From AI to VR: 3 takeaways from Rutberg Wireless Influencers 2016

By Rob Whiteley | | Big Data & IoT

Last month I had the privilege of attending Rutberg Wireless Influencers 2016. Rutberg hosts the conference annually as a who’s who of executives on the forefront of technology and digital business. It was an honor to be invited and I enjoyed three days of thought leadership and networking along the seaside cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes.

CEOs, CMOs, CIOs, and CDOs (both Chief Digital Officers and Chief Data Officers) from many of the largest companies and most innovative technology providers were in attendance. And although the conference’s roots are in mobile technology, the event itself focused on five fundamental shifts in the technology landscape, which I’ll quickly define as:

  • AI: Artificial intelligence — cognitive technology that interacts with people
  • ML: Machine learning — self-learning technology with explicit programming
  • AD: Autonomous driving — vehicles that sense, navigate without humans
  • AR: Augmented reality — digital experiences overlaid on the physical world
  • VR: Virtual reality — fully digital experience representing the physical world

Given how common these trends were, it was interesting to think about what elements unify them. What do the five two letter acronyms have in common?

There’s one obvious answer and three not-so obvious answers.


The need to transmit, store, and analyze data is at the heart of these trends. As a result, data drives enterprise-wide digital transformation and unlocks new business models. Nearly every executive I spoke with had a story of how they were exploiting data to enter new markets, compete more effectively on a global scale, or create new revenue streams.

But exponential data growth is a well-known problem. In fact, in his opening keynote, the Chairmen of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, noted that 90% of the world’s data has been created in just the last 2 years. So I dug a bit deeper and arrived at three takeaways from this year’s Wireless Influencers.


It would be easy to conclude that a massive increase in data means a massive increase in storage. This is true to an extent. But many of the emerging trends discussed at Rutberg rely on ephemeral data — meaning the data is streamed, stored, or manipulated temporarily; it’s not permanently stored. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will quickly analyze unstructured data, arrive at a conclusion, and trigger an action. There won’t be a need to store that data, only the “answer.”

For example, Manjit Singh, the CIO of Clorox talked about a recent initiative with one of its products: the Brita Infinity smart water pitcher. The challenge with Brita is that few customers replace the filter. To solve this problem, Brita partnered with Amazon to create this wi-fi enabled pitcher that measures impurities in the water and automatically reorders filters via Amazon when a replacement is needed. The customer’s trigger to replace the filter is the arrival of the Amazon package. The result? A 40% increase in filter sales for Infinity pitchers versus regular pitchers. But the data generated by the sensor is only needed to complete the transaction of ordering a replacement filter. There isn’t as much business value in storing historical water quality data, so that can be discarded. The ROI to Clorox is in automatically shipping a new filter.

As another example, the Cofounder and CEO of nuTonomyKarl Iagnemma, noted that $1.6 trillion in vehicles sales results in 10 trillion miles driven every year. Many of these miles are not consumer-related, but rather business-related (think more fleet vehicles and long haul shipping than daily commuting). He then estimated the driver represents 10-60% of those costs. Autonomous driving is the best bet at compressing these costs . But all this autonomous driving technology — the thousands of video, radar, and accelerometer measurements captured every second — is only needed to pilot the car for that moment. There’s little inherent value in long-term storage of that data.

Similarly, the data in augmented and virtual reality is also ephemeral. It’s stored mostly in memory to feed a real-time experience or make a real-time decision. All of this innovation will drive massive data growth, forcing executives to get smarter about what needs to be stored to drive further business value.


Those of us in the business world are no strangers to video. Videoconferencing technologies are now a staple in most businesses. Here at Hedvig we use WebEx, GoToWebinar, and Skype to engage employees, partners, and customers. They’re critical to modern business, but they’re also a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming.

Take, for example, Snapchat. According to Snap’s Chief Strategy Officer, Imran Khan, Snapchat generates 10 billion (that’s with a “b”!) videos per day. There are 150 million daily active users (60 million in the US) and they spend nearly 30 minutes per day using the app. And what’s most surprising is the number one demographic globally is the 25 to 34 year-old population, followed by 18 to 24, and then 13 to 17. That’s completely counterintuitive to what folks think! It’s not just teenagers. The most engaged population is millennials, who are entering the workforce with a completely different expectation around video and how they’ll use it to communicate, collaborate, and engage.

What’s even more interesting to me is that Snapchat is also the world’s largest AR platform. Yes, much of that is to overlay humorous lenses (Khan specifically mentioned the vomiting rainbow on stage). But it’s the beginning of a completely new way to change how we use augmented and virtual reality, coupled with video, to change the way enterprises interact with customers and partners. Imagine overlaying instructions on a server in a datacenter to streamline repairs. Or lighting up which component has failed to easily identify what needs to be replaced. The practical enterprise and digital business applications are limitless.


Perhaps the most powerful thing that struck me at the Rutberg event was the power — and potential — of APIs. Consider these stats:

  • The CIO of Subway Restaurants, Carman Wenkoff, noted there are 8 different APIs needed to integrate the various in-store applications that power the payment scanning in its mobile app.
  • The Global Head of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Visa, Jim McCarthy, noted that VisaNet has over 500 APIs to enable payment innovation on a global scale, which now totals over 80 billion transactions.
  • The Cofounder and CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield, noted the 4 million daily active users (1.25 million of which represent its 33,000 paying customers) are due to Slack’s easy APIs, making it a messaging hub for collaboration.

APIs are the glue of the digital enterprise. They’re what enable innovation without requiring old-school, monolithic application integration. Modern systems expose APIs that any developer can use, powering new apps that add value to the broader ecosystem.

In the case of Subway, it enables an organization to roll out a new digital service, while in the case of Visa and Slack, it fosters an ecosystem where others can harness the base platform to create new revenue streams. In both cases, companies improve their top and bottom lines. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, and autonomous driving are all interesting — but in my mind, it’s the APIs that enable the transfer of data among all of these systems.

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. The Hedvig Distributed Storage Platform is an API-first platform, meaning, every element of the platform can be accessed via RESTful interfaces. You can instrument, configure, monitor, upgrade, and manage the entire platform from APIs. It’s necessary to ensure Hedvig’s relevance as a Universal Data Plane powering digital businesses.

It’s interesting to see what 2017 will bring. I found my time at the Rutberg Wireless Influencers event to be a great preview of next year’s emerging trends. These are just my initial thoughts on ephemeral data, video engagement and APIs. I’d be curious to hear yours. Leave comments below so we can debate and engage on what you believe the biggest tech trends are. Or better yet, come join us. We have these debates every day!

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