I had the pleasure this week of attending a Massachusetts Tech Leadership Council summit on mobile technologies. The focus of the gathering was not just on New England technology, but on disruptive technology in the mobile space. It doesn't seem that long ago that the mobile space itself was the disruptor but now we're all getting a little too comfortable in that space and allowing norms to seep in instead of continuing to innovate.
The agenda was pretty varied, from MIT research demonstrations to marketing disruptions with Rovio's CMO. We started the afternoon with what I thought was the highlight of the session, an overview of some radical new technologies being investigated by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Director Dina Katabi was engaging and approachable as she talked about technology research that seems destined to change the world.
While she covered lots of territory from MegaMIMO to manage the full capacity of the wireless spectrum to 3D photography, perhaps the most amazing (and controversial) demonstration she gave was using Wi-Fi to see through walls. While you can make the argument that this technology can be used for the greater good, like rescuing people from the rubble of a fallen building after an earthquake, the less beneficent ramifications skittered around the room and over Twitter despite our fascination with the technology itself.
Katabi covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Her discussion around localization systems and 3D photography elicited a lot of murmuring and questions from the audience as well - as usual, MIT sets the bar high for ground-breaking research with real-world applications.
While MIT is certainly a name associated with innovation, so is Google. We are all rapt watching Google come out with autonomous vehicles and wearable technology, so it was interesting to learn that their venture capitalist arm is busy looking for innovators outside of Google. Rich Miner, who joined Google via the Android acquisition and is now running Google Ventures for the tech giant, talked openly about how their venture group works and what they look for when they invest in a company.
Naturally what we all want to know is... what do investors look for? Miner made it plain that Google Ventures is not focused on finding companies that fit a particular niche or would be acquisition candidates for Google. So what do they care about most when deciding where to put their money?
But of course, while team is a crucial factor to getting funding and being successful, it's not the only factor. Miner talked at length about the incredible growth in the mobile sector, particularly in the enterprise space, and how start-ups can maximize their investments there.
But, of course, no audience can resist asking a Google employee about Google Glass. :-) Like seeing through walls with your phone, many people see Glass as mildly creepy and potentially privacy-invading as it gives people the opportunity to record you without your knowledge. Miner acknowledges that it is a technology in its infancy but also provided a context many of us hadn't had before - using it for hands-free video recording of those moments when you need both hands - like reeling in a big catch or teaching your child to ride a bike.