AI and DEI Spotlighted at IEEE’s Futurist Summit

It also celebrated Internet pioneer Bob Kahn and other technologists

6 min read

Joanna Goodrich is the associate editor of The Institute

group of people standing for a portrait on a stage with a large projected screen behind them that reads “IEEE 2024 Honors Ceremony”

Those who developed technologies that changed people’s lives were recognized at the 2024 Honor Ceremony in Boston.

Robb Cohen Photography & Video

This year’s IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit and Honors Ceremony, held on 2 and 3 May in Boston, celebrated pioneers in engineering who have developed technologies that changed people’s lives, such as the Internet and GPS. The event also included a trip to the headquarters of cloud service provider Akamai Technologies.

Here are highlights of the sessions, which are available on

Akamai hosted a panel discussion on 2 May on innovation, moderated by Robert Blumoff, the company’s executive vice president and CTO. The panel featured IEEE Senior Member Simay Akar, IEEE Life Fellow Deepak Divan, and IEEE Fellows Andrea Goldsmith and Tsu-Jae King Liu. Akar is the founder and CEO of AK Energy Consulting, which helps companies meet their sustainability goals. Divan heads Georgia Tech’s Center for Distributed Energy. Goldsmith isPrinceton’s dean of engineering and applied sciences, and King Liu is the dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Engineering.

The panelists were asked about what or who inspired them to pursue a career in engineering, as well as their thoughts on continuing education and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Most said they were inspired to become engineers by a parent. Goldsmith, the recipient of this year’sIEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal, credits her father. He was a mechanical engineering professor at UC Berkeley and suggested she consider majoring in engineering because she excelled in math and science in high school.

“When I was young, I didn’t really understand what being an engineer meant,” Goldsmith said at the panel. Because her parents were divorced and she didn’t see her father often, she thought he drove trains. It wasn’t until she was at UC Berkeley, she said, that she realized how technology could change people’s lives for the better. That’s what pushed her to follow in her father’s footsteps.

When asked what keeps them motivated to stay in the engineering field, King Liu said that it’s IEEE’s mission of developing technology for the benefit of humanity. She is this year’s IEEE Founders Medal recipient.

“Diversity is about excellence. The biggest battle is convincing people who don’t believe that diversity has a positive impact on teams and companies.” —Andrea Goldsmith

“Engineering work is done for people and by people,” she said. “I draw inspiration from not only the people we serve, but also the people behind the technology.” The panelists also spoke about the importance of continuing education. “Learning is a lifelong process,” King Liu said. “Engineers need to seek out learning opportunities, whether it’s from having a design fail or from more experienced engineers in their field of interest.”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion was a hot discussion topic. “Diversity is about excellence,” Goldsmith said. “The biggest battle is convincing people who don’t believe that diversity has a positive impact on teams and companies.

“Another issue is finding ways to bring in diverse talent and helping them achieve their full potential,” she added. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the work I’ve done with IEEE on DEI.”

Goldsmith helped launch theIEEE Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is its past chair. Established in 2022 by the IEEE Board of Directors, the committee revised several policies, procedures, and bylaws to ensure that members have a safe and inclusive place for collegial discourse and that all feel welcome. It also launched a website.

group of 3 people standing for a portrait, middle person with a medal around their neckRobert E. Kahn proudly displays his IEEE Medal of Honor at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony. He is accompanied by IEEE President-Elect Kathleen Kramer and IEEE President Tom Couglin.Robb Cohen Photography & Video

Career advice and the role of AI in society

The IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit got underway on 3 May at the Encore Boston Harbor. It featured a “fireside chat” with Robert E. Kahn followed by discussions with panels of award recipients on topics such as career advice and concerns related to artificial intelligence.

Kahn was interviewed by Caroline Hyde, a business and technology journalist. Widely known as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” he is this year’s IEEE Medal of Honor recipient for “pioneering technical and leadership contributions in packet communication technologies and foundations of the Internet.”

The IEEE Life Fellow reminisced about his experience collaborating with Vint Cerf on the design of the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol. Cerf, an IEEE Life Fellow, is another father of the Internet and the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor recipient.

While working as a program manager in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s information processing techniques office in 1973, Kahn and Cerf designed the Internet’s core architecture.

One audience member asked Kahn how engineers can create opportunities for young people to collaborate like he and Cerf did. Kahn said that it begins with having a problem to solve, and then thinking about it holistically. He also advised students and young professionals to partner with others when such opportunities arise.

The conversation on career advice continued at the Innovation and Collaboration in Leading Technology Laboratories panel. Panelists and IEEE Fellows Eric Evans, Anthony Vetro, and Peter Vetter offered insights on how to be a successful researcher.

It’s important to identify the right problem and develop a technology to solve it, said Evans, director of MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

When asked what qualities are important for job candidates to showcase when interviewing for a position, Vetro said he looks for employees who are willing to collaborate and are self-driven. Vetro is president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs in Cambridge, Mass. He also stressed the importance of learning how to fail.

During the AI and Society: Building a Future with Responsible Innovation session, Juraj Corba, Christopher D. Manning, Renard T. Jenkins, and IEEE Fellow Claire Tomlin discussed how the technology could affect a variety of fields. They agreed the technology is unlikely to replace humans in the workforce.

“People need to think of AI systems as tools—like what Photoshop is to a photographer.”- Renard T. Jenkins

“People need to think of AI systems as tools—like what Photoshop is to a photographer,” said Jenkins, president of consulting firm I2A2 Technologies, Labs and Studios.

“AI doesn’t have learning and adaptability [capabilities] like humans do,” Manning added. The director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is this year’s IEEE John von Neumann Medal recipient. “But there is a good role for technology—it can be life-changing for people.” One example he cited was Neuralink’s brain implant, which would enable a person to control a computer “just by thinking,” according to the startup’s founder, Elon Musk.

ChatGPT, a generative AI program, has become a hot topic among educators since its launch two years ago, said panel moderator Armen Pischdotchian, data scientist at IBM in Cambridge, Mass. Tomlin, chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department at UC Berkeley, said AI will make education more interactive and provide a better experience. “It will help both students and educators,” said the recipient of this year’s IEEE Mildred Dresselhaus Medal.

Pioneers of assistive technology, GPS, and the Internet

The highlight of the evening was the Honors Ceremony, which recognized those who had developed technologies such as assistive robots, GPS, and the Internet.

The IEEE Spectrum Technology in the Service of Society Award went to startup Hello Robot, headquartered in Atlanta, for its Stretch robot. The machine gives those with a severe disability, such as paralysis, the ability to maintain their independence while living at home. For example, users can operate the robot to feed themselves, scratch an itch, or cover themselves with a blanket.

The machine consists of a mobile platform with a single arm that moves up and down a retractable pole. A wrist joint at the end of the arm bends back and forth and controls a gripper, which can grasp nearby objects. Sensors mounted at the base of the arm and a camera located at the top of the pole provide the sensing needed to move around from room to room, avoid obstacles, and pick up small items such as books, eating utensils, and pill bottles.

More than six billion people around the world use GPS to navigate their surroundings, according toGPS World. The technology wouldn’t have been possible without Gladys West, who contributed to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth. While working at theNaval Surface Warfare Center, in Dahlgren, Va., she conducted seminal work on satellite geodesy models that was pivotal in the development of the GPS. West, who is 93, retired in 1998 after working at the center for 42 years. For her contributions, she received the IEEE President’s Award.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the IEEE Medal of Honor to Bob Kahn, who received a standing ovation.

“This is the honor of my career,” he said. He ended his speech saying that he “hasn’t stopped yet and still has more to do.”

The Conversation (0)