offer us novel and useful algorithms (Deborah Gordon, Seattle, Dec 2012; Saket Navlakha, San Diego, Feb 2015)? North Carolina State University researchers led by Clint Penick have performed 13C dating on 21 species of NYC-dwelling ants to discover the differential consumption of human junk food among them, discovering that some, but not all, are as addicted to the stuff as New Yorkers are.

You may recall Henry Clippinger (Atlanta, Feb 2014) telling us that the most important thing about Bitcoin was the block chain, which had a significance far greater than the currency because of the way it makes Bitcoins self-identifying and self-authenticating. And just this week, Samsung is reported to be looking to use it in just that way for things like drug prescriptions. There are also several startups that have latched onto that as a business plan, as described in this interesting review, sent to us by a member, of block chain technology. One of those companies is Ethereum, and we’re happy to say its Chief Scientist and co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, will be speaking at the July meeting.

Shareholder activism unlocks value for shareholders. But does it also unhinge corporate R&D? According to a story this week in BloombergView, nearly all corporate profits go back to shareholders, with little left for reinvestment in the future. This is overall, a pretty depressing report. What if Xerox had never invested in the dreamlike R&D of Advisory Board Member Alan Kay and his fearless peers at Xerox Parc? But, discouraging as the article may be, one footnote did entertain us a bit: 1. Trivially, some companies are good at zero things, but they are not of much interest to this model.

DARPA is looking at software that will run “forever” without upgrades. This reminded us that we still hope to have Infosys star Vishal Sikka discuss his inspirational Timeless Software with us.

Boston and other East Coast friends – mark your calendars! Advisory Board Member Mike Hawley and his enigmatic friend George Church (why does that name sound familiar? Likely because he was repeatedly referenced from the stage in San Diego: will host a regional in Boston. On June 5th, we’ll meet at the Four Seasons 8 am for breakfast followed by Mike and George’s discussion from 8:30 am to 10:30 am. Save the date and we’ll send more details soon.

Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.
Robert H. Schuller

The TTI/Vanguard Team

Author: Steven Cherry

Director of TTI/Vanguard, “a unique forum for senior-level executives that links strategic technology planning to business success. In private conferences that are part classroom, part think-tank, and part laboratory, its members—corporate and government leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and academics—explore emerging and potentially disruptive technologies.”

Twenty years experience as a technology journalist and editor, at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Founded the award-winning podcast series, Techwise Conversations covering tech news, tech careers and education, and the engineering lifestyle. Teaches an intensive writing class as an adjunct instructor at NYU. Previously taught essay writing and creative writing at The College of New Rochelle.