12 need-to-know influencers driving new technology discussions

24 Mar 2017

Image: Nnphotos/Shutterstock

The conversation around technology and its impact on society is firing up, and these influential voices are leading this critical debate.

March of the Machines

We are almost at the close of March of the Machines on Siliconrepublic.com. This past week, we have been feverishly following the near-future of technology and, particularly, how it will impact our lives.

From artificial intelligence (AI) to the internet of things (IoT) and the future of work and industry, this conversation will inevitably continue on Siliconrepublic.com and across the sci-tech world. We hope you continue to follow along with us, but we also recommend you keep tabs on the diverse perspectives from these influencers at the frontier of this discussion.

Elon Musk

Silicon Valley superstar Elon Musk is undoubtedly one of the most influential voices in the commercial sci-tech world right now. When the Tesla and SpaceX founder spoke out about his reservations around the development of AI, technologists the world over took note. These days, Musk has the ear of the current US presidential administration as a member of its business advisory council.

Sherry Turkle

MIT’s Prof Sherry Turkle has been driving discussion around what new technologies mean for human relationships since the 1980s and continues to be a leading voice on these matters. The founder and director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle has dedicated her research to human behaviour in the digital world, probing the impact of technology such as AI and robotics on users’ emotional lives.

Mady Delvaux-Stehres

For those of us in the European Union, European Parliament member Mady Delvaux-Stehres is putting robotics on the agenda as part of the EU Working Group on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Earlier this year, the Luxembourgish politician proposed a groundbreaking piece of legislation that would consider autonomous robots as “electronic persons” entitled to certain rights and accountable for their actions.

Mike Schroepfer

The name might not be as well known as Mark Zuckerberg but, as CTO of Facebook, Mike Schroepfer is the technical architect of the online lives of more than 1.2bn daily active users worldwide. It’s a mammoth task and even Schroepfer isn’t entirely certain where Facebook’s 10-year roadmap to tackle new technologies such as AI and virtual reality (VR) will take them.

Genevieve Bell

This week has been about the intersection of humans and technology as our lives become increasingly digitised. Technologist and anthropologist Dr Genevieve Bell has been sitting on this intersection for years, formerly as head of sensing and insights at Intel, and now returning to her native Australia as a professor in Australian National University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. Bell will remain a senior fellow at Intel and a key figure in this ongoing discussion.

Linda Doyle

This highly connected future we speak of will require a communications infrastructure more powerful and robust than ever before. That’s the subject of research ongoing at the Connect centre, a Science Foundation Ireland-funded research centre based at Trinity College Dublin. Prof Linda Doyle leads Connect as director and has continually advocated for a combination of arts and STEM thinking to ensure a well-designed future for all.

Marcus Weldon

While Doyle guided the ‘STEAM’ train on the Inspirefest stage in 2015 and 2016, Marcus Weldon continues the conversation this summer in Dublin. As president of Bell Labs and CTO of Nokia, Weldon leads the technical strategy of an institution integral to the evolution of IT and communications. He is looking ahead to a networked future for the IoT.

Joy Buolamwini

What use is a high-tech future if it’s not for all of humanity? Some of the most important questions to answer with AI and emerging technology are around inclusion and diversity – some of which were posed by MIT grad student Joy Buolamwini. While working on a facial recognition project, she found that the tech being developed couldn’t recognise her features because darker skin tones were not taken into consideration when programming. Buolamwini took these concerns to the TEDx stage and continues to question the validity of AI and new technology developed by homogeneous teams.

Conor Walsh

A fascinating new area in technology is soft robotics, introduced to the Inspirefest audience by Dr Dónal Holland last summer. Holland is a graduate of the Harvard Biodesign Lab founded by Prof Conor Walsh, who was named as one of Popular Science’s ‘Brilliant 10 of 2016’. Walsh has been recognised at home and abroad for his work leading the development of soft robotics and wearable robotic exoskeletons for enhanced performance and people with disabilities.

Exosuit Conor Walsh

Prof Conor Walsh (left) and a colleague assemble an exosuit on a mannequin. Image: Rolex/Fred Merz

Robin Chase

One tech advance that seems increasingly imminent is the arrival of autonomous vehicles, but there are still many considerations to be addressed before the roads are taken over by robotic drivers. Robin Chase, a sharing economy pioneer and transport entrepreneur, had been ruminating on this before it became the hot topic of the moment and recently joined Osmosys, a multi-sector alliance lobbying for this transition to be sustainable and human-centred.

Andrew Ng

Until very recently, Andrew Ng was leading AI research at Baidu, known in shorthand as ‘China’s Google’. Ng has been the author, or co-author, of more than 100 papers on machine learning and robotics and, though his next professional steps are yet to be revealed, we can be certain that his contributions will continue to count towards AI’s future development.

Resh Sidhu

Finally, we look to the world of VR, where Resh Sidhu reigns as self-proclaimed ‘Queen of VR’. Creative director of VR studio Framestore, Sidhu was recently named by IBM Watson as one of the AI Influencers of 2017. Framestore has contributed visual effects for blockbusters such as Gravity, The Dark Knight and the Harry Potter universe, and Sidhu is pushing for a future of good VR and smart storytelling, so that our future selves can be thoroughly entertained.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic