Silicon Valley Inspiration Tour, California (August 2017)

A week was spent on an exclusive tour to visit start-up founders, community developers, pioneers, thought leaders, and the spaces, ideas, and actions that shape the culture of Silicon Valley. The exposure was mind-opening to say the least; allow my pictures and stories to show you why.

(Some photos taken by Mario Herger)

DAY 1

INTELYGENZ, INC.

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After brunch at Cafe de la Presse, we headed straight to our first company visit to meet their COO Chris Brown, who enlightened us on the technical makings of artificial intelligence, particularly focusing on the machine-learning process and how it behooves businesses to implement this kind of technology to drive profit and eliminate inefficiencies.

 

BETTER BUSINESS MODELS, INC.

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“Design-thinking is nothing more than an empathetic view of your customer and a willingness to experiment,” says Justin Lokitz, co-founder of Better Business Models, Inc. and co-producer of the widely-acclaimed Business Model Canvas tool that companies widely use today.

He took us on a crash-course on these tools and its applications, particularly in businesses, large and small.

 

PROPELLAND

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Propelland was founded by Hugo Echevarria, a brilliant, energetic character and creative genius who openly shared to us the ingredients of a powerhouse committed to creating impact through breakthrough, user-centric design. Their team spearheaded sport-bottle ergonomics for Powerade in the recently-held World Cup. He boldly proclaims that ideas are nothing unless they come into fruition.

Its army of superstars is a force to be reckoned with, shaped by an effective culture of meritocracy and an importance of attitude over skill (ego-zero is key to being a hero). Their superpower is swift prototyping, because an imperfectly-executed project is better than a thousand fruitless meetings. Unicorns stand watch over their office: at the table and on the walls, to remind each member to always make room for improvement. With playful charm, he goes on to say, “we’re tiny, but shiny.”

 

TECH SHOP

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A maker-space for innovators, artists, business owners, or merely curious minds, this space offers a wide range of tools and materials for prototyping and houses an incredible energy of creation and creativity.

 

DAY 2

JODY MEDICH ON AR & VR & HMI (FOR TED)

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“The age of super-computers has come to an end, as the age of super-humans begins.” Yes, our notion of cybertrons may partly come to life, but not entirely. Science fiction tends to scare us, and the press over-dramatizes these issues.

On top of that, the voices of the industry tend to talk about things they don’t exactly understand (e.g. the recent debate between Zuckerberg and Musk). People pay attention to them, not necessarily to those who are really behind AI and other developments.

And well, the truth is, they’re very excited about the future.

HMI (Human-Machine Interface) has successfully eliminated / solved vision and other sensory impairment, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc. Eventually, HMI will take charge of repetitive human tasks, eliminating the need for manual labor (and yes, there is an ongoing conversation about employment, ethics, and legislation), freeing up brain power for more creative activities.

“What superpower do you want to have? Because you can have it.”

She is true example of a brilliant mind with a kind soul.

 

500 STARTUPS / LUMOTUNE

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One of the world’s most successful accelerator programs, 500 Startups is respected for empowering some of the world’s best solutions and giving them business value. Hooman, one of the founders of Lumotune: digital marketing on glass, took us through their journey so far and introduced us to a new, interesting way to advertise.

 

EXONOMICS @ HANA HAUS

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Hana Haus isn’t the typical co-working space. The openness of the room (high ceilings, open spaces, shortage of dividers) enabled people to collaborate through a noisy environment, interestingly contrasting the notion that the greatest ideas are piqued in isolation.

Our wonderful host, Niki, gave us a crash course on Exonomics (exponential economics) in one of their conference rooms.

“There are three types of ideas:

  1. Something that hasn’t been done before, which is common and most likely already being done.
  2. Something that the world hasn’t seen before, which gets people to see things in a different way.
  3. Something we generally accept but don’t want to accept, which becomes a huge resource of ideas.

What kind of ideas do you want to generate?”

 

B8TA KICKSTARTER RETAIL

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An awesome one-stop shop for the latest technology. I found myself testing every single piece of machinery in the room, it was fun to try everything!

In another similar type of store, we walked through an audio-visual display of the applications of these new devices (how it would actually be like for these things to be a part of our daily lives). A special ‘garage’ was dedicated to prototypes, wherein customers can tinker with the products, and choose to subscribe to know when it is ready for retail.

 

BEAM SHOP

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The only place I’ve been to where the salesperson is the product. See for yourself!

 

FACEBOOK

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Touristy-stop of the day!

 

LEVIS STADIUM

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The ecosystem behind serving a huge mass of people is an interestingly different ballgame (note the pun, please). We had the privilege of putting on our business-op hats as opposed to just being spectators that afternoon. What a fresh experience, especially since (American) football isn’t in any way practiced where I live. Superbowl 50, the most watched program in TV history, was held here.

 

TESLA MOTORS

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“I’ve a feeling that someday, you are going to drive a Tesla,” remarked one of my companions. Challenge accepted.

 

DAY 3

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Singularity University

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Carnegie Mellon University (SV Campus)

Also called Moffett Field, this facility has its very own zip code and federal police shiftees. Our guide, Scott, took us to see the structures of brilliance that encamped there, such as the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University & the thought-leading Singularity University’s labs.

HANGAR 1

Ooh-ed and aah-ed before plenty of massive structures this trip, one of them the majestic Hangar 1.

 

OLD MCDONALD’S

Dennis Wingo talked to the group about the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, in which 2000 pieces of 1960’s analog photographs of the moon had been digitized for historic and cultural purposes, under the roof of a previous fast-food parlor at the park.

One of the big challenges from technology today is proper documentation. With digital formats and storage platforms changing rapidly, it would benefit us to constantly upgrade not merely important documents but also personal archives for future generations.

 

DRIVERLESS CAR HUNT

The Valley has over a thousand driverless cars as the gold rush for this kind of technology is phenomenal. Each company vies to be at the top of their game, with Google on the front line. (Sorry guys, we weren’t able to get a good picture.)

SAP APP HAUS

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This office must be a dream to work in. Their collaborative space looked vibrant, ready for fresh ideas. They had a creative room with a mini-maker space and bean bags. Their workplace was furnished with interactive installations mixed with cozy spaces. They had a special room for client-meetings, designed to encourage them to brainstorm together. Design-thinking is part of their culture. More than anything, it seems like culture is their business. This is an example of a thriving global company that embodies the agility and innovativeness of a start-up.

 

APPLE STORE

Touristy detour of the day!

 

COGSWELL COLLEGE

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There is a place for disruption in education, but a hundred-fifty-year-old institution is the last place I thought would have it. The faculty welcomes innovation with open arms, and puts their students’ (and the world’s) future first. That is precisely why they survive: changing programs and curriculums every year to suit the demands of a fast-changing environment, proactively advising their students to consider a different field if they appear not to thrive in their current path, providing avenues for students to experience the real world by taking on real projects for large companies, and supplying students intellectual resources (such as remarkable faculty) to advance their potential. We had the pleasure of hearing from Julius, one of their teaching staff, about the educational status this humble-but-exceptional institution brings.

 

DAY 4

MOZILLA

The more you share, the more you win. Back when Microsoft controlled the desktop and tried to kill its main competitor, Netscape, the latter opened its source code and leveraged world talent to build the robust super-browser we know today as Mozilla Firefox. We sat with one of its original creators and learned about the non-profit’s humble past, brilliant present, and exciting future.

 

HUAMI WEARABLES

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Photo from Google

In my opinion, this brand is a sweeper in design in its category. The jade-inspired pendant (which may be worn as a bracelet or necklace) is actually a sleep-and-activity tracker in an affordable price point (product name AmazeFit Moon Beam). It also consumes minimal battery life, is versatile as a fashion piece, and isn’t heavy on the wallet. (Just don’t mistake it for candy.) One point for China!

Special thanks to their Head of Marketing & Sales, Frederik, for supplying us with each of our own piece!

 

STANFORD CAMPUS

Known as the richest academic institution by alumni donations, a Stanford admission is (by many chances) a golden ticket to a bright future at the Valley.

 

STANFORD d.SCHOOL

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Walking through the room, I opened my eyes, observed mindfully and took careful note of every detail. I grew aware of my biases and perceptions, and threw them out of the window. I tried to use my senses as much as I could, observing texture, form, shape, and color. I tried to make sense of why things were what they were–the shape of the door, the way the pillows were scattered in the car’s trunk, the pattern behind polaroid photographs on the walls and ceilings.

I tried to unpack as much as I could with the help of my partner-slash-mentor. Who would have thought one could pick up so much from a twenty-square-meter lobby space?

It was the first time in a while that we were asked to observe our surroundings like children–with untainted curiosity, increasing mindfulness and nothing else. We stretched our minds wider than its usual capacity, and we got more than we wished for.

That was the experience Niki wanted us to have. That was the kind of active participation and presence of mind needed to see the world from a different perspective. That was how great ideas are made–a simple paying-attention of the things we commonly dismiss as given, fixed, and unchangeable. From there, we question, then we discuss, then we build.

As our minds awakened, we were tasked to prototype our idea of a home. Acting, again, like children, we built as we went, finding meaning each time we stuck a piece on the board. We ended up with an art installation of some sort, a scattered experiment that only gained meaning when we began articulating what the process of creating it was like.

 

THE REST OF STANFORD

Early during the day, I had a good meal from Panda Express (finally, asian fare after 3 days of nothing but pastry).

After d.School, we stopped by the bookstore to window-shop some impressive Stanford merch.

We also met up with Michael, who was in the campus for research. He shared to us some of the truth behind the prestige, and well, it validated pretty much everything we thought it was–prestigious.

After which, we went to a mini-museum that honored some their most outstanding alumni and ground-breaking innovations.

 

DAY 5

 

DEKAI: A.I. PROFESSOR (FOR TED)

I could not say the words better than the prodigious Professor DeKai himself (read about his ground-breaking contributions and accolades at dekai.org):

“Today’s AI is equal to the slightest bit of human intelligence. Google Translate isn’t as accurate as it should be; even a child can do better than its algorithm. Strong artificial intelligence is composed of the ability to make generalizations and understand complex data. Our AI’s are learning from the environment we raise them in. We still have a long way to go, but as our machines become smarter, we need them to understand the world we want to live in, we must teach them to value diversity, creativity, respect. During the selection of ideas, we need them to value fact-based imperialism and sound judgment, etc. Today we’re mainly teaching our AI’s to listen to our perspective, to reflect our preferences. When we like or share, we teach our AI’s to support our ideas and memes.

“We don’t have buttons for “might this be right?”, “not sure i agree, but interesting thought”. Do we teach our kids to suppress viewpoints other than their own? We teach our AI’s to reward trolls and hate speech because those comments have more views, likes, and whatnot. We don’t have buttons for ‘how true is this’? Would you teach those kids that? How about sound, informed judgment? 47% of shareable content on the internet is either false or pants on fire. Of all the content on the internet, only 20% is true or mostly true. 83% of chained emails are false, 17% are true or mostly true. Why then, are we encouraging AI to magnify human stupidity?”

Professor DeKai graced us with his brilliant and beautiful mind, as he took on technology from a humanistic point of view.

 

MARTIN HERMANN ON SOLAR ENERGY (FOR TED)

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I lack pictures. We met Martin in this beautiful mountain-view resort beside Sausalito.

Solar energy had always been around, but businesses and governments might still not be aware of the economic and environmental value this channel holds. It was an exchange of favor: we were his pretend audience as he prepared for his TED Talk in Burning Man 2017, while he delivered to us a foundational understanding of the topic.

 

AUTODESK GALLERY

What a great way to end the tour! Our last stop was as stimulating as all others. I didn’t expect much from a gallery but every single display in Autodesk was a work of incredible design and engineering.

We witnessed outstanding prototypes through the use of raw materials and other natural resources to create new technology that help solve the world’s biggest problems. For instance, the soccer-ball night-light, the self-growing race-car, the portable incubator, the 3D-printed dress, and much, much more.

 

IN CONCLUSION

What’s it like to be in a space where everyone is freely does what he loves, makes something out of what he cares about, and digs deeper within himself to unearth that very thing he can contribute to the world?

What’s it like to liberate yourself from conventional thinking and question others and even your own behavior, biases and understanding of the world?

What’s it like to be in an environment of shared ideas, shared resources, and a great sense of belonging as a norm? Where positives attract, energy is transferred, and as one unit, you empower the world around you?

What’s it like to be at the center of habit-forming, life-altering innovation?

What’s it like to be house incredible human energy and creativity without understating purpose and character?

Technology is a great thing in the hands of good people, and that is what makes this space so special.

You have taught me to dream and work for a better world, Silicon Valley. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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