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Tech festival unites industry in St. Pete

Mark Parker



A record-breaking crowd filled the Mahaffey Theater for Tampa Bay Tech's poweredUP event Wednesday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Tampa Bay Tech’s mission is to “radically connect” the region’s innovation community, and its signature annual event brought over 1,200 stakeholders together Wednesday at the Mahaffey Theater.

Meghan O’Keefe, executive director of the nonprofit network, said the 2023 poweredUP technology festival set a new attendance record. She relayed that nearly 50 Amazon Web Services representatives registered for the event, and companies like CDW and Jabil also brought sizable contingents.

O’Keefe told attendees that the event highlighted the “dreamers and doers who are changing the world, one breakthrough at a time.” She noted the preponderance of tech businesses that recently relocated to the area and how Forbes named established local organizations like Raymond James, BayCare Health, Bloomin’ Brands and Moffit Cancer Center as some of the nation’s top employers.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re no longer known for just our beaches anymore,” O’Keefe said. “Your presence here today affirms your belief in how far our community has come and your commitment to helping … Tampa Bay become the tech hub that we know it can be.”

GeekRow sponsors included Amazon Web Services, Google, Coinflip, Accusoft and RevStar.

New uses for artificial intelligence (AI) took center stage at the Mahaffey. Sandy Carter, CEO of San Francisco-based Unstoppable Domains, provided poweredUP’s keynote speech.

Carter, a Florida native and one of CNN’s Most Powerful Women in Tech, highlighted how companies could leverage AI, the metaverse and Web3 – the latest blockchain-enabled version of the internet – to foster future growth. She dispelled “the metaverse is dead” mantra as a myth and relayed that Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney recently reported 600 million monthly active users across its gaming lineup.

“People are still using it,” Carter said. “Especially the next generation.”

She explained how fashion and automotive companies utilize the metaverse to highlight products and ideas before mass production. Carter also noted how the proliferation of new AI tools increases efficiency and that she used the tech to help draft her speech and create presentation graphics.

Carter highlighted how creating “digital twins,” or online replicas, boosts branding efforts while AI creates new data and collection opportunities. That is particularly apparent in education and healthcare, and California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is now using the tech to manage millions of auto titles.

She expressed her surprise that John Deere is also an innovation leader. AI systems onboard tractors can distinguish between weeds and corn sprouts, and farmers can “test” products in the metaverse instead of visiting a showroom.

Sandy Carter, CEO of San Francisco-based Unstoppable Domains, provided the keynote presentation.

Carter stressed that business leaders must experiment with new technology before grasping its benefits and using it to increase customer satisfaction. She concluded her keynote by stating that people often overestimate technology’s impact in the short term and underestimate its long-term benefits.

“We want it to be fast; we want it to be easy; we want it to have immediate impact,” Carter said. “And then we kind of forget about it. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Make sure that you’re learning, make sure that you’re playing and make sure that you’re in it for the long term.”

A group of local medical leaders from BayCare Health, Tampa General Hospital (TGH), and Moffit Cancer Center joined Dr. Stephanie Lahr, president of Artsight, to discuss how AI is transforming healthcare. Artsight is an operating system for “smart hospitals.”

Much of the presentation centered on how new tech allows providers to spend more time with patients by mitigating paperwork and recordkeeping. However, Dr. Alan Weiss, chief medical information officer for BayCare, said his organization is piloting an AI program that helps recognize life-threatening blood infections.

He said another new platform mitigates the “cognitive burden” caused by documenting justifications for medical decisions. It can also order X-rays and exams.

“That’s the nirvana state that’s coming,” Weiss added. “We think this could really revolutionize some of the inpatient nursing responsibilities and frankly, some of the stress of their job.”

Cityverse, St. Pete Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton’s (seated center) tech-focused startup civic platform, provided commemorative NFTs to attendees.

While maintaining privacy and security is an issue with any new health tech, Lahr noted that patient experience scores soared when a hospital put cameras and speakers in rooms. Scott Arnold, chief information officer for TGH, said he is also “bullish on computer vision.”

He said AI-enabled operating room cameras could catch mistakes and count sponges before and after a procedure. Arnold referenced a Seinfeld episode where a Junior Mint candy falls into a patient.

“Computer vision would have caught that Junior Mint,” he said.

Arnold said TGH officials are also exploring automation opportunities and likened those programs to an airplane’s autopilot.

“In the clouds, it’s really easy to turn that button on, and I’m still in control,” he elaborated. “But it does take a load off, and I think that’s what we want to do for people in health care.”






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