Highlights From the First IEEE Vision Innovation Challenges Summit

Talks covered health care, self-driving cars, and cybersecurity

10 July 2017

The first IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit offered a series of thought-provoking sessions from leaders in emerging fields. The event, held 25 May in San Francisco, kicked off with keynote speaker James D. Plummer, former dean of engineering at Stanford, who presented a stark picture of the future of engineering education and work.

“It doesn’t matter what we teach our students in the next four years; it will be outdated by the time they graduate,” Plummer told the audience. Instead, “we need to prepare students for the unpredictable to be ready for the future. Instill in them entrepreneurial skills and lifelong learning.”

The way to do that, he says, is for them to learn by doing. He suggests instructors include more open-ended problems for students to solve. Professors also should hold competitions and spend time at makerspaces, while assigning fewer books to read and lectures to listen to, he says. Automation is already taking away jobs, he notes. Students need to be prepared for what Apple, Google, and similar companies are looking for by acquiring new skills.

The day continued with talks about power and energy, health care, cybersecurity, and more.


IEEE Fellow Wanda Reder shed light on the state of power and energy advances. Reder, chief strategy officer at S&C Electric Co., in Chicago, is former president of the IEEE Power & Energy Society. A solar panel is installed in the United States every minute, she said, adding that the rate is increasing. Buildings are becoming greener thanks to solar energy and LEDs. And the installation of microgrids in both developed and remote regions means faster restoration of power after a major storm. But there’s more to do, she said: “The 21st century is the time to astound ourselves with energy innovation.”

Senior Member Sarah Audet, director of technology planning at Medtronic, spoke about new health-care delivery methods. Technologies including implantable sensors and predictive analytics relying on big data are expected to help personalize treatments and better monitor people’s health. Telemedicine—remote diagnosis and treatment through computers and mobile devices—cuts down on the number of times a patient needs to return to a hospital for care, while reducing costs.

Such innovations can help hospitals decrease medical errors—the third leading cause of death in the United States, Audet said, citing a John Hopkins Medicine study. She encourages more engineers, particularly IEEE members, to sit on boards of medical institutions to help them understand how they can best apply new technologies to improve health care.

IEEE Fellow Alberto Broggi spoke about his work developing autonomous vehicle technologies at the University of Parma, in Italy. In 2010 he tested a self-driving car he developed in his lab. It drove from Parma to Shanghai, the longest trip for a vehicle without a driver. His research in the field is ahead of the car industry’s.

Alex Gantman, vice president of engineering and head of product security at Qualcomm, started off his talk by stating, “I’m an optimistic cybersecurity engineer.” He wasn’t always that way, he said, but he realized that if it were that simple to hack all our computer systems, we’d all be doomed by now. “I had to reconcile the fact that the world keeps spinning,” he joked.

Gantman points out that because cybersecurity is still relatively new, it’s a field based on untested best practices. But regardless of potential vulnerabilities, technology can do more good than harm, he says. If, for example, self-driving cars reduce fatalities by 10,000 per year yet fatal accidents still occur, is that a success or a failure? Should companies delay launching autonomous vehicles to improve the product while letting more people die, or take the risk? There’s a perception problem, he says, of how dangerous such innovations are without reflecting enough on what positive impact they might have.

Other speakers included Erna Grasz, cofounder of Asante Africa Foundation, who discussed how engineers can help those living in developing regions. A panel on entrepreneurship covered how to mitigate the risks associated with launching a venture.

IEEE Member Thomas Lee, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, closed the event with a talk on the importance of creativity and the idea of failing fast to continuously improve innovations. These components are key to education and invention, he said. He ended with a slide that stated: “Man is the only computer that can be mass-produced by unskilled labor.”

The event’s masters of ceremonies were IEEE Senior Member Monique Morrow, a technology strategist and former CTO at Cisco, and IEEE Member Brian David Johnson, professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, in Tempe, and a former Intel futurist.

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