Seattle 2035: Agenda Posted for the Future of Our Innovation Economy

I had a vivid dream last night. I hopped a rocket—it seemed routine—to an orbiting laboratory where I interviewed a youthful Oren Etzioni and a team of action heroes working on a half-dozen different AI robots. Clearly, I’ve got Seattle 2035 on my mind.

We’ve just posted the full agenda for Xconomy’s Oct. 30 conference on the future of Seattle’s innovation ecosystem. When your subconscious gets involved, you know you’re excited. We hope you will be, too. Space is limited, but you can register to attend here.

Etzioni, the head of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, joins more than two dozen other leaders in virtual reality, scientific wellness, STEM education, space exploration and entrepreneurship, venture capital, green buildings, metamaterials, urban agriculture, and much more.

We’re putting together what I believe will be a vibrant discussion about the technologies and industries that could become pillars of our economy in the years to come. We’ll also take up the questions that are wracking Seattle as the explosive growth of the tech industry remakes the city—nowhere more so than in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Our venue and host, Northeastern University-Seattle is in the heart of it.

As a recent example, see The New York Times’ take on our soul-searching, with a particular focus on housing affordability. Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, whose real estate data on the northward migration of Californians to the Northwest is cited in the piece, opens our event with a talk titled “Creating a Livable Seattle for All.”

We’ll focus on a core strength of the ecosystem—information technology—in a chat with Eric Horvitz, Distinguished Scientist & Managing Director, Microsoft Research, and Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at University of Washington. Like all of our speakers, they’re eager to engage the audience, so bring your best questions on how IT will shape the future of the Northwest and beyond.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence—profiled recently by The Washington Post, alongside the Allen Institute for Brain Science—is challenging AI students and researchers to build a system that can successfully answer 8th grade general science questions (PDF). $80,000 in prizes is on the line in the competition, which closes in February. If you want to know why this is so hard, come hear Etzioni’s keynote on the state of the art in AI and where it might be in 2035. (And find out if he has any orbiting labs planned.)

We’ll dive deeper into the topic of intelligent machines with a panel featuring Textio co-founder and CEO Kieran Snyder; Dragos Margineantu, a Boeing technical fellow; and Ian Gorton, director of computer science at Northeastern University-Seattle. They will explain how machine learning is being used today for things like spotting biased language in job listings and detecting anomalies in aircraft manufacturing, performance, and maintenance.

Why was it a youthful Etzioni in my dream? I don’t know. But we’ll hear about “scientific wellness”—a modern approach to healthcare being pioneered in Seattle by the Institute for Systems Biology and its new spinout company, Arivale. ISB president Leroy Hood and his Arivale co-founder Clayton Lewis—in conversation with Andrew Scharenberg, principal investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute—will chart this optimistic future of medicine that’s focused on keeping individuals well, rather than treating them when they’re sick.

If there’s a technology that’s going to bring our dreams to life, virtual reality may be it. But it’s not all about entertainment. Leaders of three Seattle-area virtual reality companies—Bob Berry of Envelop VR, Brian Vowinkel of VRstudios, and Forest Gibson of PlutoVR—will talk about uses of this technology in business, architecture, design, and gaming, too. The moderator for this panel is Geoff Entress, prolific angel investor and co-founder of the new Pioneer Square Labs.

We are in a new era of space exploration and entrepreneurship, and Seattle-area companies are playing a significant and growing role. See, for example, news of Spaceflight’s purchase of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a 2017 “rideshare” launch, which will include as a main payload SpaceIL’s entry in Google’s race to the moon.

For those keeping score, that’s a Seattle company buying a rocket from a Hawthorne, CA, company to send payloads into low Earth orbit, including an Israeli nonprofit’s spacecraft designed to travel all the way from there to the lunar surface, where it will explore at least a 500-meter area and send back high-definition video, in pursuit of a $30 million prize from Google. Apollo program this ain’t—though my dream of a routine rocket trip to orbit is still probably more than 20 years off.

We’ll talk about this new era with Spaceflight CEO Jason Andrews; Nathan Kundtz, CEO of Kymeta, which has raised $62 million from Bill Gates and others to build metamaterials satellite antennae; and Joe Landon, CFO of Planetary Resources and chairman of the Space Angels Network.

Regardless of which technologies come to define the Seattle of 2035, we’ll still need talented people to build them—and a city to house, move, power, inspire, and feed them.

The tech industry has shouted its workforce needs from the rooftops, and lately become more engaged in addressing its poor record on diversity—but there’s a long way to go. We’ll discuss local approaches to developing all of Washington’s talent with Cynthia Tee, executive director of the Ada Developers Academy; Trish Dziko, co-founder and executive director of the Technology Access Foundation; and Dan Shapiro, co-founder and CEO of Glowforge, which earlier this year instituted a “diversity bounty” to help attract more applicants from women and under-represented minorities.

We’ll get glimpses of the city of the future through the lens of experts thinking about urban environments and infrastructure: Amanda Sturgeon, incoming CEO of the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute, which administers the Living Building Challenge—the most stringent in the world (and the one achieved earlier this year by the Bullitt Center, among other Seattle buildings); Nitin Baliga, senior vice president at the Institute for Systems Biology, who is working on sustainable urban agriculture; Z. Gary Yang, CEO of UniEnergy Technologies, which makes flow batteries for grid-scale energy storage; and Thaisa Way, executive director of the new Urban@UW program, whose mission is “inclusive, data-driven innovation for the future of cities.”

Seattle 2035 will close with a conversation between two people who have been instrumental to our innovation economy over the last two decades. Who better to provide perspective on where Seattle may be headed than Tom Alberg, co-founder and managing director of Madrona Venture Group (and an Amazon board member since 1996), and Susannah Malarkey, founding executive director of the Technology Alliance, who is stepping down after two decades leading the organization’s work on education, entrepreneurship, and research.

Seating is limited, so grab a ticket now and join us on Oct. 30 to talk about the future of Seattle.

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

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