Top Six from the Hello Tomorrow Summit

Posted on October 20, 2016

The Hello Tomorrow Summit is an event focused on bringing together selected technology thought leaders and 50 cutting edge startups from more than 3000 applications to Paris. The 50 startups from ten different categories all compete for the grand prize of 100,000 Euro. Vertical Strategy was invited to attend the summit as innovators and we’d like to share what we noticed at the summit — here are our top six take aways.

 

1. DNA is the next silicon

Since the dawn of time, humans have shaped nature by carefully selecting grains and breeding mammals based on their characteristics. Because of this selection process we’re able to enjoy fruits and vegetables, designed for our consumption, and the company of dogs – a special breed of wolves . In this process, however, humans are only partly in control as the selection process relies on nature’s own random mutations.

Today, we’re able to bypass the reliance on random mutations and redefine anything organic. Thanks to a technology called CRISPR, it is now possible to modify DNA inside living organisms. This is a huge step forward, as it allows us to A/B test in a controlled genetic environment and thus identify the importance of individual genes and modify in accordance to needs.

At Hello Tomorrow, several companies were working on CRISPR technology: Eligo Bioscience who applies CRISPR to develop antibiotics to kill specific bacteria and Twist who works on developing DNA from scratch — not only for scientific applications, but also for use cases like information storage. In theory, a thumb-sized DNA strand would be able to contain the entire internet.

 

 

2. A vegan future for everybody

Agriculture is the single most polluting industry today. To give you some perspective: The entire transportation industry generates 14% of all human pollution. In comparison, raising cows, chicken and other farm animals generates a total of 18% of all pollution. Not only is today’s form of agriculture threatening our environment, it also keeps millions of animals living under questionable and sometimes horrific conditions.

While limiting our consumption of meat seems sensible,historically it has proven difficult to change human preferences. So what about meat without animals?

At the conference, the company NewHarvest presented the world’s first open-source cellular agriculture database. The goal of NewHarvest is to propel the future of synthetic beef, egg, fish, etc. forward. Although, the industry has already seen some early success, as companies such as Perfect Day sell animal-free milk, there is still a long way before meat is commercially possible. The founders behind NewHarvest believe that an open database for research on this field will increase the development speed. This year they opened up their first open lab in France.

Perfect Day’s Animal-free milk, created in collaboration with NewHarvest

In a different discussion, Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT, argued that the debate whether GMO is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is not the right question to ask. Instead, he argued, that we should ask how we can create a more sustainable planet. One of his uplifting examples of modified foods was ‘Golden Rice’. As a result of living on a rice-only diet, 2.7 million children die because of vitamin A deficiency annually. To prevent this from happening, researchers have engineered a new sort of rice, which unlike other types of rice contains the vital vitamin A.

 

3. Preventing the death of oceans

Due to overfishing, the journal Science predicted that our oceans will collapse by the year 2048. While illegal fishing remains the most pressing issue, well-intended fishermen are also harming our oceans. Industrial fish nets not able to filter between different species of fish and therefore close-to-extinct species are often caught in the process. To prevent this from happening, SafetyNet Technologies have developed a light emitting device, which can be attached to fishing nets. It turns out that certain light waves repel or attract specific fish species. By programming the light, fishermen can target certain types of fish and thereby also optimize their catch in accordance to their quotas of specific fish species.

Special light-emitting devices are programmed to repel and attract specific types of fish

 

4. Artificial intelligence: Ethics and responsibility

In a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) makes more decisions on our behalf, how do we integrate ethics into the underlying software?. Computers are fundamentally different from us, in the sense that they are not capable of selfish or selfless decisions. In a software system, it all boils down to how ones and zeros are organized. However, the future that we’re racing towards will require computers to make decisions, which we as humans categorize as ethical dilemmas.

In anticipation of such a future, some researchers have suggested to crowdsource ethics. This would be a blueprint of how AI should order ethical decisions, based on the average of citizens opinion. Another suggestion is to mold the ethics of AI after its creator or owner. The challenge in this case is that there will be a very small data sample to build upon. And what if the owner is a racist, or acts in a destructive or psychopathic manner? The panelists at Hello Tomorrow all agreed that some safety parameters need to be created. Among the suggestions were that AI should be able to explain why certain decisions were made in human understandable logic. This, however, is something that is very difficult to accomplish with neural networks –an AI technique that has shown to be the most promising in decision-making. Another suggestion, with strong support, was to ensure that the creators of different AIs will be held responsible for the actions carried out by the software. This suggestion will require changes within our court systems. For example if a Tesla in self-driving mode causes an accident, should the court then summon Tesla to trial? These are some of the questions that were debated at the summit.

 

5. Aspirations to fly

The winner of the grand challenge was Lilium Aviation, a company building the world’s first electric vertical take-off and landing personal jet. Personally, I’m skeptical of the feasibility of the project, given the energy requirements for flying and the ratio between weight and energy capacity of current electric batteries. However, if breakthroughs in graphene technology – a super strong and light material made of carbon that also has energy capacity attributes – are made, then it becomes much more possible. Lillium, however, was not the only company interested in making man fly. A virtual reality simulator called Icarus, allowed participants to feel the sensation of flying for the first time in their life. Although the graphics in the VR headset was pixelated and certain senses were missing (smell, touch, etc.), the visual experience was still breathtaking. One of the startups at the conference, a company called Emerge, was in fact working on a solution to support touch in VR. At the  conference they presented a device that uses ultra sound to provide the sensation of touch.

 

6. Augmented reality is arriving

The company Meta gave a live demo of their upcoming Meta 2 development kit for the first time at the summit. Similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens, the Meta 2 is a headset display that allows you to merge a digital world on top of your surroundings. In the live demo, Raymond Lo, showcased how the Meta 2 allowed the bearer to observe the audience while also examining the neural network of a brain, virtually displayed in front of him. According to Raymond, we’re at the end of the mobile era. The future will be headset devices, which in time will be in a form factor of just a strip.

To get a peek into Raymond’s vision, this video shows how he sees the future of augmented reality. It’s worth a look (the device in the video is the Meta 1):

 

 

If you’re curios about the startup winners from each of the ten categories, we’ve listed them below: