digitalNow, a two-day conference focusing on digital transformation, took place May 7-8 in Austin, Texas. This year’s conference was innovative, informative, and (most importantly) fun. This event focused on new technologies that we here at Association TRENDS seem to be hearing more and more about including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and virtual reality. Presenters ranged from inventors and startup founders to association executives and IBM vice-presidents. Sessions topics included quantum interfacing, AI in B2B marketing, and even IBM’s Watson made an appearance. The amount of knowledge found in just one conference room was palpable.
To kick things off at the conference, we heard from whurley, founder and CEO of Strangeworks, an Austin based quantum computing company. Association TRENDS seized the chance to interview whurley to learn more about this quantum computing and see how associations could benefit from it. Check out our interview below:
Q: Why do you think Austin is a great city for digitalNow to take place?
A: I think Austin is a great place to have digitalNow because it’s is a very innovative environment. Austin continues to be this city that’s a little bit more liberal than a lot of cities, so you get that kind of young, innovative vibe. It’s a start-up town, so you have a lot of people taking risks and as a part of that, companies that grew up here turn into large companies or large companies that move here, tend to be able to tap into that innovation, and I think that’s what you want for an event like this. Merck recently announced they’re moving their whole innovation center here, Apple is building their second largest campus here, so there’s a lot of that kind of energy. It’s a very innovative, very forward-thinking city and so if you’re talking about doing digital transformation and forward-thinking type things, it makes a lot of sense to have it over here.
Q: Some people will tell you that the association industry is very slow to adopt new technologies, even though they are often at the intersection of the industries they represent. What do you think is the best way to change this mentality?
A: First of all, I would question that mentality. Association organizations are a lot like politicians. They have this mission and a goal that they’re supposed to get done, but they spend an enormous amount of time doing other things to keep the organization alive: getting new members, retaining current members, etc. I would venture a guess that if I talk to people here, and I said “what percentage of your time is based on keeping things running, keeping the lights on”, it is completely disproportionate. And to experiment, to innovate, you have to have time. You must have the free time to sit and think of nothing, to stare at a whiteboard with your colleagues. So, when you’re in an organization that is membership-based, you spend such a large amount of time recruiting members, supporting members, answering questions, setting up events for your members, there’s just not a lot of time left. I don’t see it as a thing where they are slow to adopt, I see it as they haven’t built into their workload the freedom or time to innovate. I think it’s a function of time to invest time. It’s also a function of money to invest innovation, although, I continue to argue that it does not take that much money to be very innovative.
Q: In 5 years, every organization will be using _____ technology?
A: That is such a tough question because everybody wants to talk about AI or blockchain. For me to answer that, I would have to understand the organization better. So, the advice I would give is that these organizations should look at the problems they’re facing, look at the potential solutions and look for trends in those solutions. For example, we heard someone earlier on stage talking about the importance of compliance. What are things that could affect the compliance? Maybe having a transparent ledger and having a blockchain in your organization where you were able to look and say, “okay, I know that whurley did this and this is when he did it, and here’s some data,” and maybe that’s valuable. Maybe having AI to look through files and say, “here are all the things that could be out of compliance,” is good. Maybe automation, which is really what AI is, there’s no intelligence there, it’s simply an automation tool, maybe automating things, is good. Each one of these is going to be different for every business. So, it’s kind of short-sighted to say “you should do the technology that I’m selling.” When the reality is, different technologies work for different companies. The reason these businesses don’t adopt new technology isn’t that they don’t want to, it isn’t because they’re slow, but rather some of these solutions aren’t good for some of these businesses and I think that time and time again, time is the fire in which these organizations burn.
Q: Explain quantum computing to executives at associations who might not have any tech background? How can they apply this science to their organization?
A: They will be users of this technology. First of all, what is it? Well, if you look at the cell phone that you’re recording this interview on, it has a processor in it, and it has about 3 billion transistors on it. A transistor is how we either block a signal, (we call that zero) or let it through (we call that one). Computers are just giant abacuses, there’s no difference, only that our phones are super tiny. As the technology gets smaller and smaller, there’s this question of “does quantum mechanics come into play?” Eventually, we get so small that there are things like quantum tunneling, where we try to block that signal, but it just goes through anyway. For many years, scientists have been experimenting with this concept of a quantum computer- so we take and freeze a particle down, like an electron, and we can line them up and use them to calculate on. Now, why is this important? Because if we did that and they were just one or zero, that’d be great. But what happens is, when you have an electron, it has spin and because of that, it can be a 1, or a 0, or in the state of superposition, meaning any of those combinations or anything in between, all at the same time. This means that the power to calculate goes up exponentially.
An example of this technology is let’s say, I have your phone number but I don’t have your name, and I want to find out your name from that phone number. A regular computer looks line by line through the entries and it finds your name. A quantum computer, in theory, would only need the square root of the number of entries to get the same result. So, you’re seeing this exponential increase in speed.
Q: What is the coolest thing Strangeworks is working on right now?
A: Probably our new office building on the Eastside. We jokingly call it the “Strangeworks Center for quantum computing for kids who can’t quantum well.” We’re building this cool new office with a lot of community around it. We’ll host meetups where people can come learn and network with other people interested in similar work. Another cool thing we’re working on, is we’ve set up a program, where we take proceeds from my book, Quantum Computing for Babies, and we sponsor 15 kids to go to CERN for five weeks. They’ll see physic presentations, learn about entrepreneurship, and so much more than they might not have had the opportunity to see.
Q: Since we are in Austin, the live music capital of the world, who is your favorite band?
A: My two favorite things right now are Rick and Morty and Run the Jewels. Run the jewels is my favorite band and they recently did a video for Rick and Morty which was super cool. They take a lot of creative risks which we don’t see much in music anymore. I’m a musician myself and it’s so disheartening to see so much music become homogenized and productized. It’s become a formulated and bland process.
Q: What’s your favorite Austin taco place?
Still confused about quantum mechanics? Check out whurley’s book, Quantum Computing for Babies. We promise it’s not just for babies.
To learn more about the digitalNow Conference including speaker slides, Facebook live steams, and more visit www.digitalnowconference.com.
Interested in more tech events? Register for AMS Fest! AMS Fest is a two-day conference taking place in Chicago, IL June 6-7 where you’ll learn from experts and peers about how to successfully select, implement, and maintain an Association Management System (AMS). Seats are filling up fast, so don’t wait and register today!