Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meeting of the Minds, Toronto - Takeaways, Images and Pix

Had a solid day yesterday at Meeting of the Minds here in Toronto. In short, the focus is about developing sustainable plans and solutions for today's cities, and it's a great mix for my two focus areas as an analyst - communications technologies and smart grid.

Lots of big picture ideas, but if you have faith in technology, the world can and will be a better place, even as cities become impossibly crowded. Naturally, many of the big sponsors are the big vendors and manufacturers building these technologies - namely Cisco, Schneider Electric, IBM, Toyota and Bombardier. They're all doing cool things, and when you start thinking large, Big Data becomes the holy grail and that helps drive something bigger, the latest must-use acronym, IoE - the Internet of Everything. We just heard a good overview of this from Cisco's Wim Elfrink. It's a pretty powerful idea, and if you thought talking in terms of billions is big, IoE is all about trillions. Bigger can be better, but a lot has to go right to get the desired results.

As we know, technology in a vacuum doesn't do us much good, and there are three major things otherwise that have to "go right", and we heard a lot about that too. First, there is the role of the public sector - government programs, policies, regulations, etc. The conference kicked off with a short talk from Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynne, and she made it clear that government should - and will - have a growing role here, not a shrinking role. Add to this the huge role of education, especially in Canada where post-secondary schools are totally publicly-funded. Clearly, we need lots of public/private partnerships, and other speakers from the public sector gave us good examples in their talks.

Second is the ultimate driver, money. Cities are broke and most governments have limited means to fund the initiatives we've been hearing about here. Conversely, the financial community has tons of money, and has the will to invest in this space, but many of the elements are missing that make the business case they need to open their taps.

Finally, there is the will and inclination for us as consumers to adopt these technologies. That's a complex topic, and on a global basis, it's all over the map. Some technologies will be passive and transparent to us, but others will cause us to change how we do things. Then we have the unspoken Big Brother elements, but let's leave that aside - that's another forum for me altogether. We saw some cool examples from Toyota with autonomous technologies where cars drive themselves. This is just the tip of the iceberg for how a lot of things that define daily life will be re-invented and re-booted, especially once connectivity becomes cheaper, more ubiquitous and more intelligent.

Urbanization is an uber-trend for sure, and this has been a great conference to connect these dots on a deeper level. Ultimately, politics, money and public acceptance will dictate how successful these great technologies will become, but I'm optimistic we'll get much of this right, and it's an exciting time to make the world a better place.

Kudos, by the way, for Toronto landing this event - it's been all U.S.-based previously. Kudos again for the venue - the Evergreen Brick Works. You'd be hard pressed to find a more appropriate, eco-friendly, super-sustainable site anywhere. Great choice.

I'll leave you with a very fun wayback reference to the August 1925 issue of Popular Science magazine. This was from the Toyota presentation given by Jim Pisz, and imagines what the urban landscape will look like in 1950. Sometimes you have to look back to see where to go forward, but if you take the time to explore this, you'll see that the basic issues haven't changed at all - they're just more complex now.

The image below is just an excerpt - there's a bigger image and here's the link to view it.

May Live to See - 1925

If you know me, I'm a music guy, and will bet I wasn't the only one in the room who started humming "I.G.Y. - What a Beautiful World" when this image went up on the screen. I may be dating myself, but this is from Donald Fagan's unnderrated 1982 solo album The Nightfly - love it. If you don't have that song bouncing around in your head now, either you don't know it or you were too busy texting and not listening here at the Brick Works!

Opening comments from Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne

Innovation panel - OCAD, MaRS, ON Ministry of Research and Innovation

You'd never think we're minutes away from the downtown core - pretty rustic

Ok, I know, I need a better camera, but this moment ties things together nicely. The venue used to be the brick works from which much of downtown Toronto was built. Now, it's been repurposed to promote sustainable living and greater environmental awareness for the well-being of cities. I'm looking through a kiln (the sign above saying HARROP looks more like a subway stop, huh?), and at the far end is center stage where a keynote is being given. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there hope for our cities? I think so, and I hope I can attend the next MOTM.

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