Seattle 2035: AI, Space, Wellness, and the City of the Future

It’s no secret: Seattle—capital of cloud computing, e-commerce epicenter, Jet City, tech metropolis—is booming. But what comes next? How do we maintain and expand this region’s role on the global innovation stage through the next economic cycle and the decades to come?

You can find out at Xconomy’s Seattle 2035 conference, part of our national Xponential Cities Series. This unique, forward-looking event brings together innovators, entrepreneurs, academics, investors, and other leaders building the technologies and companies that could form the core of Seattle’s economy 20 years down the road. Fewer than 200 tickets are available for this Oct. 30 event, and the best price is offered now.

We’ll explore the future of health and wellness with DNA sequencing pioneer Leroy Hood, co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology and startup Arivale. Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, will show us the state of the art in intelligent machines, and where the field may be going. And Tom Alberg, co-founder and managing director of Northwest venture capital stalwart Madrona Venture Group, will share the long view—forward and back.

He’s one of the best to do so, having placed a very early bet on a little company that wanted to sell books on the Internet. It was 20 years ago that Amazon.com launched from a Bellevue, WA, rental house, with a catalogue of titles “the size of 7 New York City phone books.” Alberg has been on the company’s board since 1996.

For Seattle 2035, we’ll gather at Northeastern University Seattle in the heart of the South Lake Union neighborhood, which is being completely transformed in large part to accommodate many of Amazon’s 24,000 Washington state employees.

A lot can happen in 20 years.

Another point of reference: Back in 1995, the Rolling Stones were starting up Windows 95 for Microsoft, the tech juggernaut that put a computer on every desk and the region on the map for technology innovation. Back then, Microsoft was largely unbowed by antitrust regulators and new competitors. The rapid ascent of its stock in the ensuing half-decade would create unprecedented wealth locally, giving rise to so much that has come afterward. Microsoft is now launching Windows 10, an operating system made for a world where constantly connected computers are in every pocket, in every thing.

In addition to a journey through the industries of Seattle’s future, including commercial space exploration and virtual reality, Seattle 2035 will look at several key ingredients necessary for an inclusive innovation economy to grow—and draw out lessons for building cities of the future.

For example, how will the tech industry in the state fill a chronic talent shortage, while also increasing diversity in the field?

There are several encouraging examples locally. We’ll hear about some of them from Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington; Cynthia Tee, executive director of the women-only coding school Ada Developers Academy; and Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Textio, which uses machine learning to flag biased language in job listings.

And what about the city’s infrastructure itself? Let’s assume for now that the Really Big One isn’t coming in the next 20 years—or that if it does, it won’t be as bad as we fear. How will Seattle and the broader Puget Sound region accommodate a surging population, drawn here by our from-the-future economy and our relatively benign climate?

(There’s an ongoing effort at the city level to update Seattle’s comprehensive plan, also called Seattle 2035. This document will help shape how the city grows in the next two decades.)

From transportation to housing to affordability for those earning less than tech wages, Seattle faces an array of wicked challenges. A new effort called Urban@UW seeks to unite researchers and practitioners from across the university and beyond to pursue multidisciplinary solutions to these and other pressing needs of cities of the future. We’ll hear from Urban@UW executive director Thaisa Way about how Seattle can be a living laboratory for building cities that are not just smart and data-driven, but also wise.

It’s an interesting moment to be putting on an event focused 20 years in the future, both for the region as a whole and for me personally.

In 2035, my young daughters will be entering the workforce. Will they look for jobs at a company mining asteroids, or making personalized healthcare recommendations based on insights drawn from individual genomes? To what degree will they be assisted by intelligent machines (assuming we’re not all serving the machines by then)? Will they view the world through a lens that overlays physical objects with all the Internet’s information and context? Or will they disappear into immersive virtual realities for work and play? Should they be learning Mandarin?

Meanwhile, Seattle is reinventing itself physically, building on its strengths economically, and doing a lot of soul-searching as rapid growth pushes out some of what has been here before. While there is griping about the changes, as there always will be, Seattle’s problems would be the envy of many other communities. Over the next 20 years, how we solve them will determine whether this remains a place people come to invent the future.

Please join us at Seattle 2035 to share in this important discussion. You can register here, and we hope to see you on Oct. 30.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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