AI, robotics, urban transport and security among many themes under the microscope

One of the most enthralling elements of IFA’s market was the IFA+ Summit, a two-day conference programme that saw some of the world’s leading technology thought-leaders share their ideas with delegates. Inspiring and provocative, the Summit operated on the border between sci- and reality.

Headlining this year’s Summit was former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, now a security ambassador to Avast. In a session entitled Timeless Values In The Digital World – Where Human Responsibility Meets AI Decisions, Kasparov explained it is not enough to have smarter machines, it is also important for us to become better humans. Speaking to IFA International, he praised the role of the future-facing Summit, saying: “the IFA+ Summit is a special event because it combines discussions about next generation technology and our society which should never be separated.”

Not surprisingly, AI was a major theme at the summit, with several sessions focusing on the links between machine on the one hand and human emotions, sense and biology on the other. On day one, Augsburg University professor Elisabeth Andre explored “Machines and Feelings” while day two of the event saw Poppy Crum, chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, use her presentation, “The Post Poker Face Era”, to explore the interface between technology and human perception. Her basic thesis is that technology is on the cusp of being able to decode the subconscious signals that people give out – through their vocal tonality, body heat, facial expressions, chemical signature and so on. As a result, she said, “technology will know more about us than we do and be more in tune with us. It will lead to unprecedented authenticity.”

Among the many challenging sessions was Robin D. Hanson’s Meet Your Replacements – When Robots Rule The Earth, and Wendell Wallach’s Crown of Creation – Emerging Technologies and Ethics. Wallach, a Yale University Professor, focuses on the risks and undesirable consequences of new tech such as robotics – encouraging people to think through some of the key policy agendas. Summarising his session in an interview with IFA International he said: “I laid out the broad problems. What are the issues in moving down the road to increasing autonomy, particularly around responsibility, culpability and liability.”

In another interesting session on day two, Voom CEO Uma Subramanian pushed the envelope on the subject of where urban air travel might be heading. In Urban Air Mobility: Learnings from the Real World, she discussed near-future technologies such as self-driving air vehicles, electric vehicles and VTOL aircraft. In a related interview with IFA International, she elaborated: “We are actively working with regulators to establish conditions for on-demand air travel, ensuring helipad infrastructure is in place, and generally nurturing an ecosystem that will enable the vertical cities of the future.”

Not surprisingly there was plenty of insight and analysis of VR and Haptic technology, with a day two session from Yedan Qian of BMW Group company Designworks focusing on how to create fully immersive experiences. During Ethical Intimacy in the Age of the Avatar (also day two) Rachel Sibley looked at the bene ts of VR in terms of helping people become better at intimacy. While she acknowledged that “there is a fear that VR takes us down the rabbit hole of isolation” she said VR opens up a scenario where “a kid from England can play with a kid from Indonesia on the streets of Paris”. She envisaged a world where VR content can help people empathise more easily with other genders, ethnicities and age demographics.”

Perhaps some of the most far-reaching sessions were those that explored the idea of cyborgs. While there is still a tendency to think of electronics and appliances as separate from the consumer’s personal self, the era of AI and robotics raises the possibility of technology being integrated into the body. Academics Isabel Pedersen and Kevin Warwick discussed this in The Computer Inside of Me, The Future of Interaction. So did dancer and choreographer Moon Ribas, who has had seismic sensors implanted in her feet so that she can feel earthquakes whenever and wherever they happen around the world. She said the vibrations mean that she now experiences what she calls an “earthbeat” that is “part of my identity”.

Photo: Garry Kasparov @ IFA+ Summit