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Bernardi talks future of technology, IoT

Photo By: Hudson Tran/The Behrend Beacon


Jeremiah Hassel, Features Editor

In the vast realm of international business, capitalist drives for innovation, progress, and the reformation of contemporary economies have steadily contributed toward the transition to a technology-reliant global society. More and more, the groundbreaking ideas and products of small businesses are incorporated into the agendas of larger corporations. The creation of an interconnected web of intuitive technologies has contributed to a sharp decline in the efficiency and effectiveness of long-standing industries in a multitude of innovative fields. As companies around the world fail to live up to consumer expectations and begin to go out of business at rapid rates, how can individual companies hope to survive the long-haul?

According to entrepreneur, author, technologist, and self-proclaimed disruptor Linda Bernardi, the answer rests in the exploitation of the Internet of Things (IoT) – including blockchain technologies – and artificial intelligence (AI).

Bernardi was invited to speak at Penn State Behrend this Wednesday as a staple of Behrend’s annual Speaker Series, hosted by the office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI). She presented to students, faculty, staff, and the Erie community alike in the McGarvey Commons of the Reed Union Building.

The author of “Provoke” and co-author of “The Inversion Factor” – a 2018 Axiom Business Book Award winner – as well as the former International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation chief innovation officer and Watson co-lead, Bernardi has dedicated her life to the study IoT and AI and its implementation into the global economy.

“My passion is the hyperconnected emerging world, where there are going to be tens of billions of things connected to tens of billions of things, where things are going to be autonomous without human interaction,” said Bernardi. “We’re going to be living in a world where it’s going to be very different than it is now and we’re going to use technology to do a lot of what perhaps we do manually now.”

Bernardi predicts a shift to what she refers to as a “democratization”, a new form of economy composed of “a decentralized world, going from central computing to highly decentralized, onto peer-to-peer, into a new economy.”

“Engineering is a core component of that. So is computer science. So is business. So is finance. Because as the world evolves, all of these disciplines are key,” said Bernardi. “[The speech] is an opportunity to talk to students that live and breathe each of these disciplines.”

Prior to the main event, Bernardi was treated to a formal dinner at Behrend’s Logan House, where Bernardi hosted an informal question and answer session with those in attendance, said Kris Motta Torok, the director of SLI.

As the meal concluded, Bernardi was escorted to the Commons, where 200 copies of her book “The Inversion Factor” were distributed to a crowd of eager Behrend students, faculty, staff, and a number of Erie community members anxious to listen to Bernardi’s pitch.

Among them was Abdallah S. Abdallah, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor of electrical and computer engineering. Abdallah recently received funding through the school of engineering to repurpose Burke center room 210 and create an IoT lab.

Abdallah’s IoT research students were extended invitations to the dinner with Bernardi. “I think it is a really rich education experience for them as sophomores and also very motivating to them,” said Abdallah.

Moving forward, Abdallah hopes to host more speaker events akin to that of Wednesday’s and to host on-campus workshops for students interested in learning more about IoT. “For the future of the IoT research program, events like this and hosting events like this definitely helped me in recruiting the students that are interested,” said Abdallah.

For second semester electrical engineering major Caleb McDowell, who plans on pursuing a minor in computer science, the event was an opportunity to listen to different perspectives on the topics of IoT, blockchain, and AI from a renowned professional with experience with each concept.

“I feel like, oftentimes, the media and movies and Hollywood portray these things as kind of evil or kind of like the ending of an age,” said McDowell. “[Bernardi] had more of a positive outlook on them. It was very idealistic, but as an expert in her field, she really would know where the technology is nowadays and just how close we are to those idealistic futures that we see in Hollywood.”

Bernardi’s positive outlook, however, would spark controversy among those versed in the economic impacts of her propositions. “I feel like she wasn’t conscious enough about the dangers and the problems that we’re going to face from these technologies,” said McDowell. “She was very optimistic about how far the technology could advance in the next five to ten years. But again, we really have to be careful. There’s a lot that society has to figure out and [sic] people have to figure out.”

McDowell expressed several reservations about the ‘technology takeover’ Bernardi described. “They’re great technologies but incorporating them into our daily lives is something that I’m really going to put a lot of thought into,” said McDowell. “In today’s society, we kind of put technology on a pedestal and say that it’s going to be the cure-all solution to everything, but… there’s also something to be said for the simple things in life, like nature, conversations you have with people, or more of the simple things in life. You can learn an immense amount from them and they’re just as important.”

Despite slight dissension in the audience, Bernardi reiterates her original intention that audience members begin to associate the concepts with their coursework and open pathways of interdimensional thinking.