#rpTEN Speaker Jeff Kowalski

There is a temptation in technology to begin celebrating accomplishments before they have proved their use. It is the newness of an innovation – the way it presents possibilities never before conceived of – that tends to capture people's attention, not the question of what do we actually use this for.

For Jeff Kowalski, CTO of Autodesk, form does not trump function. Autodesk is an American company specializing in software for 3D design, engineering and entertainment. At a 3D printing show in October 2014, Jeff did not mince words when lamenting the current state of 3D printing technology; he outright stated that it “kind of sucks right now.” But he also didn't leave it there: he then went on to discuss Autodesk's efforts to make 3D printing suck less, such as through their open 3D printing platform Spark and the accompanying 3D printer Ember.

In interviews, Jeff has stated that when trying to evaluate the quality of an innovation, it is important to seek a balance of three main ideas: feasibility, desirability, and viability. That is, an innovation has to be technically possible, demanded by some group of people, and commercially viable. In this context, it makes sense that Jeff is unflinchingly critical of flashy technology that doesn't deliver when it comes to actual functionality. Innovating for the sake of being innovative isn't enough, and as such Autodesk has a focus on practical technologies that improve workflows and production processes.

This focus on software for conceptualizing and designing physical objects and processes means the gap between the digital and physical worlds is rapidly closing. Up until recently, these two spaces were perceived by many as existing independently of each other – you have “the cloud”, and then you have the “real world.” But some of the modern innovations Jeff has overseen at Autodesk in the realms of generative design and robotics, for example, are proving that digital and physical realms are not nearly as far apart from each other as some might think.

Jeff is among those who sees this intersection as a turning point in our society, similar to the way moving toward agriculture or the industrial revolution changed our behaviour and processes permanently. What the rise of technologies like AI, bio-nanotechnology and others means for our future are some of the topics Jeff will address in his keynote speech at this year's re:publica TEN.   

Photo credit: Jeff Kowalski/Autodesk