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Q&A: Everything AI at embedded world 2021

A Conversation with Dr. Sally Eaves

embedded world is going virtual in 2021. But the event, held March 1-5 online, is now easier than ever for people to attend. And it’s still packed with experiences from the entire world of embedded technology—from AI to IoT.

Kenton Williston, Editor-in-Chief of, and Dr. Sally Eaves, CEO of Aspirational Futures, discuss what to expect from this year’s event, where it fits in the broader context of the industry, and how attendees can get the most of their time strolling—that is, scrolling—the show.

Want more? Find links to demos and Q&A sessions from embedded world 2021 on the blog page for this podcast, and learn more about the technologies discussed in their conversation. Or join Kenton and Sally as they live tweet several of the sessions and explore what’s happening there in real time.

Megatrends of embedded world 2021

Kenton Williston: Sally, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Sally Eaves: I’m CEO of Aspirational Futures, which basically looks at enhancing inclusion in technology and also education. I’m a CTO by background, and I’m now a senior policy advisor for the Global Foundation of Cyber Studies and Research. I do a lot around emergent technology advisory, and I’m also a professor in that area. I’m really active around cloud computing, cybersecurity, IoT, IIoT, AI, blockchain, 5G, etc., but also the cultural aspects of those topics. And the people factors around sustainability and social impact too.

Kenton Williston: All things very relevant to what is coming this year to embedded world. I think the big trends I am looking at for this year’s show really center around embedded transforming into IoT—and building on that IoT migration trend is a greater and greater emphasis on AI. It seems to be part of just about everything that is happening this year.

From your point of view, Sally, what do you see as the megatrends for 2021 as they relate to the Internet of Things and AI? And just generally, what’s happening in this commercial-technology space?

Sally Eaves: I think it’s really exciting times. There’s a great deal of convergence. And you mentioned two of the key factors there—with IoT and industrial IoT alongside AI and machine learning. But I’d also add 5G into the mix, as that becomes more and more mainstream. We need to look at not just the technology, but the skill sets alongside that. Time-sensitive networking is one to look out for as well—things to make it easier for developers so they can really maximize their time.

Kenton Williston: One of the demos that I’m really looking forward to seeing on this point is what IEI (one of Intel’s partners) has called their AIoT kit, which—as its name suggests—combines AI plus IoT. And of course it brings together the AI and IoT sides of things, but it also brings together with that the 5G technology that you were mentioning.

Another demo from Vecow brings together AI pre-trained models and ROS, the Robot Operating System. It’s like a one-stop shop for everything you need to create an intelligent robot—like an autonomous robot that might be running around a warehouse floor.

Sally Eaves: I love the sound of that demo. I’ll definitely be looking at that.

There are some  challenges I see, as well. I think one would be security and, in particular, safeguarding critical data within industrial and embedded IoT. And also thinking more on the network side of things around timeliness. I think that’s so, so vital for industrial automation, AR, VR, and also robotics use cases.

Making Tech “Simpler, But Not Simple”

Kenton Williston: From your point of view, what should developers and engineers be on the lookout for that will help them actually put together these increasingly complex, multifaceted sorts of applications that folks are trying to build in 2021?

Sally Eaves: We’ve got this increased sophistication that’s offered by convergence, but at the same time it’s this juxtaposition around complexity. So it’s about making it simpler but not simple, for another way of putting it. I think one thing definitely to look out for are the 5G elements. 5G and Edge computing together—connecting more devices, more efficient processing of data.

And agility—I think it’s the key word probably for 2021, as your workloads are fluctuating. Distributed Edge computing is going to give that flexibility to scale on demand, to deploy your applications to any Edge location, conserving memory and power. And because apps are being processed at the Edge, you’re reducing bandwidth as well. I’m seeing some very interesting collaborations in that space—definitely would shout out for that for developers to have a look at.

Kenton Williston: Intel’s got a whole new web presence that it’s launched within the last year called the Intel® Edge Software Hub, which I think is a pretty interesting effort to bring together all of these commonplace technologies. And it’s not just for the things like the AI or the robot operating systems, but even things like the connectivity—pre-packaged modules for 5G connectivity—that allow you to easily configure the Open Network Edge Services Software—or OpenNESS platform—on that Edge device.

So, I think all these kinds of approaches, where you’re almost building things out of Legos, as it were—this is the sort of thing that I think everybody has been talking about for a long, long time. To your point about the agility and how quickly folks are wanting to, not only deploy IoT designs but be able to update them—I think it’s just more important than ever.

Sally Eaves: The example you gave just now about the Edge Software Hub is such a strong one, because you’re right, you’ve got that pillar, that pre-optimized pillar of deployment-ready software packages, which is fantastic. But, equally, you’ve got the ability to customize, so it’s that best-of-both-worlds approach. I think that’s absolutely the way we need to be going.

Making AI Trustworthy

Kenton Williston: A lot of these trends are kind of longer term, but I think something that has changed here is just how pervasive the AI element is in just about every space. I saw a couple of examples from ADLINK, who will be demonstrating how they use AI for everything from inspecting contact lenses to automating palletization and tracking of items for shipping.

Sally Eaves: Absolutely. And supply chain—I think one of the things that’s come to the fore so much over the pandemic is the fragility around that, and embedding a transparent audit trail. I’ve seen some really interesting things with AI and blockchain coming together. So that marriage, for want of a better word, between AI and blockchain I think is one to watch as well. Pharmaceuticals, for example, would be a classic example of that.

The Ethos of Tech-for-Good

Kenton Williston: Another thing that I think is worth adding to the mix here is the safety element of things. As exciting as it is to see this amazing intelligence being applied in all these amazing, creative ways, there’s also a lot of caution that we should exercise about how we’re deploying these technologies—particularly as we’re increasingly automating systems and making them hands off.

One thing that comes to mind for me there as an example is Intel and its latest hardware platforms: the Intel Atom® x6000E series processors incorporates functional safety technology to help protect the physical world. And there’s a really great demo from NEXCOM showing exactly how that works, and how you can deploy that in all kinds of different applications to keep things from causing harm.

Sally Eaves: I think that’s one of the absolute key issues of the entire year. In certain sectors around manufacturing, operational technology, health, education, there’s been such an increase—I think it’s around a 300% increase around identity attacks over the past year, as one example. I think we’ve also seen where there’s been continual investment in infrastructure, but maybe less so around patching and around refreshes. So that’s created an area of security vulnerability.

Kenton Williston: Another thing that comes to mind for me is ethical AI, which is something I know you’re passionate about. I’m thinking about a demo from a company called EverFocus that is offering an in-transit network video recorder box that incorporates analytics—both forward-looking to see what’s happening in traffic, as well as inward-facing to understand what’s happening inside the vehicle.

There’s potential for misuse there, but there’s also potential for really amazing benefit in terms of keeping people safe and healthy, and cities running efficiently and minimizing their carbon footprint. So it’s all about how you deploy it. And I like this EverFocus demo as a kind of example of how to do it the right way.

Sally Eaves: I think leadership in this area is so, so important. And one of the things that’s also impressed me over recent months is a bit of a change in the narrative around this. But what we’ve been able to see over the pandemic experience is some fantastic examples of collaboration. One of those that springs to mind for me would be the HPC Consortium—the High Performance Computing Consortium—of which Intel is a member.

And it’s a great example of leading tech companies coming together—partnering up with research and academia and governments across the world, as well—and really coming together. That ethos of tech-for-good collaboration—basically bringing computing capacity, bringing computing power together to look at how we can better fight COVID-19. I think that’s a great example of turning the narrative on AI as something for good. Supporting that further, building that momentum of greater trust around AI, I think is really, really important

I also think this comes down to education. People have to be empowered to be able to ask the right types of questions, and we need to get better diversity of teams into who’s building AI, as well. And that goes beyond aspects like gender, to all sorts of different characteristics. But diversity of experience—it matters so, so much. And every piece of research going—and our practical experience as well—says that the teams that are diverse are happier, they’re more creative, they’re more satisfied, and you get so much more innovation, and you reduce the risk of implicit bias as well. So that has to be the way to go forward.

embedded world 2021 vs. embedded world 2020

Kenton Williston: I’m very excited to see for myself where things are going as the industry gets more complicated, more sophisticated. But I think there’s an overriding theme here of bringing together so many different technologies that have been in development—whether it’s AI, whether it’s 5G, whether it’s safety and security—bringing so many of these things together in ways that I think really are noteworthy, and notably different than what I saw last year at this time. How about you? What are you looking forward to?

Sally Eaves: I think there’s a real acceleration in innovation, and around the actualization. The speed of change has been unlike things we’ve seen before, absolutely. So I think there is a real change this year vis-a-vis the one before. That’s really, really exciting.

There are so many sessions. Fourteen sessions on Internet of Things, platforms and applications. But I think what I like about this year’s event is it’s five days long—you can really tailor it to your particular organization and also what you want to learn about. There are so many opportunities to really dive in deep and ask questions.

I also like the matching application they’ve put together. It feels like a proper personalized experience. Because if you can’t be there in person, then making an event feel like a true interactive experience matters so much.

I really miss the socialization aspect of events and things, but I must admit I’m really impressed by how the agenda for this has been curated. There’s a really strong attention to detail there, and opportunities to build that network connection and match people together. So I really like what’s been done in terms of curating the event.

Kenton Williston: Should our listeners be coming to this podcast after the fact, where can they find you online?

Sally Eaves: I think the one to go for, number one, would be @sallyeaves on Twitter. But I’m on all major channels— LinkedIn, my own website, etc.

Kenton Williston: That just leaves me to thank you for joining us today. Really appreciate all your insights.

Sally Eaves: Absolute pleasure. And really looking forward to the event.

Related Content

To learn more about embedded technologies, listen to our podcast on Everything AI at embedded world 2021.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is an Editorial Consultant to and previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of the publication as well as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

Profile Photo of Kenton Williston