The Cutting-Edge: Making the Most of Emerging Technologies


As one of four panels in the first symposia session, “The Cutting-Edge: Making the Most of Emerging Technologies” kicked off Cornell’s Celebration 2015. It consisted a mix of excitement in how emerging technologies will revolutionize industries and skepticism over privacy concerns. Key topics in the panel revolved around big data, Bitcoin, social media, 3D printing, the Internet of Everything, and emerging technology’s impact on the global economy. Moderated by Professor Deborah Streeter, the panel consisted of Linda Benowitz (’84, Director of Global Insights, Citibank), Adam Hirsch (‘04, Advisor, Mashable), and Sarah Boone Martin (’03, Vice President, Digital Currency Council).


“Big data isn’t new,” Linda Benowitz says. For example, Citibank utilizes big data to provide a better customer experience, such as decreasing the number of steps during a transaction. In addition, big data analyzes whether sales, marketing, and internal operations are working efficiently. (Hirsch recommends using Optimizely track marketing back to ROI.) Like large corporations nowadays, Citibank uses social media to monitor the sentiment of its consumers. Big data is about personalization, but companies need to be careful about PII, personally identifiable information.


Sarah Martin’s expertise is in Bitcoin and how it allows for quick and convenient microtransactions in countries like Haiti. In addition to providing liquidity, Bitcoin will soon integrate with social media and provide a medium to “tip money” to social causes and presidential campaigns. Though Martin recognizes that Bitcoin is unregulated, she believes the negative publicity surrounding Bitcoin can be attributed to “bad seeds rather than bad technology.” It’s up to the government to delve into consumer protection and find a happy medium between opportunity and privacy.


In terms of social media, Adam Hirsch asserts that companies need to be active on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook, as these are all searchable. Make sure your content cuts through the noise of social media. Just as marketers are forced to adapt, Facebook must too. Facebook is now mimicking the Asian market, such as Wechat and Line, by creating their own messenger app. In addition, Facebook is also tweaking algorithms to send consumers more videos, as Facebook hopes to capitalize on this in the future. Adapt with your audience.


The sharing economy was only briefly mentioned, while more focus shifted towards emerging technology’s influence on the global economy. In Kenya, a robust mobile payment system is used by 60% of the population. It’s clear there will be a movement torwards digitizing payments in developing countries. Big data is also huge in India and Hungary, and Brazil and Australia are progressive in tapping into big data. Benowitz states that “Emerging markets are more nimble,” and Professor Streeter seconds that thought: “The technology that blurs the lines between privacy and opportunity may not have the same value proposition for Americans because the United States has the infrastructure to support activities that may not be supported elsewhere. Perhaps that contributes to the lag behind emerging markets, in adopting certain technologies.” Emerging technologies are moving quickly. How do we keep up and make the most of the cutting-edge?

Food for Thought:

  • One panelist noted that the Internet of Things is an aggregation of all different technologies, while the Internet of Everything extends beyond that and is an unceasing communication between all devices. Your credit card is connected to your phone, which is connected to your car, which is connected to your garage, which is connected to your lights at home. Anyone can use this information to know exactly what you’re doing and when. Where do you draw the line between convenience and privacy?
  • In addition to microtransactions, Martin believes Bitcoin’s underlying system, block chain, will be the “killer app” for the controversial digital currency giant. A killer app is what email was to the internet—a program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology. What do you think is the next killer app? For instance, what will be the next Uber for the sharing economy?
  • If a product is only cutting-edge but not functional, it will fail. On the other hand, if it is only functional but not cutting-edge, the product fails to disrupt an industry. For a product to succeed, it needs to be both functional and cutting-edge. For example, 3D printing is cutting-edge and it can be functional. Shapeways, essentially an Etsy for 3D printing, is worth checking out.


  • Big data is about personalization and delivering a more comfortable and efficient consumer experience. Using big data to analyze consumer sentiments on social media helps achieve this.
  • Big data bolsters core businesses. There’s a push for companies to invest in big data, as it allows companies to optimize their practices and enhance their relationship with their consumers.
  • Either have a product/service that is easy to learn has a strong value proposition. Urgency of need will drive early adoption.
  • For a product to succeed, it needs to be both functional and cutting-edge.
  • With the help of government, emerging technology must find a balance between opportunity and privacy.

See what’s coming up next on Celebration’s agenda!2015-Celebration-Logo-long599