Infosys Foundation USA Crossroads 2017: Dinner Gala and Keynotes (Part 9)

After a full day of sessions about computer science and maker education, I was ready for a mental break and some good food.

Dinner was held in a huge ballroom at the Moscone West Conference Center, where a selection of light-up wearables were available at the entrance. I chose a necktie with flashing LEDs because, unfortunately, all of the cool LED hats went fast.

I won’t say too much about the food other than the highlight was San Francisco cioppino, a very tasty seafood stew. There was also a wide selection of Indian dishes which I enjoyed. Entertainment was provided by a DJ and entertainers from the Los Angeles-based Two Bit Circus. Brent Bushnell of the amazing Bushnell family is the CEO and co-founder of the entries. The Circus provided LED illuminated dancers on stilts, acrobats, light and electronic games (including a fun game where you roll giant trackballs to collect pluses and avoid minuses that are beamed to the floor by a projector) and even a robot bartender. The Two Bit Circus is planning to launch a “micro-amusement park” in Los Angeles which will incorporate VR and other cutting-edge technologies.

Here’s some video of the trackball game. It makes more sense when you see it.

In the morning, I had just enough time to have breakfast and attend two keynote sessions. The first keynotes were part of the simultaneously held Infosys Confluence conference, but open to attendees of Crossroads. The first keynote was featured Sebastian Thrun and Aimee Mullins, who have both given multiple TED talks. (Aimee Mullins and Sebastian Thrun on the TED website.) A brief introductory video provided information about the new TEDx Anchor partnership program launched exclusively with Infosys in India, a partnership which helped launch 14 TEDx events throughout India. This session was of particular interest to me, as I am on the team that founded Mississippi’s first TEDx conference, TEDxJackson, and continue to be involved in organizing its annual conferences.

Lisa Choi Owens, TED’s Chief Revenue Officer and Head of Global Partnerships, introduced Thrun and Mullins and also welcomed Infosys Chief Operating Officer, Pravin Rao. Each speaker gave a short TED-style talk and then took questions from Owens. 

Thrun is a noted technology expert and researcher in robotics, artificial intelligence and human/computer interaction. He founded Google’s self-driving car project and the Google X initiative and is the co-founder and president of the online learning company Udacity. In his talk, he spoke to the current and impact of automation and artificial intelligence on our lives. He described a smartphone-based AI technology that can detect skin cancers with accuracy comparable to dermatologists. He also provided an update on the current state of autonomous vehicles. According to Thrun, the world is not entering into a new era of work. In the industrial age, machines were built to augment our muscles. Today, AI is augmenting our brains, an movement which will have a profound affect on lives, globally.

Aimee Mullins is an actress, model and athlete who was born without fibulae in both legs, a condition called fibular hemimelia. After having her legs amputated before her first birthday, she learned to walk with prosthetics legs by age two. Mullins talked about how her desire to become the fastest runner on prosthetic legs led to the development of carbon-fiber prostheses modeled after the hind legs of a cheetah. She went on to set World Records in the 100 meter, the 200 meter and the long jump and her prosthetic leg design ultimately became the international standard for amputee runners.

During her talk, Mullins addressed the role the fashion industry plays in setting beauty standards  and how she has encouraged people to adapt to new perspective through her modeling and runway work, and also a number of photoshoots featuring Mullins wearing prosthetic legs developed for artistic, not athletic performance, purposes. She encouraged the audience to view  prosthetic devices such as her own as more than just a way to overcome disability, but rather a way to augment the body to a higher purpose.

The following session, which would be my last, was an overview of artificial intelligence given by Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka, in which he attempted to cover the high points of AI in just 45 minutes. I have to confess that most of his talk went over my head, although I did find it interesting that there are two basic approaches to AI – neat AI and scruffy AI.

After Vishal’s talk, I jumped in a taxi and headed to the airport. Regrettably, I was unable to see the legendary Alan Kay’s keynote “Education That Takes Us To The 22nd Century,” but am eagerly waiting for the conference organizers to post a video online.

All in all, the Crossroads was outstanding and very worthwhile. The Infosys Foundation USA put together a amazing event and offered wonderful hospitality. I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to attend. I’m looking forward to leveraging the knowledge and connections made at the conference to support computer science and maker education in Mississippi and hope to make a return visit to the Crossroads conference again in the future.

I’ll leave you with one more of Infosys Foundation USA’s “Why I Make” videos. This one features Nolan Bushnell and family.

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Photo: Infosys Confluence 2017 Keynote. Photo by the author.