The Skolkovo innovation city is gearing up to host the biggest Open Innovations forum that Russia has yet seen on October 16-18, featuring tech stars, government representatives, entrepreneurs, businesspeople and futurologists from around the world.
International deals were signed and new partnerships established at last year's Open Innovations. Photo: Sk.ru.
Now in its sixth year, the forum comprises an enormous conference programme, as well as an exhibition of innovative tech startups, educational events and networking opportunities. This year’s topic is “Digital Economy. Challenges of Global Transformation,” with a different focus for each day: CorpTech (business and industry) on day one, StateTech (the public sector and government) on day two, and HumanTech (society and ethics) on day three.
The forum paints a detailed picture of what the near future will look like: not only in Russia, but around the world: a cashless society, ubiquitous blockchain, electric cars, renewable energy, VR and AR technology, quantum computers, telemedicine and much more. Amid the wealth of burning topics in the spotlight, it’s hard to pick out highlights, but some of the forum’s events and features are essential viewing for anyone seeking a glimpse of the future.
1. Artificial Intelligence
This year, the second annual Skolkovo. AI event has been incorporated into the Open Innovations Forum, meaning the second day of the forum will feature a day-long programme of AI-themed events. How important is it for Russia to take part in the race for the creation of artificial intelligence? Which areas are important, and which are just hype? How are industries already using AI to make their business more efficient, and are robots really going to steal our jobs? Experts moderated by the Skolkovo Foundation’s resident robotics guru Albert Yefimov will answer these questions and many more.
The topic of robots and AI is not limited to day two of Open Innovations, but will feature in many other panel sessions throughout the event, including a session on day one devoted to legal tech, and the role AI can play in the law and its enforcement.
Albert Yefimov speaking at last year's Skolkovo. AI event, which this year forms part of the forum. Photo: Sk.ru.
There’s no area of life unaffected by technology, including sex. In a racy panel discussion on October 18 titled “Sexuality. Norms and taboos in the digital era,” experts will look to a not-so-distant future in which having sex with robots could be more popular than having sex with other humans, and having a human partner may even be a sign of marginality. After all, human relationships can be hard work, and more and more people say that they would prefer a simpler alternative, such as having sex with a robot, or taking part in a VR-porno.
The expert panel looking at sexual taboos and prejudices and how they will change over the next few decades include Bryony Cole, founder and producer of the Future of Sex podcast, and Clarissa Smith, professor of sexual cultures at the University of Sunderland and founder of the journal Porn Studies.
The British film director Peter Greenaway is fond of saying there are only two certainties in life: sex and death. This year’s Open Innovations forum has both.
In a fascinating session on October 18 titled “Immortality: virtual and real,” experts will discuss not only the technologies that are helping us to live longer, but also those that help us to live forever – at least virtually.
In the future, will sex with a robot be more popular than sex with another human? Find out at the forum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Today’s technologies make it possible to create a digital copy of a person based on their digital trail, as portrayed in the prescient TV series “Black Mirror.” Some say that these digital ghosts are a prototype for virtual immortality.
The expert panel discussing life extension and what virtual immortality might look like includes Marius Ursache, the founder of Eternime, a startup that collects and preserves the thoughts, stories, and memories of people to generate AI avatars that can live forever.
4. Asteroid Mining
This is a divisive topic. On the one hand, even a smallish asteroid measuring 1.5 kilometers across could contain mineral resources worth $20 trillion. On the other hand, there is a ban in place on the national appropriation of celestial bodies.
Luxembourg took the world by surprise last year when it announced investment of $230 million in R&D of extra-terrestrial resources and mining technology, and passed a law allowing asteroid mining companies to monetise resources that they find in space. The U.S. passed a similar law in 2015, and already has its first startups in this area. The first reconnaissance missions to asteroids in the 2020s are planned.
Luxembourg’s Economy Minister, Etienne Schneider, will take part in the discussion, along with Rick Tumlinson, founder of Deep Space Industries, which is already developing spacecraft technologies for asteroid mining, and Sergei Ivanov, CEO of Dauria Aerospace, a Skolkovo Foundation resident startup that makes small satellites. During the panel discussion on October 17, they will discuss the risks of mining from asteroids, which resources should be considered targets for extraction (rare earth metals, precious metals, water), how the ban on the national appropriation of celestial bodies can be circumvented, who can invest the amount needed to achieve the initial phase of resource extraction in the next 20 years (governments, private players or venture capital investors), what payback period can be expected on that investment, and much more.
5. A universal basic income
The idea of giving people a universal basic income has been the topic of much discussion in the last few years, not least amid concerns that more and more professions will be made redundant by the growing use of robots and artificial intelligence in various industries.
Participants of the discussion on October 17 will discuss which economic models of a basic income are the most realistic, who should provide the income (the state, business or non-profit organisations), and what the political and social consequences of introducing an unconditional basic income could be.
6. The Singapore Model
Every year, the Open Innovations forum has an official partner-country. This year, on the second day of the forum (devoted to statetech) it’s the hi-tech city-state of Singapore, which is currently implementing a Smart Nation programme to introduce new technologies at all levels of the economy.
One of Tuesday’s key events is the Russia-Singapore Business Forum focusing on smart cities. The Smart Nation initiative aims to transform Singapore into a "living laboratory" for testing technological solutions to urban problems. The initiative collates all of the city’s data – from traffic levels and pedestrian density to measurements of the air quality and noise levels, and current consumption of water and electricity – in one giant database. The project brings together entrepreneurs, researchers, officials and ordinary residents to establish a pragmatic and comfortable environment for all Singapore’s inhabitants.
Singapore government experts including Jacqueline Poh, CEO of the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), will talk about their experience launching and implementing the Smart Nation programme, and discuss with their Russian counterparts points of interaction with Russian companies offering smart city solutions.
Singaporean experts will share their experience at various events throughout all three days of Open Innovations.
Officials from the futuristic city-state of Singapore will share their experience of creating a smart city. Photo: Nastya Glazunova.
7. Fashion Tech
Never an industry to lag behind, fashion is increasingly incorporating tech solutions too, from self-repairing and ultra-strong textiles to recycled clothes and robotized components. Tech is being used both for visually striking effects and to make clothes more functional.
On October 16, discussing fashion tech trends and what we can expect to see in upcoming collections – both haute couture and mass market – will be experts including Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, Valerie Lamontagne, director and founder of the Fashiontech Festival in Montreal, and Alexander Shumsky, head of Russia’s Fashion Council.
8. Deadly Disease
Another topic that is barely out of the headlines nowadays is that of antibiotic resistance. Experts warn that if no global action is taken to tackle resistance and no efforts are made to discover new antibiotics, humanity will regress to its previous state, when animals and humans died from regular bacterial infections, and infectious decreases will once again become a greater threat than cancer.
This year's headliners include Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group. Photo: OpenInnovations.ru.
In a panel discussion on October 16 titled “Outbreak Z: how to stop microbe aggression,” international experts will determine what needs to be done by corporations, states and scientists to discover new ways of targeting resistant microbes, and what role mathematical modelling, genetic approaches and genetic selection could play.
9. Innovations in action
Theoretical discussion is a crucial part of a country’s hi-tech development, especially at an international level, but Open Innovations is about much more than theory. Visitors to the forum will be greeted at the entrance by the Startup Station, an exhibition of some of the innovations developed by resident tech startups of the Skolkovo Foundation, from fintech apps and solutions for heavy industry to microsatellite component makers, nuclear medicine solution providers, a gut biome analysis service, an express stroke diagnosis test and bionic prosthetic limbs.
10. Tech stars
All of the approximately 400 speakers at this year’s Open Innovations forum have been selected for their valuable experience and expertise, and promise to deliver fascinating talks. The biggest names include Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group; Marvin Liao, a partner at 500 Startups; Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter; the futurist and bestselling author Michio Kaku; Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel; and the film directors Timur Bekmambetov and Fyodor Bondarchuk.
A host of Russian government officials will also speak at the forum, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who will speak at the plenary session on the second day. They are joined by prominent Russian business leaders, including Sberbank CEO German Gref, Rusnano CEO Anatoly Chubais, Natalya Kasperskaya, head of InfoWatch, and Victor Vekselberg, president of Renova Group and also of the Skolkovo Foundation.