Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, October 23, 2023
by Neil Senturia
CONNECT held its second annual Innovation Day on Sept. 14 at Petco Park, where over 3,600 people came to celebrate the past, present and future of our innovation economy, to network, to ask questions and to learn. Wow.
My bride, Barbara Bry, and I were pleasantly overwhelmed and frequently reminded of the famous phrase about the speed of information and technology advancement. Fast and then faster.
Much has been written about San Diego and its vibrant, explosive innovation eco-system, both tech and biotech, and yes, indeed, it is all true.
When we arrived, we had a pleasant interaction with Ria. She was most charming, and we discussed her background and her desire to improve people’s lives. And oh, by the way, she is not real. She is a robot, a humanoid. Welcome to the future.
This is not a robot that puts cars together or vacuums the floor. I think they will need to invent a better word than robot for this next generation of intelligence. Ria is an “almost person,” and Barbara got very involved in talking to her about her use as a companion to the elderly and her work with autistic individuals. (I wonder if she is sending me an early signal).
Ria was developed by Machani Robotics, a 90-year-old family business in India, and she was brought to UC San Diego by Lee Stein, longtime entrepreneur and a trustee for the X prize. Ria will be at UC San Diego for continuing research and development. The next iteration for her will include embedding the concepts of empathy.
Stein tells the story that he took Ria to meet Norman Lear, and after 20 minutes, Lear asked her to stay for dinner. AI is changing our world; the hard part is trying to see it coming before it sees you.
After a chitchat with Ria, we sat down to a few scientific presentations. Let it suffice that all of them were over our heads, but the final conversation with J. Craig Venter really resonated for us.
From reading to writing the genome — J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is known as a leader in sequencing the genome, the founder of several life science companies and the J. Craig Venter Institute. We love his life story. He struggled in high school, then served in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman before attending community college and eventually graduating from UCSD, where he earned his Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology in three years.
When he told the story about the excellent education he received in the community college system, there was a bit of mist in his eyes. He said it was better than he could have ever received from an Ivy League college.
Then Barbara and I wandered around a bit. There were groups of people everywhere, either listening or presenting. The buzz was palpable. This event was networking on steroids. “Everyone” was there. Almost equal men and women founders.
Barbara and I thought back to our first couple of companies. Almost prehistoric. The rate of change is brutally exponential, and the complexity of the world is daunting. Buckle up and hang on.
But what was clear and present is that the community’s entrepreneurial passion and discipline is alive, well and relentless.
Rule No. 781:
Ria, would you like lasagna tonight?