The Tech Issue — 2019 | The Tech Issue | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Tech Issue — 2019

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MATT DOUGLAS | REV. DIANE SULLIVAN
  • Matt Douglas | Rev. Diane Sullivan

The cover of this issue, illustrated by Matt Douglas, features a Jetsons-inspired talk show called "Tech Tonight."

Seated behind the desk is the host — the Vermont Tech Jam mascot, an androgynous spaceperson who has represented the annual career expo since it began in 2008. The "guest" is a smart speaker, one of those personal digital assistant devices that will play music on command, or answer your trivia questions, or tell you the weather.

By now, these wireless doodads should be familiar to readers — smart speaker sales are expected to top 200 million by the end of 2019, according to the industry researchers at Canalys.

The whimsical illustration essentially depicts what Seven Days writers do in every Tech Issue — they play host, talking with business, community and tech leaders around the state who offer a local perspective on the technological changes sweeping the globe.

One innovation that's getting a look this year is the latest in surveillance tech: video doorbells. In "Private Eye," Courtney Lamdin explains how these gadgets are helping cops solve crimes — and raising concerns among privacy and civil liberties advocates.

In "Deblockracy Now?" Paul Heintz talks with officials in South Burlington who are experimenting with blockchain technology to survey citizens about civic issues. Some advocates say it could one day even help people vote from their smartphones.

Ken Picard surveys seven companies producing "Tangible Tech" in Vermont. That includes everything from remote-controlled robotic tackle dummies to small satellite propulsion systems.

And Margaret Grayson checks in on the Generator, Burlington's maker space. Five years after it was founded in the basement of Memorial Auditorium, the nonprofit expanded into its own South End digs — home to entrepreneurs, artists and what's billed as the country's first permanent indoor drone racing track.

This year's Tech Issue also offers a new twist, suggested by the cover: Dan Bolles' story about Vermont's Artificial Intelligence Task Force — "Signs of Intelligent Life" — concludes with a 450-word opinion piece composed by a computer. IBM's Project Debater, an AI application, can synthesize information from thousands of sources to create arguments for or against any point in real time. In this case, Project Debater argues that social media does more harm than good.

The words it strings together can be a little awkward and, frankly, a little creepy. One of its arguments against social media: It "creates the illusion that one's opinion carries any weight in the world, thus swelling egos that are already too big." Could the White House Twitter feed be one of its information streams?

This issue coincides with the Vermont Tech Jam, the annual free career and tech expo Seven Days produces. It's an opportunity for Vermont's tech businesses to recruit employees and for local colleges to explain how they're preparing students for those jobs with academic degree and training programs. The event program is a pullout guide in the center of this issue.

Stop by the Champlain Valley Exposition on Thursday, October 17, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to talk with the techies yourself.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Smart Speakers"