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Prominent AI pioneer to headline St. Pete tech festival

Mark Parker



A record-breaking crowd filled the Mahaffey Theater for the 2023 poweredUP festival. Photos by Mark Parker.

Igor Jablokov created the technology Amazon now uses to power its Alexa-enabled devices; he will soon discuss his groundbreaking work and artificial intelligence’s future at a local event.

Jablokov is the keynote speaker for Tampa Bay Tech’s annual poweredUP festival May 22 at the Mahaffey Theater. The annual event set a new record with over 1,200 attendees in 2023.

The 2024 festival now boasts an “industry luminary,” as Speech Technology Magazine described Jablokov. Meghan O’Keefe, executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, said his eagerness to participate underscores the area’s reputation as a burgeoning innovation hub.

“Our community is becoming more and more well known for tech and innovation,” O’Keefe told the Catalyst. “So, people are willing to volunteer their time to speak … and see what it is all about and how they can help make our community even more tech-savvy and tech-forward.”

Jablokov founded Yap in 2006. It provided the world’s first highly accurate and fully automated speech recognition software.

Amazon made the startup its first artificial intelligence (AI) acquisition in September 2011. The e-commerce giant then used Jablokov’s technology as the foundation for its now-ubiquitous Alexa-enabled products.

Igor Jablokov, founder and CEO of Pryon.

Jablokov also led an IBM team that launched the precursor to Watson. The natural language processing computer system analyzes human speech before answering questions – often in a fraction of a second.

Jablokov helped Apple develop its digital assistant, Siri, before launching Raleigh, North Carolina-based Pryon in 2016. His latest endeavor utilizes augmented intelligence to derive “trusted answers” from “complex, unstructured data” on an enterprise-level scale.

“I am honored to be invited as this year’s keynote speaker at poweredUP Tampa Bay Tech Festival, and excited to share meaningful insights in the newest emerging tech and innovation hub,” Jablokov said in a prepared statement. “The pandemic showed us that we need to fully engage our national resources, and Tampa Bay’s addition is critical to the growing landscape of tech hubs.”

The event runs from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and will feature a full day of presentations from local and national speakers. Topics include music and technology; military and innovation; practical applications of AI; and city security and AI. Tampa Bay Tech will announce panelists and additional discussions in the coming weeks.

Tampa Bay Tech is a nonprofit council that has united the local innovation industry for 23 years. Its mission is to foster a “radically connected, flourishing tech hub” and equitably increase opportunities.

Meghan O’Keefe, executive director of Tampa Bay Tech.

O’Keefe noted that poweredUP is the organization’s signature annual event and likely the largest tech gathering in St. Petersburg. The festival also provides a public showcase for local innovators.

“We don’t have a lot of opportunities to get everybody together,” O’Keefe said. “So, when we do, I think there’s a lot of excitement behind it.”

She said everyone from C-level executives to students could learn something at poweredUP. O’Keefe also expressed the benefits of hearing different perspectives.

Jabil, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and JP Morgan Chase representatives will join local startup founders on stage. Dozens of Geek Row vendors will provide live and hands-on tech demonstrations throughout the day.

The festival also features networking sessions and a post-event happy hour. The Mahaffey Theater’s new restaurant, Sonata, will offer lunch in the upstairs ballroom.

“It really is a conference for anybody and everybody in our community,” O’Keefe stressed. “You don’t have to go for the whole day; you can pop in for just one speaker or panel discussion. That’s what we’re here for – to bring more tech programming to people who might not get it elsewhere.”

For more information, visit the website here.

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