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A very happy un-conference to you

Israel is a world center for conferences; it's got fun and sun, making it a great place to party. But is it worth the expense?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Thursday, September 11, 2014 photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Thursday, September 11, 2014 photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

In the story of Alice in Wonderland, the mad Hatter would celebrate everyone’s un-birthday. Since birthdays only happen once a year, it seemed logical that one should celebrate their un-birthday days, so that 364 days a year would be spent in merriment. It is a lovely idea, as long as somebody else is paying the bills.

Setting up a conference is tactically one of the most difficult things to do. I am not talking about inviting 10 people for a weekend at a quiet hotel, but rather thousands of people who attend both physically and remotely via webcasts. Problems always arise such as one key speaker missing his flights or another key speaker injuring him or herself. I am pretty sure that I have seen quite a number of atheists praying for divine intervention in order for their conferences to go off as planned.

It is nearly impossible and personally, financially unsustainable, for me to attend every conference I find interesting. Also, I actually prefer to watch the tape version of the conference so that I can easily skip forwards when I lose interest in the particular topic, or move backwards in order to listen once more to a critical part of the speaker’s words. Fortunately, in this day and age, it truly is possible to attend multiple conferences in multiple cities all simultaneously, via their websites. The most recent conference I have been following is called Exponential Medicine.

To quote from the website itself, “exponential medicine brings together leading thinkers innovators and practitioners to reveal what’s happening in the labs and in clinical trials today.” The purpose of all of this, is to understand what is a reality now [even if that reality only exists in a lab] and to already begin thinking about how to share and commercialize the item.

I should point out that pure research for research’s sake is very noble. For decades, IBM ran labs purely for basic research, with the intent of simply expanding humankind’s knowledge base. Of course, if a discovery was made that could help the company directly, they would explore it. But the intent was not inherently financial. Unfortunately, even for a company the size of IBM, such an altruistic project eventually came to an end. Therefore, no matter how potentially valuable research may be, it generally needs to have some kind of potential financial windfall, in order to get investors support.

Exponential medicine is an absolutely fascinating conference that truly does bring together many of the top minds in the world. Through directed courses, mentoring and building a network of very high end developers and researchers, the hope is to build a spider’s web that will capture any and every good and worthwhile idea that passes in the neighborhood, i.e., in this world. Just in the introductory lecture, I personally felt belittled. In two hours, the various lectures covered a great deal of what I have personally learned in the entire last year. And the recurring theme throughout this lecture was that all of the amazing advancements that have been made in the last year will pale in comparison to the astounding advancements we will make in just the next few coming years.

One of the reasons for such conferences is to hopefully spark conversations and idea exchange between brilliant people, which will manifest as new startups. One of the comments made was almost frightening. For example, one of the speakers noted that In 10 years, it’s predicted that 40% of the Fortune 500 Companies will no longer exist.

This will partially happen for positive reasons, like mergers and buyouts in order to combine the smaller company’s knowledge base and people skills with that of the larger [purchasing] company. An example of this would be Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia. A great deal was gained by Microsoft via this deal. However, a great many people lost their jobs secondary to this merger. The hope is that these same people will quickly find work in the ever expanding technology realm. But it’s no fun to be 50 years old, with kids in university, and to be told that your job just vanished.

Some of these companies will no longer exist because they simply financially failed. It is hard to believe that a multi-million/billion dollar company could find itself in financial distress so quickly. The financial and business world is so big and moves so quickly that one bad decision could wipe a company’s coffers clean. It might of course also be that the primary product that the company was founded on, is discovered to be ineffectual. So a company that comes up with a new type of computerized scanner that is swallowed like a pill, could crash and burn if the images sent to the mobile phone device are of such poor quality that they are in effect unreadable and useless.

On the bright side, 60% of these Fortune 500 companies will continue to exist. And each year there will be another group of companies that join the fray, of which 40% will fall away. But just because a company fails to monetize its ideas, does not mean that those ideas are without merit. I have heard start up representatives present brilliant ideas that should have worked. But the perfect storm of the market, where the public is in terms of its mindset and the technical aspects of producing the product can all combine to cause the product to fail. Under different circumstances, the same product could’ve been a great success.

My humble suggestion to anyone who wishes to stay abreast of the latest and greatest technology and medical updates, is to simply scan the Internet for recent conferences. Very quickly you’ll find a whole series of meetings that cover, sometimes, the very specific areas of your interests. And, if you are lucky, you may very well find that one of these conferences is in your town. I know that I am very lucky given that Jerusalem attracts many major technology meetings.

Keep an eye and ear out for these kinds of conferences. You won’t be disappointed. And as always, thanks for listening


About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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