Which of MIT’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies Are Event-Industry Game Changers?

Author: Michelle Russell       

MIT Technology Review has just published its “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2018” list. For the past 18 years, the editors have selected 10 tech advances they think “will shape the way we work and live now and for years to come.”

The 10 technologies chosen this year seem to give new meaning to the word “advances” in that they demonstrate how rapidly innovation and tech are moving from theory to implementation. Take, for example, how one of the technologies chosen — dueling neural networks, the simplified mathematical models of the human brain that underpin most modern machine learning — went from being an academic argument a University of Montreal Ph.D. student had at a bar in 2014 to one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade.

All of the 10 technologies will have an effect, some profound, on our society in the coming years — from the medical promise and ethical questions raised by artificial embryos to the environmental benefit of zero-carbon natural gas. But which ones are most directly relevant to the business-events industry? I’ve picked five:

3D Metal Printing — is becoming cheap and easy enough to be a practical way of manufacturing parts. What impact will that have on construction — specifically of event venues? Populous architect Adam Paulitsch told PCMA writer David McMillin that he didn’t think it was too much of a leap to go from 3D printing as the standard for the design process (building models and prototyping) to 3D-printed components for smaller elements of a convention-center space. “There could be an opportunity to designate a portion of the building that will get reprinted every three to five years,” Paulitsch said, “to respond to changes in the industry and new preferences for learning and interacting.”

Quayside is rethinking an urban neighborhood by using the latest digital technologies. Photo Credit Adobe Stock

Sensing City — a new project in Toronto, called Quayside, is rethinking an urban neighborhood by using the latest digital technologies. New York City–based Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs is partnering with the Canadian government on the high-tech project on Toronto’s industrial waterfront, and one of its goals is “to base decisions about design, policy, and technology on information from an extensive network of sensors that gather data on everything from air quality to noise levels to people’s activities.” Among its ambitious plans: All vehicles will be autonomous and shared, and robots underground will perform menial tasks like mail delivery. 

In the short term in today’s knowledge economy, a high-tech project like this makes Toronto a standout host destination for high-tech and urban-planning conferences. In the long term, and thinking in strictly practical terms, eventually hosting events in other cities that have expressed an interest in Sidewalk Labs’ work — San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and Boston — will change the delegate experience, if only in the way they get to their hotels and convention centers via autonomous and shared vehicles.

AI for Everybody — machine-learning tools based in the cloud are bringing AI to a broader audience than the tech industry, where “it has created efficiencies and produced new products and services.” But if other sectors — such as medicine, manufacturing, and energy — were able to implement AI more fully because it is less expensive and difficult, it would be transformative and boost economic productivity. Which, in turn, would transform the content and delivery of education at business events across those sectors. Amazon and Google are now setting up consultancy services to train organizations on how to use cloud AI.

Babel-Fish Earbuds — Google has just started producing $159 earbuds, called Pixel Buds, that work with its Pixel smartphones and Google Translate app to produce practically real-time translation. Here’s how it works: One person wears the earbuds; the other holds a phone. The earbud-wearing partner speaks in his or her own language — English is the default — and the app translates the talking and plays it aloud on the phone. The response of the person holding the phone is translated and played through the earbuds. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this relatively cheap technology would elevate networking and increase participation in sessions at multinational events where delegates speak dozens of languages.

Zero-knowledge proof that gives users the ability to make online transactions anonymously. Photo Credit Adobe Stock

Perfect Online Privacy — as data protection and privacy concerns heat up in the events industry (The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, will come into effect in May), there seems to be a reassuring tool on the horizon: a cryptographic protocol called a zero-knowledge proof that gives users the ability to make online transactions anonymously. “That’s not currently possible in Bitcoin and most other public blockchain systems, in which transactions are visible to everyone,” according to the article. Vitalik Buterin, creator of the world’s second-most popular blockchain network, described the tool as an “absolutely game-changing technology.”