Musicians, bright minds in technology and even a few robots are converging in Oxford this Thursday for the inaugural C Spire Technology Experience.
CTX, the first conference of its kind on campus, will bring three primary speakers: Michelle McKenna-Doyle, the NFL’s chief information officer; Brian Uzzi, a professor and artificial intelligence expert from Northwestern University and Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media, Facebook Live and former chief marketing officer of Facebook.
Also coming to The Pavilion is Pepper, a highly intelligent, humanoid robot that can detect emotions and speak in sentences. This is the first time Pepper has visited a college campus, according to C Spire’s senior media relations officer, Dave Miller.
After the tech talks, Passion Pit, The Lonely Biscuits and The Weeks will play a show at The Lyric Oxford, just off the Square.
C Spire CEO Hu Meena said the event was largely inspired by South by Southwest, an annual conference in Austin, Texas, that unites music, technology and various arts disciplines.
“(We) thought this would be a good time to do this in Mississippi, especially in Oxford, because of all the wonderful things that are going on at Ole Miss and since Double Decker is this weekend,” Meena said.
Double Decker, an annual arts festival, draws thousands of visitors to Oxford each year.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is inspire young people to be even more interested in technology so that they are filling the jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities of the future,” Meena said.
He said another goal of the conference is to show that Mississippi is a welcoming place for technology and people who are passionate about innovation.
“Mississippi does fairly well in manufacturing, but the challenge of the future is technology is going to drive just about every industry,” Meena said. “We’re just trying to shine a light on some of the opportunities that are out there.”
The robots, too, have an ulterior purpose. People often view robots and artificial intelligence as scary, but meeting Pepper and the other AI-driven machines might change that, Meena said.
Meena said Uzzi’s presentation should answer the question, “How does the next-generation workforce ensure AI-driven robots work for them and they don’t work for robots?”
Meena said preparations are already being made for next year’s CTX conference and that he hopes to curate the event annually.
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said he’s excited for the event and thinks students should take advantage of this opportunity.
“I think this is such a unique combination, unlike anything we’ve ever had on our campus,” Vitter said. “But, of course, as a computer scientist, I am super enthusiastic about the technology and innovation aspects of the event.”
Vitter said CTX is a good example of the university’s growing reputation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and programs.
“The question isn’t why should students come. The question is: Why wouldn’t students come?” Vitter said. “This event is an extraordinary chance to engage with interactive technology, be inspired by world-renowned thought leaders and get energized at a fantastic concert.”
Thursday at the Pavilion, a virtual reality kiosk will take users down the Walk of Champions along with several demonstrations of university virtual reality and augmented reality projects. Virtual reality and augmented reality differ in that virtual reality uses a headset and earphones to take the user to a completely different setting, while augmented reality adds something new to the user’s current environment.
The Pavilion’s box office opens at 8:30 Thursday morning, and the first event begins at 10 a.m.