Amazon Alexa Prize Finals – Team Emora Wins

Congratulations Team Emora! Amazon announced today that Emory University and their Emora socialbot are the winners of the 2020 Alexa Prize. Second Place was awarded to Stanford’s Chirpy Cardinal bot and Third Place was Alquist developed by the team from Czech Technical University.

Emory won with a 3.81 average rating (out of a possible 5.0), earning them the $500,000 top prize. Each of the past two years’ winners have exceeded the average rating of the previous year’s winner. The eventual goal of the competition is to achieve a 4.0 rating while conversing with a human interactor for a minimum of twenty minutes.

It’s been an honor to be a part of this innovative competition – my third year as an Amazon #AlexaPrize finalist judge. I look forward to seeing what next year’s competition brings and what all of the competitors do with their amazing talent in the future!

Future Minds – Emerging Intelligence Interview

Not surprisingly, the book launch of Future Minds at Town Hall Seattle had to be postponed, a decision I wholeheartedly support in the interest of public safety. But in lieu of that presentation (at least for now), the good folks at THS did an interview with me to offer a taste of what my book and presentation are about. You can read my interview in their blog, the Town Crier. Find out why our world is rapidly becoming more and differently intelligent and what this could mean for the future!

Fifty Years of Future Shock

Futurist Richard Yonck in After Shock

Fifty years ago, I had the life changing experience of being introduced to Future Shock, Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s pivotal 1970 book. Putting forth the premise that too much change was happening in too short a time, Future Shock explored the psychological and societal impacts of continuous and disruptive progress. It was a view I’d never been exposed to and it made quite an impact on my then-preteen mind.

Which is just one of the reasons why the publication of After Shock: The World’s Foremost Futurists Reflect on 50 Years of Future Shock—and Look Ahead to the Next 50 is so exciting to me. Not only do I get to revisit the Tofflers’ original ideas, but to also gain insights into the many influences it had on futurists all over the world, including many of my friends and colleagues. That I was invited to write one of the chapters is icing on the cake! I hope you enjoy this insightful collection of essays.

Exploring the Global Marketplace in Vietnam

What is the Future of the Global Marketplace? How will demographic shifts, climate change and continued increases in urbanization affect trade between different parts of our world? I had the amazing opportunity to speak about these topics at the U.S Embassy in Hanoi a few weeks ago. The audience of about 200 was very engaged and had many thought-provoking questions. It felt like a great learning experience all around!

Healthcare 2040

Few topics are as personal as our health and based on the current trends in healthcare, things are going to be getting a whole lot more personal very soon.

I had the pleasure of presenting the closing plenary last week for the NW Regional Primary Care Association’s 2019 Fall Primary Care conference and it’s become very evident that tremendous changes are coming to the field. Given current trends, within two decades we can expect a transition to a consumer-centered model that relies on near-continuous data flows of personal health information. This information and a range of other emerging technologies will allow healthcare professionals to proactively focus much more on ongoing wellness. When illness does occur, it will be detected far sooner and treated using micro-interventions and personalized precision medicine. While there will be many challenges along the way, we will hopefully find ourselves living healthier and longer lives in the years to come.

Finland Looks to the Future

I just returned from an exciting and memorable week in Helsinki and Turku, Finland. As one of the keynote speakers for the annual two-day SHIFT Business Festival, I spoke about the future of human-machine interfaces. Now in its fourth year, SHIFT’s mission is “to help radical innovators shape a better future through intelligent business and deep technology.” In my conversations with Festival attendees and locals, I was intrigued to discover the level of commitment many in this northern European Union country have made to futures thinking.

This year’s theme of “Shapeshifting Intelligence” saw a heavy focus on AI and its implementation, with keynotes from major players in the field. This included Yoshua Bengio of the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute (MILA), one of the fathers of machine learning. (Bengio recently shared the ACM Turing Award – computing’s equivalent of the Nobel prize – with Facebook’s Yann LeCun and Geoffrey Hinton of Google and University of Toronto.) Other speakers included Joanna Bryson (University of Bath), Catalina Butnaru (City AI), Catherine Havasi (MIT, Snowcap AI), Christian Gutmann (Tieto and Nordic Artificial Intelligence Institute) and Anupam Kundu ( Each focused on different aspects of AI development, implementation, and ethics.

The day following my SHIFT talk, I had the pleasure of giving a lecture about the future of artificial emotional intelligence (based on my book, “Heart of the Machine”) at the University of Turku’s (UTU) Department of Future Technologies. My host, Seppo Helle, a senior researcher there, has a focus on user interfaces, including augmented reality. Besides the Future Technologies department, UTU also has a Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) within their School of Economics. I spoke with some of the FFRC faculty and students about their transdisciplinary approach to futures.

All of this is befitting a country that was recently ranked #1 in preparing its youth with future oriented skills by The Economist’s 2018 Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI). The reasons for this emphasis on foresight are complex, however much of it seems to stem from Finland’s limited tradable natural resources, as well as its unique geopolitical history. The enormous success of Nokia in the early communications and mobility space provided a model which the country seems to have embraced wholeheartedly.

For me, the entire trip was a real eye-opener, from experiencing Finland’s natural beauty and very welcoming citizens to the perspectives on technology, sustainability, the European Union and strategic foresight. I believe we can all take a lesson from Finland, a forward-thinking nation with its eye firmly on future.

Photos: Julius Töyrylä, SHIFT Business Festival and University of Turku.