Who needs a phone? AI is the future, iPhone co-creator says at Dare Mighty Things

Blue Sky Innovation

You love your phone. You'll do without it. That's the prediction of iPhone co-creator Andy Grignon.

Although he said the average mobile phone user interacts with their device about 2,617 times a day (heavy users, more than twice that), he expects mobile phones to be phased out.

"I think we'll start to see the outright elimination of phones over time," Grignon said during a talk at the Dare Mighty Things tech conference at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre Friday. "Look at your reaction to the iPhone X and 8 announcement. Look at kind of the ‘ho-hum.’"

Grignon, who grew up in Chicago’s northern suburbs and is now a partner of design agency Siberia, said voice and artificial intelligence are where the industry is headed.

"We are getting more acclimated to devices that respond to your voice instead of your finger." he said. "Voice and AI are the two most important things that we should be paying attention to — and more AI because it provides context. You can bark almost anything now into a microphone."

Grignon noted how the iPhone has veered from its primary purpose.

"Steve (Jobs) made a very conscious effort to not allow developers into the App Store. We didn't want a bunch of knuckle-dragging developers in our ecosystem, because this thing’s No. 1 job was to make phone calls," he said. "Fast forward today with the iPhone X. When was the last time you actually made a phone call?"

Grignon dismissed theories that Apple intentionally makes older devices obsolete upon the introduction of a new phone.

"People are convinced that Apple does this on purpose in order to sell more phones. That's not true. What is true is that in order to build out the crazy stuff, they have to take advantage of what's in the new thing," he said. "If it’s not in the old processors, everything on the old thing feels sluggish."

The Dare Mighty Things conference, founded in 2012 by IT worker Michael Gelphman as the Compute Midwest conference in Kansas City, Mo., moved to Chicago this year. Speakers noted the Auditorium Theatre was the site of the 1899 Theodore Roosevelt speech that included the quote from which the conference takes its name.

The day put the spotlight on innovators who work on projects like Mars exploration, DNA editing and a return to supersonic air travel.

Speaker Josh Krall, co-founder and CTO of Boom Technology, touted his company’s aircraft designed to carry 55 passengers at about 1,400 miles per hour. Trips from New York to London would take three hours and 15 minutes; San Francisco to Tokyo, about five and a half hours; Los Angeles to Sydney, less than seven hours.

"You can take the first flight out of New York and be in London by early afternoon, have some early afternoon meetings, take a client to dinner and you can take the last flight home and be in New York in time to tuck kids in bed," said Krall, who was also co-founder of FeeFighters, which was acquired by Groupon, and HelloCar.

The Denver-based startup has $41 million in financing, including $33 million in March, and expects to begin rolling out the aircraft in the mid-2020s. It has 76 pre-orders for the aircraft across several major global airlines, he said.

Renee Wegrzyn, program manager for the new Biological Technologies Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — DARPA — talked about the idea of engineering genes to eliminate (or create) disease, or prevent pesky or harmful species from laying eggs so that they die out together.

"You can take evolution into your own hands," she said.

Another DNA-centric effort could help neutralize viruses or reverse radiation damage, she said.

"For the first time, we have a tool that actually corrects DNA,” she said. “The idea is that, with first responders to nuclear incidents, we would want to be able to use these tools there."

But some of the discussion was very much grounded, as when Basecamp co-founder and CEO Jason Fried ⇒ discussed the need for Chicago's tech community to have a more realistic approach to business.

"The scene here might be going in the wrong direction, which is trying to become Silicon Valley," he said. "A lot of companies that don't make any money are exciting for a few years, and then they're out of business."

He says he's fielded hundreds of proposals from investors and still gets one or two inquiries a week, but turns them down. He said he and a co-founder did sell shares to Jeff Bezos in 2006.

"We just believe in organic growth and growing the business at a reasonable, sustainable pace. You make something and stay profitable and hire a little bit every year and stay in the black," Fried said. "As long as you make one more dollar than you spend, you know your expenses are covered, you can stay in business forever."

Dare Mighty Things plans to return to Chicago in 2018, Gelphman said.

Cheryl V. Jackson is a freelance writer.
Twitter @CherylVJackson

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