Richard Florida speaking at the 2016 Innovation Gathering

In 2016 we held a historic event at the Old University Mall.

Tommy “Urban D” Kyllonen, lead pastor at Crossover Church

It was intentionally edgy: mixing rap (a spoken word recital of our branding material by Urban D); Community Impact Awards; S.O.U.L. Mag with the innovation district on the cover; and a rousing presentation by Richard Florida

It was historic: The Mayor and County Administrator attended alongside the USF President among many, many others.

It was INCLUSIVE: Attendees included college students, company C-suite executives, entrepreneurs, area residents, faith-based leaders, elected leaders, and much more.

And, it has propelled our journey forward.

The old will come down –  along with fences, walls & barriers – and the new will rise, to the benefit of the surrounding community. The future is a global powerhouse that lifts every boat …. but how? For, you see, lifting every boat can be quite a feat. Indeed, it was recently noted by Bo Kemp, our Opportunity Zone Consultant: “Many have tried and most have failed.” 

Demolition of the old Sears store at University Mall

A recent event at the USF Marshall Center, hosted by the Tampa Bay Partnership & USF Muma College of Business highlights just how challenging this feat can be. Their report to the Tampa Bay Community – 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report is a “Tony Stark” read:  exciting, although in this case, without the action hero. Ok, you might need to read deep into the report to find the Stan Lee reference I am reaching for, but hear me out. Our ability as a region to compete with our peer metros will require a near-genius superhuman effort. It demands that we drop all hesitancy towards competing in some of the most demanding areas of next-generation technology; a veritable smorgasbord of AI, Machine Learning, Quantum Computing, and Robotics. 

Any whisper that we can’t compete is old-school – and also not true – thinking.

But first, let’s take a superficial glance at this weighty report

The report benchmarks Tampa Bay against 19 peer and aspirational markets nationwide by comparing outcomes from 5 drivers of the economy; economic vitality, innovation, infrastructure, civic quality, and talent. As one might expect, we do well in some categories but lag far behind in others – such as average wage & median household income – areas where we must improve upon if we are going to build the type of economy our leaders have begun to tout. And, we must be willing to go toe-to-toe with the very best. Yes, I’m talking about the Valley. So, grab a seat on a United Flight from Tampa and let’s take a quick 6-hour nonstop trip to the other side. 

Like an episode from my favorite 1960s TV series, the Twilight Zone, it’s time to, “unlock the door of imagination to enter into a new dimension of sound, sight, and mind. A place which lies between the pit of man’s fear and the sunlight of his knowledge.” Yes, that quote was in the original 1959 pilot. It is the dimension into which we must first peer and then fearlessly walk if we are to ever gain on our rivals. 

No, the report did not benchmark Tampa bay against Silicon Valley, which some would argue is a fruitless venture into a land where we can never compete. But I – surprise, surprise – disagree, and in this Byte, I urge a fearless leap into this land of both “shadow and substance” where the future is being made today. 

I have been following closely new developments in quantum computing, AI, and robotics with rapt fascination. Indeed Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai recently stated that AI is more important to mankind than “fire and electricity” and Vladimir Putin famously asserted, “the nation which leads in AI will control the world.”  Or, at least control political advertising on Facebook, but nonetheless this is big stuff. 

Google’s Pichai, as well as Amazon’s Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nedalla – who said “AI is the defining technology of our times” – along with IBM, Facebook, SalesForce, Intel, AMD, and Nvidia (the gaming chip giant), are among just a few of the companies transforming our world in Silicon Valley, or nearby, and shaping the future. Across the Pacific, China is driving an AI boom with companies like ByteDance, SenseTime, Tencent, and others leading the way.

Where is Tampa Bay?  

We are not sitting still. We can’t afford to. Just read the Regional Competitiveness Report if you doubt my Byte.  

The days of saying, “this or that is too big for us,” are over.  

USF has burst that bubble with a focus on innovation, patent production, and deep learning. Recent decisions by the USF Board of Trustees and Hillsborough County to stand up the USF Institute of Applied Engineering (IAE) represent one big step in that direction. We need our own mini Manhattan Project for AI to engage a world increasingly steeped in deep learning and neural networks, where Google TensorFlow is enabling every person with an iPad to engage in machine learning & create new products that might one day alter the space-time continuum or at least make things better for us here on earth. 

We are working to create this future in Uptown. Our partners, like the relentless Terri Willingham, are putting sweat equity into a cool space for young and old to learn more about robotics, coding, and many more tech and mechanically oriented skills (see AMRoC’s Mission & Goals).  The old University Mall is soon-to-be home to the IAE which strives to “rapidly solve tomorrow’s security and economic challenges today by Seeking Truth at High Velocity”. And, now the newest innovative tech neighbor moving into the mall – NETSVS – which helps clients unlock the potential of big data.

Peering through the Looking Glass might be weird, indeed staring deep into the concept of quantum computing is odd, but it is also where we are heading. It will alter geometry (see Jarrett Walker) and change the way we buy groceries or visit our doctor. 

It is edgy, historic, and must also be inclusive. Join us as we tear down the wall…