The panelists during Sunday’s opening session at Techonomy 2017. From left: Benjamin Bratton, Mary Lou Jepsen, Tessa Lau, Rohit Prasad, and David Kirkpatrick. Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma Photography

At Techonomy 2017, a humble group of high school students are awed to hear that the future is now: speaking to machines, telepathy, mind-controlled artificial limbs, and high-tech food production are no longer restricted to science fiction and are currently being developed in actuality at research labs or tech companies. Their inventors—scientists and entrepreneurs—presented their innovative ideas in each of their lines of AI-related work. Even high school students who breathed, ate, and slept AI research were stunned, clinging onto every precious word or creative idea uttered.
For years, scientists working to improve technology to combat problems have digitized much of our world. As the throng of scientists continues to drive toward automation in various areas of our daily lives, they have been facing resistance and discouragement when they brush up against the dangers of technology going awry or when they venture too far off into the unnatural.
Yet now, Techonomy presents an interesting and almost ironic viewpoint: The idea that we have come full circle to the point where we can now push technology to become more natural. For example, Alexa and voice recognition developed by Rohit Prasad and his team at Amazon utilizes technology to spread the most natural form of human communication: speaking. Savioke robots, which automate customer deliveries, are designed by Tessa Lau’s team to have a few humanoid characteristics as a means of endearing them to their customers. These trends beg the question posed by scientist, artist, and philosopher Benjamin Bratton: Does AI necessarily need to push towards emulating the qualities of humankind, or should we strive to transcend human capabilities as we know them? Mary Lou Jepsen certainly advocates for moving further into the strange or amazing world that AI can provide by working on possibilities of MRI telepathy.
With these questions about the future of AI in mind, we high school students begin to think: What more can we do with AI to contribute to the world? On this Sunday afternoon, we were exposed to numerous current successful applications from brain-machine interfaces to data-driven food assessments, which continued to feed our train of thought, wondering what each of us can individually contribute to AI research in the future.
As high school students, we are just beginning to branch out into exploring what the vast world of what technology can do for us and what we can do for technology. Living in Silicon Valley, it is easy to be swept up by startup culture or the easy money mentality, but Techonomy brought us away from that for a few hours when we listened to esteemed scientists, tech figures, and business leaders talk about more national or global trends.
The author of the article, Kat Tian (second from right) is a junior in high school and is passionate about STEM.

This type of expansive mindset serves as a beneficial framework for us high school students to continue on with our budding scientific work. We are just testing the waters, excited, yet unsure of where to continue. So we explore, guided by the knowledge we glean from the world around us, such as an experience like Techonomy.