Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh researchers play a leading role in a White House conference, co-hosted by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, on the future of innovation.

A Tradition of Innovation

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Some of the most famous words spoken in human history were delivered on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. It was the dawning of a new era—as was the signing of the declaration of independence and the 1787 US constitution in Philadelphia, less than 100 years previous.

“What more innovative document could there have been at that time,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wondered aloud this Thursday morning, “than one that said ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights?’” Behind him, a screen welcomed a room full of attendees to the first ever White House Frontiers Conference, highlighting another new era of advancements in science, technology, and medicine, co-hosted by Pitt and CMU.

Touting both Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as historical epicenters for new ideas and creativity, the Governor introduced the National Frontiers track at CMU—covering emerging developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning.

At Pitt’s School of Medicine, Michael Boninger and a team of researchers have used Brain Computer Interface technology (developed at Pitt) to help a 30-year-old man with tetraplegia feel pressure in the fingers of a prosthetic robot arm controlled by his mind, by stimulating the sensory cortex in his brain. The man, Nathan Copeland, shook hands and fist-bumped with President Obama on Thursday afternoon. (“He had a strong grip, but we toned it down,” the President remarked.)

Other specialists and speakers at the National track ranged from deep-learning researchers looking at how to improve language competency in machine learning, to computer science professors using artificial intelligence to more easily track endangered species in a sea change for wildlife conservation. AI is better able to recognize and diagnose pathologies in healthcare than ever before, resulting in more lives saved from preventable conditions like sepsis, and better radiology screenings. Drones help speed up search and rescue missions and aid decision-makers with preparing for natural disasters. Cybersecurity challenges are offset by autonomous computer systems that identify, patch, and overwrite flaws in code across a huge gigabit scale in mere minutes. And Uber’s self-driving cars now populate the roads of Pittsburgh, and “smart” intersections around the city help plan and direct traffic flow, continuing to revolutionize transportation.

“There’s energy that goes along with the projects and services and processes coming out of places like this,” Governor Wolf said.

“We’re an old state, we’re a modest state, but we are innovative. We’re hard-wired with imagination. We have change in our heart.”

Thanks to that hardwiring and to advancements in AI all over the country, we don’t have to wait four score and seven years for a world that’s more inclusive and streamlined for all—it’s happening here, and now.

Check back throughout the week for more on the White House Frontiers Conference.

—Micaela Fox Corn