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Triumphs and tragedies in the vaccine quest

The good news is that Operation Warp Speed, the multibillion-dollar effort to develop vaccines for COVID-19, is moving ahead at a pace that justifies its name.

The bad news is that despite all that effort, the coronavirus outbreak is still likely to be with us next year — and low- to medium-income countries such as India are likely to be hit particularly hard.

“We’re going to probably see a lot of deaths,” said Lynda Stuart, deputy director for vaccines and human immunobiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “It’s going to be a great inequity and tragedy that will unfold.”

Stuart and other experts involved in the vaccine quest laid out their assessment of the road ahead today during the first session of the 2020 GeekWire Summit.

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Amazon exec expects satellites to boost sales

Amazon's Dave Limp
Dave Limp, Amazon’s devices and services chief, chats with GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop during the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

Why is Amazon planning to put thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit? Part of the motivation is to expand Amazon’s footprint in online sales and cloud computing services, says Dave Limp, the company’s devices and services chief.

During a fireside chat at this week’s GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Limp said the primary motivation for Project Kuiper, Amazon’s future satellite mega-satellite constellation, is to offer broadband internet access to the billions of people who are currently underserved. That echoes what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the re:MARS conference in June when he talked about Project Kuiper’s genesis.

Building basic infrastructure is also the justification for Amazon’s newly announced effort to build a low-bandwidth, intermediate-range wireless network known as Sidewalk. Project Sidewalk will connect devices that take advantage of the Internet of Things — ranging from appliances to smart lights and dog collars.

Limp made clear this week that providing connectivity isn’t a purely philanthropic effort. He said that faster, wider broadband access can boost retail markets as well as the reach of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the company’s cloud platform.

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How ‘avatars’ will let you travel virtually

Kevin Kajitani
Kevin Kajitani, co-director of ANA’s Avatar division, talks about virtual teleportation as a travel experience during the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

When it was time for Kevin Kajitani to put his ideas for traveling through telepresence to the test, he chose a familiar experimental subject: his son.

Kajitani — the co-director of the Avatar division at ANA Holdings, the parent company of Japan’s biggest airline — set up a mobile Beam robot at his home north of Tokyo, crept into a closet, and rolled the robot out to greet his 2-year-old son Aoi with his face looking out from the video screen.

“The first time I approached my son with the avatar, he said, ‘Papa!’ And we started playing,” Kajitani said Oct. 9 at a lunch talk sponsored by ANA at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle.

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FTC official explains why he worries about Big Tech

Rohit Chopra
FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra talks about taking on Big Tech at the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

During his first year and a half on the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra has built a reputation as Big Tech’s toughest critic — and today at the GeekWire Summit, he looked back to a decade-old corporate crisis to explain why he’s being so tough.

“If we can rewind a decade ago and think about the roots of the financial crisis, a key part of that problem was the failure of our regulators,” he said on the main stage at the Hyatt Regency Seattle. “A lot of the smoke signals were there, and there were a lot of excuses and a lot of inaction.”

Chopra, who helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial breakdown that sparked the Great Recession, drew a parallel between banks that were thought to be too big to fail and present-day tech companies that some now see as too big to compete against.

“I see the smoke signals now of really some troubles with Big Tech. … Do we live in a country where you can start a business to challenge them, or do you just have to start one to eventually sell and surrender to them?” he said. “I hope that some of the lessons from the financial crisis do inform how we think about some of these problems in industry structure, and make sure that we are holding everyone accountable, big or small.”

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Watch Boeing’s CEO fly in a training jet

Boeing CEO in training jet
Boeing test pilot Steve “Bull” Schmidt points out features in the cockpit of a prototype T-X training jet to Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, president and chairman, (Boeing Photo)

One of the things I learned about Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is that he loves to fly the aircraft his company makes, even when they’re high-performance military jets.

Take the next-generation T-X training jets, for instance: Last week, Boeing won a $9.2 billion contract to provide hundreds of the planes, plus simulators and services, to the Air Force. The first deliveries aren’t due until 2023, but Muilenburg has already been in the cockpit of a T-X prototype — even though he’s an engineer and a manager, not a pilot.

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Boeing CEO foresees aerospace traffic system

Alan Boyle and Dennis Muilenburg
GeekWire’s Alan Boyle listens to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg during a fireside chat at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

A decade from now, Boeing will still be primarily known as an airplane company, the company’s CEO says. But some of the things we’ll call airplanes might be what we’d call rocket ships today. And whatever you call them, Boeing will make them.

That’s the vision laid out today at the GeekWire Summit by Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, president and chairman. Rather than seeing a sharp division between the world of atmospheric flight and the world of rocket launches, Muilenburg sees a continuum that stretches from personal-sized air taxis to traditional aircraft to hypersonic transports to a whole family of Boeing-built commercial spacecraft.

“Within a decade, you’re going to see low-Earth-orbit space travel become much more commonplace,” he told me. “Not only going to the International Space Station, as we will today, but also other destinations in space. Space tourism, space factories … that whole ecosystem is evolving, and we’ll be deeply involved in the transportation system that will enable access.”

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Not even Congress can keep up with IoT security

IoT security panel
Moderator Mark Harris of The Economist leads a discussion about IoT security with Finite State CEO Matt Wyckhouse, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and University of Washington computer scientist Franziska Roesner at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

For years, computer industry leaders have been talking about creating a seal of approval that would assure consumers that their connected devices would be safeto use on the Internet of Things, just as past generations had Underwriters Laboratories or the Good Housekeeping seal to lean on. Why is that so hard to do?

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., says it’s because the IoT market is moving so quickly that what seems secure today may not be so tomorrow.

“There was a time when we had something more static, you could say that it’s got this particular validator on the box, and you knew that it would potentially be good for years to come,” DelBene, who co-founded the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things in 2015, said today at the GeekWire Summit. “How do we make sure that if something’s there, it’s really going to mean something months or years down the line, given how much things are changing?”

She and other experts on agreed that security assurances will become increasingly necessary as the number of IoT devices, ranging from webcams to smart speakers to kitchen appliances, mushrooms from an estimated 11 billion today to more than 20 billion in 2020.

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How Boeing CEO plants seeds of tomorrow’s tech

Dennis Muilenburg
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg grew up on a farm in Iowa. (Boeing Photo)

Dennis Muilenburg is leading Boeing into a second century of innovation with dreams of hypersonic flight, self-flying planes and journeys to Mars. But to lead the way, the 102-year-old company’s CEO, chairman and president turns to the values he learned from his dad growing up on a farm in northwest Iowa.

“He was never a big business executive, but at his core he taught me about integrity, the value of hard work, the fundamentals,” Muilenburg, 54, recalled during a recent conference on innovation. “And even in a big business, those work.”

Boeing certainly qualifies as a big business, and since Muilenburg took on the top post in 2015, the company’s ambitions have become even bigger.

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Not even science is immune from fake news

Fake news panel
Vinny Green of Snopes.com, Jevin West of the University of Washington and Ina Fried of Axios discuss fake news during the 2017 GeekWire Summit 2017. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

The controversy over fake news may focus on politics, but it’s also slipping into the scientific realm, says one of the country’s pioneers in the study of B.S.

The hunger for clicks and credibility has led to the proliferation of bogus research journals with serious-sounding names, University of Washington information scientist Jevin West said today during the 2017 GeekWire Summit.

“It’s really, truly an epidemic. … This is a science crisis right now,” West told GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop, who was the moderator for a panel on technology, media and the future of the truth. “Just like in the regular world, people are creating journals by putting up a WordPress site and saying, ‘I’m the Journal of Todd’s Dog-Killing Organization. If you hate dogs, then you should write a research article.’”

Sometimes the bogus studies even get written up by bona fide journalists, said West, whose college-level class on calling B.S. has generated international attention.

Axios’ chief technology correspondent, Ina Fried, weighed in with a jocular reality check: “As a journalist, I just do want to state directly, I have no evidence that Todd kills puppies.”

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Scientist maps path to merge humans and machines

Christof Koch
Christof Koch, chief scientific officer for the Allen Institute for Brain Science, addresses the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

It may sound like a zombie movie, but Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science is studying fresh human brain tissue to see up close how our neurons work — and perhaps eventually figure out how to meld minds with machines.

Integrating artificial intelligence chips into our own neural wiring may be the best way to address concerns about the rapid rise of AI, and the potential that the machines could outpace humans, said neuroscientist Christof Koch, the institute’s chief scientific officer.

Studying the brain should be a “matter of great urgency,” whether you believe that AI will lead to a work-free paradise or a Terminator-style nightmare, Koch said today at the 2017 GeekWire Summit.

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