You meet plenty of interesting people as you wander around the various rooms of the LeWeb conference. People who are pushing forward the boundaries of what is possible, who are turning yesterday’s science fiction movies into today’s reality.
LeWeb, an event founded in 2003 by French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur, is the number one technology rendez-vous in Europe and it brings together some of the brightest new ideas in the digital landscape. The theme of the 2012 edition is The Internet of Things, or Internet 3.0, a concept first imagined towards the end of the 1990s. If the Internet connected people, then the budding Internet of Things will, when it matures, connect everything: not just people but the objects that surround us. Every ‘thing’ – be it a lamp, a watch, a pen, a house or a car – will collect and process data without humans having to input it manually. The ‘objects’ will essentially be able to think and act for themselves.
If the technology was fascinating, so were many of the people behind them.
I was lucky to be able to sit down for a Google+ Hangout with five of the event’s speakers, joined by people from around the world who could ask their own questions from in front of their computer screens. My first Hangout guest was Benjamin Cichy, the Chief Software Engineer for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. Benjamin’s team built the brain of the Curiosity Rover, which is currently busy scuttling around the surface of Mars collecting samples that may determine the existence, past or present of Martian life. If we do find evidence of ‘Life on Mars’, it will largely be thanks to the efforts of Benjamin and his colleagues.
Ariel Garten is CEO of InterAxon, a Canadian company that is at the forefront of research on thought-controlled computing, where a person can control technology using only the mind. My own mind was boggled at just how far her company’s research has already come. If you watch her Hangout, you’ll notice her sporting a ‘Muse’ across her forehead. The ‘Muse’ reads brainwaves and makes things happen according to what the brainwaves say. I thought this technology was decades away. But no, the ‘Muse’ will be launched next summer…
The story of Scott Harrison is quite fascinating. Tired of what he calls a ‘selfish’ and empty existence promoting night-clubs in New York, he travelled to Africa as a volunteer photojournalist. The voyage changed his life. It inspired him to set up a charity that aims to provide as many people as possible with clean drinking water in a world where one sixth of the population lacks it. His NGO charity:water has flourished thanks to Scott’s innovative fundraising method.
Ben Gomes is a Vice-President of Google and has spearheaded its search department for 13 years. He doesn’t often speak publicly, so here’s a rare chance to hear from him on the day Google’s Knowledge Graph was launched to much of the non-English-speaking world.
Dalton Caldwell thought Twitter needed tweaking so he founded App.net, a social network untouched by advertising and for which members must pay to join. A brave move and one which has drawn plenty of attention. He faced some tough questions from the participants of this Hangout, keen to quiz him on his business model.