Dispatches from Thrival Music's 5th Year

Wiz Khalifa performing Saturday night at Thrival Music, with Khalifa Kush in hand. 

Wiz Khalifa performing Saturday night at Thrival Music, with Khalifa Kush in hand. 

This weekend, Thrival Music returned to the Blade Runner-esque Carrie Furnaces in Swissvale for another year of live music. The music gather followed two days of Thrival Innovation, during which figures from tech scenes in Pittsburgh and beyond discussed the future of innovation, entrepreneurship and culture.

Here is a recap of Thrival Music, whose artists were as diverse as its crowd. 

Friday

Reppin' Pittsburgh and... Liverpool

First up at Thrival Music Festival was Pittsburgh-based artist Rachel B.. With her hair the color of cotton candy blue and pink, the singer, along with her band, Little Good Bad, entertained the early festival crowd with electronic, pop, and soul with a style reminiscent of Sia, Robyn and Bruno Mars.

Rachel B. from indie soul pop group Little Good Bad.

Rachel B. from indie soul pop group Little Good Bad.

Another one of Pittsburgh's own talent, JRod, in his first music festival appearance, manned the DJ decks to deliver hip-hop-inflected electronic dance music to a Friday crowd happy to be free of the week's work. Rounding out the afternoon portion of the lineup were the indie rock band Circa Waves, who came all the way from Liverpool, England, and Pittsburgh-based hip-hop producer DJ Afterthought, a regular on rapper Riff Raff's live tours. Local electronic artist Emerson Jay also laid down smooth, seductive and funky electronic grooves as dusk approached. 

Some Hard Electronic Beats

One of the more remarkable stories of Thrival Music festival was the presence of TOKiMONSTA, aka, Jennifer Lee. The Los Angeles-based electronic artist is still putting back the musical pieces after being diagnosed and treated for a potentially fatal brain disease called Moyamoya. After two brain surgeries, Lee learned to not only make music again, but listen to it. Her vibrant set of psychedelic hip-hop and electronic music pastiche was thus all the more exciting as the festival transitioned from dusk into night. Lee, like her fans, looked exuberant and sounded as energetic as ever. 

TOKiMONSTA DJing in support of her new album 'Lune Rouge', her first after brain surgery. 

TOKiMONSTA DJing in support of her new album 'Lune Rouge', her first after brain surgery. 

After Two Door Cinema Club returned the musical proceedings to the sound of indie rock, with fans singing along to several of their songs, a Guatemalan giant stormed the stage. Carnage, aka Diamanté Anthony Blackmon, more than lived up to his name, combining Dutch Hardstyle (very fast, relentless techno), trap, and EDM into adrenaline-fueled musical mayhem. 

One Word: Logic

Def Jam rapper Logic, aka, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, was Friday's headliner. Minutes into the show, Logic proclaimed, "I only care about three things: love, peace, and respect". A few moments later, the emcee dropped the now famous lines from "Killing Spree": "Ass, titties, pussy, weed, money". Illogical? Maybe so. Entertaining? Completely. 

Hip-hop artist Logic headlining Friday night at Thrival Music.

Hip-hop artist Logic headlining Friday night at Thrival Music.

Saturday

Modern Psychedelia

The Garment District, a project by multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Baron of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor, kicked off the final day of Thrival. Of all the bands at Thrival, The Garment District were perhaps the most idiosyncratic. Steeped in 60s psychedelia, folk, and girl pop that calls to mind the work of Broadcast, Stereolab, and Belle & Sebastian, The band were the ideal accompaniment to a lazy and sunny afternoon.

The Garment District

The Garment District

At the other end of the psychedelic spectrum was Byron Nash & Plan B. Nash, a formidable guitarist and Pittsburgh native, occupies a sort of Jimi Hendrix or Cream-esque style of hard rock, and offered as much up to the Saturday crowds. 

Michigan & Moody Atmospheres

What's a Michigander? Well, that'd be a person from Michigan. It's also the name of a project by Detroit-based indie rock artist Jason Singer. Michigander brought his well-crafted tunes to the stage, delivering both slower ballads and more uptempo numbers, giving the crowd a wide array of all-around good sonic vibes. 

Michigander playing a day set at Thrival Music.

Michigander playing a day set at Thrival Music.

Both Missio and Echos explored the moodier side of electronic music on the Thrival Music's final day. Their respective sets were, to a degree, a more reflective time for the audience before the night's party vibe hit. DJ Steve James, female pop artist Kiiara, and The Welshley Arms also covered some of this darker sonic territory, much of the time with a particular emphasis on the emotional side of relationships. 

Return of the Sax

After Childish Gambino, rapper Ugly God might simultaneously have the most absurdly funny and awesome moniker in the hip-hop game. With his 2017 album, The Booty Tape, Ugly God cut right to the chase of what is on his mind. While the Houston native's production is catchy as hell, it's really the lyrics that entertained the Thrival crowd—they're every bit as comic as his name. 

GRiZ bringing back the sax.

GRiZ bringing back the sax.

The festival's penultimate act, GRiZ, is interesting for a number of reasons. While GRiZ, aka, Grant Kwiecinski (also a Michigander!) is a fun-loving genre-hopper, he has also done much to place the saxophone back into the pop music lexicon. Alongside his bearded guitarist, GRiZ and his saxophone spun out a dizzying array of sounds, from early 90s R&B to EDM, funk, slow jams and even jazz. The party atmosphere was the perfect lead-in to Pittsburgh homeboy and Thrival Music festival headliner Wiz Khalifa. 

Khalifa Kush

True to form, Wiz came out with a giant joint—likely his own brand, Khalifa Kush. After waxing on the philosophy of weed, business and artistry at Thrival's Marque Event at Carnegie Art Museum on Thursday, Wiz blew off some steam (or blew out some smoke) on stage for what was surely the biggest crowd of the festival. 

Wiz was lit. Literally. 

Wiz was lit. Literally. 

Not to be outdone by GRiZ's hypercolored, Tumbler-fied net art visuals, Wiz strolled around the stage in front of three giant LED screens, which display all sorts of colorful graphics. As expected, the rapper turned weed mogul professed his continued love of his home city. As one of Pittsburgh's own as well, we were happy to have him close out Thrival Music in spectacular fashion. 

Wiz was, as they say, lit. Lit AF. 

Immersive Art and A.I. Exhibits at Carnegie Museum OF ART 

Ian Brill's architectural interactive light installation, Gates. 

Ian Brill's architectural interactive light installation, Gates. 

For the first time, Thrival collaborated with the Carnegie Museum of Art on a one-night only gathering of immersive art, AI-inspired exhibits, and keynote talks. The Thrival Innovation Marque Event featured CAM night featured a number of mind-bending new media artworks, multimedia performances, and demonstrations of technologies like robotics and augmented reality. While all works and exhibits were worth seeing, here are a few of the highlights. 

Artist Ian Cheng's Emissary Sunsets The Self

When attendees arrived at CMA, they were very quickly met by 33-year old Los Angeles artist Ian Cheng's large-scale live simulation. The work, titled Emissary Sunsets The Self, is a monolithic, evolving animated world that works with video game conventions to examine, via simulation, complex themes like human behavior, evolution, and consciousness through the ages. 

Ian Cheng's large-scale animated simulation, Emissary Sunsets The Self. 

Ian Cheng's large-scale animated simulation, Emissary Sunsets The Self

Like the other two works in Cheng's Emissaries trilogy (2015-2017), his latest is set on a volcanic site, where the beings (Emissaries) and their environment are shaped and are shaped by an artificial intelligence. 

“In each episode,” Cheng writes, “the Emissary—caught between unraveling old realities and emerging weird ones—attempts to achieve a series of deterministic narrative goals, an analogy to the narrative nature of consciousness. But crucially these goals can be set off course, procrastinated, disrupted by the underlying simulation and its non-narrative agents who vex the Emissary with other kinds of minds.”

Another installation view of Ian Cheng's Emissary Sunsets The Self. 

Another installation view of Ian Cheng's Emissary Sunsets The Self

Augmented Reality Surgery Simulator

At the AI and robotics demonstration booth area, located right next to CleanRobotics' recycling robot, Trashbot, was BodyExplorer, a very special mannequin. There, Douglas Nelson, Jr., a PhD student in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, used augmented reality to map human organs and physiology onto the mannequin's body, demoing the technology that Pitt uses to allow medical students to simulate surgery. (Head over to Thrival's Facebook page to watch a short interview with Nelson, in which he talks about how BodyExplorer works.)

Evolving, Illuminated Architecture

In CMA's Hall of Architecture, artist Ian Brill presented his architectural installation, Gates. The piece, consisting of five half-domed structures outfitted with a number of LED squares, evolved throughout the night, both in their patterns, movement, and colors, all influenced by the motion of attendees. 

Another installation view of Ian Brill's Gates.

Another installation view of Ian Brill's Gates.

"Programmitic, sound-reactant and improvised gestures modulate their surrounding environment," read the Brill's artist statement, "impressing upon the audience a haunting, beautious and navigable narrative." 

Technologically-Mutated Hands

Augmented Hand Series, a work created by artists Golan Levin, Christine Sugrue, and Kyle McDonald, probably took the cake for the weirdest installation of the night. It also happened to be the most fun of the the interactive works. Visitors approached a box display, where they inserted their hand. A real-time interactive software system then rendered what the artists call "playful, dreamlike, and uncanny transformations" of their hands. Fingers got elastic, bending this way and that, and in various other ways becoming deformed. 

Instant Virtual Music Instrument

Visitors were also able to play with CEEMI, an interactive and collaborative electronic instrument. The creators of CEEMI—Gil Teixeira, Dario Teixeira, and Ricardo Peixoto—describe it as an "instant virtual music ensemble" that allows groups of people, without prior musical training, to create music together using a WiFi device like a smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop. 

Human Touch in the A.I. Age

Jennifer Van Dam (R), Digital & Community Engagement Manager at Innovation Works, and Josh Lucas (L), Founder of Work Hard Pittsburgh, talking about diversity in tech culture.

Jennifer Van Dam (R), Digital & Community Engagement Manager at Innovation Works, and Josh Lucas (L), Founder of Work Hard Pittsburgh, talking about diversity in tech culture.

The reach of technology is vast. It's everywhere, often embedded in places we do not suspect. And while it's designed to work for users, occasionally it feels as if humans instead serve technology with so many apps, devices, media and experiences demanding their attention. On the second day of Thrival Innovation at the Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh, a number of panels examine and discussed the human element in technology, especially at the dawn of the Age of Artificial Intelligence.

Are Virtual and Augmented Realities the Future of Advertising?

At the day's first panel, It's Not Just About the Tech: Knowing Your Market & Effective Brand Communication, Sheel Mohnot, Partner at 500 Startups, told attendees that he is a bear when it comes to virtual reality. How long, he mused, would users stay inside a virtual reality, both for technological deficiencies (resolution, for one) and others? Augmented reality, Mohnot believes, has more capabilities, particularly with the new iPhone, which Apple designed with AR in mind. For him, users and businesses could benefit if users, for instance, could use their phone to demo new furniture in their home, or to try on new glasses remotely. He also believes that instead of VR, people will be using voice command technologies, with their accompanying hardware, like Alexa and Siri more and more. 

Panelists discussing the future of marketing and branding. 

Panelists discussing the future of marketing and branding. 

Brian Monahan, Head of Vertical Strategy at Pinterest, foresees more users being more engaged in visual discovery. At Pinterest, for instance, new mobile devices and cameras will allow users to take a photograph, upload it, and get recommendations returned to them via the platform. For him, navigating a world without words is powerful and the future. 

The panel's moderator always addressed marketing on blockchains. As he sees it, this type of marketing is still aw ays off, as marketers need to feel comfortable "working inside that house", as he said. Mohnot, for his part, doesn't believe that much of users' private information will be available on public blockchain spaces for quite some time, which would also delay marketing and brand development on the relatively new technology. 

Robots Don't Care, But You Do? 

The day's second panel explored the design of technologies and platforms for "actual humans". Panelist Kristi Woolsey of MAYA Design, a design consultancy and technology research lab, noted that reputation management will become important. People, especially at a young age, will be taught that their actions and posts on social media platforms will impact their reputation, and that it will become important to create a positive brand on social media instead of a negative one. Woolsey also believes that finding value in actual human interaction will have to be emphasized going forward, not just on social media interaction. 

Sara Diepenbrock, Senior Brand Manager a Procter & Gamble's Olay Skincare North America, said that brand managers will have to think about trust issues. Users are putting personal information on platforms, and they are trusting businesses to keep them secure.

"Companies need to be transparent about what info will be used and how," said Sara Diepenbrock. "And then be held accountable when they fail."

Kristi Woolsey (L), Sara Diepenbrock (C), and Alex Deans (R) discussing the design of things for actual humans. 

Kristi Woolsey (L), Sara Diepenbrock (C), and Alex Deans (R) discussing the design of things for actual humans. 

Building on Diepenbrock's thought, Minette Vaccariello, Lead Design Strategist at UPMC Enterprises, noted that the healhcare industry has constraints with patient data. She said there are misconceptions about how healthcare and insurance companies use that data, so the companies need to be transparent about data usage and insist that employees talk about it amongst themselves and with patients. 

"You can't just have the tech—you need the human," saidd Vaccariello. "They have data they can react to and reach out to someone, especially in healthcare. Data about people's lives that humans use to make a meaningful interaction."

Headspace in the Workspace

For the third talk, the panelists, moderated by Olivia Benson, Director of Community Engagement at Women & Girls Foundation, explored mental health in the work place. The panelists agreed that a work culture, particularly in the competitive startup space, that approaches 100+ hours per week, is ultimately unsustainable. 

As Erin Dertouzos, Chief People Officer at Quartet Health, told Thrival Innovation in a short video interview, that her company uses data to identify patients who are at a high risk for mental health problems and connect them to the right healthcare to produce and measure better outcomes. 

Headspace in the Workplace panelists talk mental health amidst an unsustainable work culture. 

Headspace in the Workplace panelists talk mental health amidst an unsustainable work culture. 

Panelists also discussed the virtue of taking a week-long vacation every quarter to maintain a healthy headspace in the workplace. Dertouzos also recommended taking frequent breaks and walks to clear the head and foster "creative juices". The group also talked about volunteering their time for a specific causes as way of decompressing from the work place and maintaining positive mental health. 

Rebooting Tech for a More Inclusive Startup Culture

Both San Francisco and New York's tech cultures are dominated by men, and largely white. The panel Tech Culture Re-boot: Diversity, Equity, & Our Evolving Ecosystems attempted to discover what Pittsburgh could to do foster a more inclusive and diverse startup culture. 

The panel recommended that attendees not be afraid to talk to people who might not look like them, as well as visit places that wouldn't typically frequent. Expanding one's various social circles is, of course, another great antidote to lack of diversity. 

TrashBot: Your Friendly Neighborhood Recycling Robot

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Recycling is as easy as tossing plastic, metal and paper into your home's designated recepticle, right? Wrong. Rules vary according to city and states, and regulations on what and how items can be recycled can change annually, especially for businesses. Some recycling can be single stream, and other times it must be source separated.

In an attempt to reduce confusion, streamline the recycling process, and bring the practice into the future, the Pittsburgh-based company CleanRobotics is building TrashBot, an intelligent robot that not only separates recyclables, but monitors a user's waste management process via data analysis, whether it's in a building or city, and so on. 

On Day 2 of Thrival, CleanRobotics demoed TrashBot for attendees of Thrival Innovation's collaborative event with the Carnegie Art Museum, which featured new media art installations, tech startups, multimedia performances, and panels with the likes of Pittsburgh native and hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa. Attendees were encouraged to the company's booth with their waste and drop it in TrashBot, while a couple of CleanRobotics employees explained how it sorts recyclables. 

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Jennifer Trinh, Clean Robotics' Director of Operations, told Thrival that it's actually hard to recycle in the correct way. "You can't, for instance, recycle a pizza box because of the grease in it," she noted. 

What TrashBot does is separate landfill waste (a greasy pizza box, for instance) from recyclables at the point of disposal. It also features a screen with directions for users, such as, "Deposit waste one item at a time". This in itself is interesting because it gets people to slow down and think about the waste disposal process. 

Though it's still early on in the development of TrashBot, Trinh said that in the future units could appear in neighborhoods. Another great location would be apartment buildings, where lack of storage space and pickup service makes it hard for families to be green through proper waste disposal and recycling practices. 

To stay up to day on TrashBot's development, visit CleanRobotics' Facebook and Instagram pages. 

Deterrence: A Cold War View of Cybersecurity

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At the The New Cybersecurity Playbook, a panel on innovating and protecting the "digital frontier", one panelist brought a cold warrior approach to the proceedings. Steven Pifer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Ambassador to Ukraine, advocated for deterrence as one path for protecting digital systems. For there to be cybersecurity deterrence, Pifer said there has to be the threat of retaliation. 

"A company doesn't retaliate—they go to the police," Pifer told Thrival in a sit-down interview. "When you're talking about nation-states, where there is no law, there is a US doctrine which basically says that if you hit the United States or an ally with a nuclear weapon, you're probably going to have a pretty bad day."

Pifer sees none of this mentality in the cyber world, though it's possible some private sector actors have this sort of capability. Maybe some even hit back in retaliatory ways without saying so, though that's mere speculation. 

"I'm a nuclear guy and what I can look at on the nuclear side is I can tell you the number of ballistic missile submarines, the number of deployed ICBMs and bombers," said Pifer. "And every year we test the missiles and exercise the bombers, so you can see there is a really potent retaliatory capability."

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"My guess is that US offensive cyber capabilities are huge, but there is limited available detail out there I've seen, and there is no articulated policy," he added. "We never come out and say that these are the sorts of things that would generate a retaliatory response." 

Pifer points to Russian meddling in the elections as a prime example of when retaliation would be ideal as far as cybersecurity is concerned. For him, this is not about relitigating the election results. Instead, he is worried about the chaos Russia sewed without a retaliatory US response.

"I still don't think there was sufficient retaliation, and I think the Russians will try something again," Pifer emphasized. "And there are reports that they were doing some things in France and Germany. And unless the Russians see that there is some price to be paid, they will keep doing this."

A possible response, according to Pifer, is the US government making known the financial corruption of Putin's administration. He recommends a thorough survey of our voting systems' cybersecurity. On top of that, he believes tech companies and the US government will need to look into Russian-purchased Facebook ads, as well as Russian-directed social media campaigns (see: the fake Blacktivist Twitter account) designed to introduce unrest into America's social fabric. 

"The Russians would like to see division here," said Pifer. "And you can create confusion on a massive scale now with social media." 

"Information that's bad can get a head start and you can never catch up with it," he added. "And the Russians are thinking of how to export that."

Tech's new playbooks

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Technological innovation is vast and relentless. From the blockchain to cybersecurity, to new methods for today's entrepreneur, the playbook is constantly changing. On the first day of Thrival Innovation at the Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh, six distinct panels highlighted recent technological advances, and how humans can harness them for social, political and economic good. Each panel reminded attendees that as we invent and use technologies, they can always be engineered to better serve and even protect us. To better serve Pittsburgh, as well as other cities around the globe. 

The New Entrepreneur's Toolkit 

The first panel dealt with tech, human and social capital for startups. What is the new entrepreneur's toolkit, asked the panelists. Well, as it turns out, many of the bag of tricks are the same. One has to identify a problem, create a solution, get it to market, and then deal with competition.

But one of this panel's main takeaways was that the modern startup—as opposed to the new businesses of old—has far lower startup costs. Computing power is fast and deeper, and the costs are not nearly as high. That said, moderator Babs Carryer, Director of Education & Outreach at University of Pittsburgh's Innovation Institute, noted that certain industries, such as healthcare technology and robotics, still have high costs, creating certain barriers to entry that require considerable investment capital.

The New Entrepreneur Toolkit panelists Amy Nelson (L), Amos Schwartzfarb (C), and moderator Babs Carryer (R). 

The New Entrepreneur Toolkit panelists Amy Nelson (L), Amos Schwartzfarb (C), and moderator Babs Carryer (R). 

Encouragingly, the panel saw entrepreneurship as a viable career choice, though of course not for everybody. That is, some would-be entrepreneurs will sooner or later find out that their product isn't great, and their capacity for the venture isn't where it needs to be. But, the silver lining is that even if entrepreneurs don't succeed with their business, they will have learned valuable skills along the way, gaining insights into innovation, products, marketing, and so on, that will serve them well in finding work for other startups or innovative big businesses. 

Blockchains & Why They Matter

The panel Secure by Design, moderated by the Going Deep executive producer Aaron Watson, tackled the heady subject of cryptocurrency blockchains. What is a blockchain? Well, for the uninitiated, it is a series of continuously growing blocks chained together that have unique cryptographic hashes containing time stamps and transaction data. Thus the blockchain is decentralized and insulated against hacking, making it ideal for recording events and data related to finance, medical records, and identities, amongst other things. 

Again, the topic can get heady and esoteric, but Watson kept the talk grounded in how the blockchain can be used in real ways. The panelists, which included Joe Bender, Decentralizations Engineer at Consensys, Chris Wilmer, Co-Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed blockchain journal Ledger, and Tom Marnik, Director of Worldwide Consulting at Ansys, each came at the the blockchain from a different angle. 

Secure By Design? panelists Tom Marnik (L) and Chris Wilmer (R) discussing blockchain technology.

Secure By Design? panelists Tom Marnik (L) and Chris Wilmer (R) discussing blockchain technology.

Marnik, who is tasked with determining how Ansys's engineering software clients want to use blockchain technology, said the company's clients are interested in keeping their data private. Some of them aren't interested in storing data in the cloud, and they see the blockchain as a viable alternative. 

For Bender, blockchains could help with some very real and pressing world problems. Take the destruction of Hurricane Irma and the tragic problems experienced by the citizens of Puerto Rico. The blockchain could, for instance, allow a doctor from another country, who just happened to be in Puerto, to provide aid works with his or her credentials if they hadn't brought them. The technology could also serve as a way of donating money in a secure and traceable way to people who can distribute to those who need it the most.

Revitalizing the Rust Belt

Taking Pittsburgh as a prime example, the panel New Empire Makers, dug into how companies can succeed in the Rust Belt and other emerging markets. Part of the problem is that Silicon Valley venture capital players tend not to see cities like Pittsburgh, where heavy industry used to dominate. If they are unlikely to fly to these cities, the panelists argued, then they are unlikely to invest there. 

New Empire Makers panelists Elle Shelley (L) and Duolingo Co-Founder and CEO Luis von Ahn (R) talking about revitalizing Rust Belt cities.

New Empire Makers panelists Elle Shelley (L) and Duolingo Co-Founder and CEO Luis von Ahn (R) talking about revitalizing Rust Belt cities.

But, as panelist Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder & CEO of Duolingo—a language learning app—noted, a city like Pittsburgh has two great academic institutions, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, which can leverage the brain capital to help create a viable business. As von Ahn emphasized, CMU was a big help in launching Duolingo. Other Rust Belt cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit, to take a few examples, also have grat universities that can help as incubators of sorts. 

And as the Cincinnati-based panelist Stan Joosten, Innovation Manager at Proctor & Gamble, noted, these cities also have a culture of hard and resilient workers. So that once venture capitalists are shown the cities and introduced to the entrepreneurs that can be found in them, they usually come away surprised. 

The New Cybersecurity Playbook

Matt Stroud, a criminal justice researcher and writer at the ACLU, moderated the panel The New Cybersecurity Playbook: Innovating & Protecting the Digital Frontier.

Panelist Chris Carmody, Senior Vice President UPMC, said that users—both individuals or business employees—need to be aware that they are visiting trusted sites, whether browsing on computers or mobile devices, and not being redirected to other malicious sites. He also recommended paying attention to bank accounts to make sure that no suspicious activity is taking place. 

The New Cybersecurity Playbook panelist Steven Pifer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Ambassador to Ukraine, talking about protecting the digital frontier. 

The New Cybersecurity Playbook panelist Steven Pifer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Ambassador to Ukraine, talking about protecting the digital frontier. 

Benjamin Campbell, VP and Director of Security at the financial technology firm Numo, LLC had a quite different perspective. "There is almost nothing you can do—eventually, everybody in this room will have some sort of data breach because it is not under your power to protect the data," he said. "Companies own your data, so there is a certain amount of vigilance where you have to be prepared for it."

Occupying the very opposite side of the spectrum was Steven Pifer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former Ambassador to Ukraine, who suggested a more cold warrior approach to cybersecurity. In his view, hacking and data breaches by foreign countries, or individuals informally working for nation states, require their own cyber responses. (Look for an upcoming short interview with Pifer on the Thrival blog, in which he goes into more detail with his approach.)

A.I. for Good

Not everyone is an artificial intelligence alarmist like Elon Musk. At the evening portion of Thrival Innovation, located at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, xprize's Technical Lead, Sean McGregor, explored the avenues where A.I. can solve grand challenges. Chief among them was using artificial intelligence to predict crop diseases, increase bee populations, detect sex trafficking advertised on the Internet, and predict earthquakes, amongst other things. 

Skynet or Shangri-La? panelists talking about the role of AI ethics and policy in shaping humanity and the planet's future.

Skynet or Shangri-La? panelists talking about the role of AI ethics and policy in shaping humanity and the planet's future.

Two evening panels also dug into artificial intelligence. The first, Skynet or Shangri-La?, examined the role of AI ethics and policy-making that will shape humanity and the planet's future. The day's final panel, Better Than Us?, wondered what humanity's place will be in a future AI-driven world, where both software algorithms and intelligent robots become more prevalent. 

Be sure to check out Thrival Festival's Facebook page to watch short interviews with Thrival Innovation's Day 1 panelists. 
 



 

 


 



 

 

INTELLIGENT INFRASTRUCTURE: SMART CARS AND SMELLING LEAKS

GUEST POST: Peoples continues to be an indispensable partner, not only for Thrival, but for the entire region. As leaders in both business and in the community, Peoples works collaboratively with many regional stakeholders to improve the lives of citizens in Pittsburgh and beyond.

GUEST POST: Peoples continues to be an indispensable partner, not only for Thrival, but for the entire region. As leaders in both business and in the community, Peoples works collaboratively with many regional stakeholders to improve the lives of citizens in Pittsburgh and beyond.

What do Google, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a natural gas company have in common? An exciting new project that combines innovative technology with environmental consciousness and market applicability.

Last year, Peoples joined 32 other natural gas companies to launch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program. Together, the 33 founding partners serve more than two-thirds of the natural gas customers in the nation. The goal of the Methane Challenge is to pioneer ways to reduce methane emissions and improve air quality, and to share those methods with the other partner companies for a nearly industry-wide collaborative effort.

To do our part, we teamed up with Google, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Carnegie Mellon University to outfit Google Street View cars with technology that could detect methane leaks throughout the City of Pittsburgh. Using cutting-edge technology, these specially-equipped cars can “smell” methane gas leaks in aging pipes, which — while not hazardous to public health — pose a threat to the environment. The
Google Street View cars recorded and mapped these leaks throughout the city, helping us to prioritize pipeline repairs and replacements.

While Google and the EDF helped to get the project off the ground last year, we’ve been largely operating it on our own for some months, with help from researchers at CMU. This group has continued to compile and analyze the data to help us brainstorm strategies for addressing the city’s methane situation.

As a proud sponsor of Thrival Innovation + Music Festival, we’re excited to highlight a project of ours that so clearly captures this year’s Thrival Innovation theme: Intelligence: Human x Tech.”

The collaboration between technology and the expertise of researchers at CMU and Peoples has provided a far more precise and workable picture of the state of methane in our City. By taking two existing technologies in the form of a “smart car” and a methane detector, and repurposing them for a new, innovative purpose, we are pushing the envelope for other natural gas providers in the country. This program will aid in the effort to make Pennsylvania’s natural gas sector cleaner, more efficient, and thus more competitive, and will pave the way for others in the industry to follow.

Thrival Innovation + Music Festival hopes to show the world why Pittsburgh is a hub for innovation, and we are pleased to offer this one example of how Pittsburgh is leading the way in employing innovative solutions to pressing challenges.

For more information on the Methane Challenge, or to learn about some of Peoples’ other innovative environmental projects, visit: peoples-gas.com/environment.

For a full schedule of Thrival events and to buy tickets, visit: thrivalfestival.com.

Intelligent Infrastructure: Using Drones to Protect Pipelines and People

GUEST POST: Peoples continues to be an indispensable partner, not only for Thrival, but for the entire region. As leaders in both business and in the community, Peoples works collaboratively with many regional stakeholders to improve the lives of citizens in Pittsburgh and beyond.

What do a natural gas distribution company and a festival have in common? Turns out, a lot! That’s why we’re thrilled to be a part of Thrival Innovation + Music Festival again this year.

For the fifth year in a row, Ascender is preparing to wow us with their four-day event. But did you know that the world-class weekend music festival is actually just the cherry on top? The chart-topping performers have already got people buzzing, that’s for sure. But it’s the Innovation piece of the festival that truly sets it apart, and that makes Thrival an absolute gem for this region.

Thrival Innovation — the first two days of the festival — emphasizes innovation-focused programming and features thought leaders across an entire spectrum of professional fields. The goal is to “shine a light on the new ideas and entrepreneurs that are fueling Pittsburgh’s 21st century economic resurgence.” As a proud sponsor of Thrival, we’re excited to see how our company is contributing to that mission of innovation and progress for our region.

Thrival’s theme for 2017 is “Intelligence: Humans x Tech.” Their aim is to examine “the intersection between humans and technology and what this means for our collective future,” with particular weight on artificial intelligence and other new digital frontiers being explored in Pittsburgh. As a company, we are no stranger to exploring the potential use of new technologies in our own services and operations. Late last year, we conducted a test flight with a drone to see if they are a viable option for detecting gas leaks, particularly in difficult-to-access areas. Many of the communities we serve outside of the City of Pittsburgh have pipelines that run through forests or that have steep elevations. Using drones to inspect our lines could potentially be both more efficient and safer for employees.

Our company has over 400 bridges in our service territory, and many of the older ones have gas pipelines running underneath them. We inspect them all on a quarterly basis — that’s over 1,600 inspections per year! So being able to regularly check all 14,000 miles of our pipeline more efficiently and safely would be extremely beneficial.

At present, drones have two different methods for identifying leaks. First, they are equipped with an infra-red camera to detect heat, which can be a sign of a potential leak. Additionally, the drones can also be outfit with — what the natural gas industry calls — a “sniffer” that can “smell” a leak. To kick this project off, the drone we tested visually inspected pipelines that ran across bridges—a particular concern for leaks, as they tend to expand and contract significantly with weather changes and must endure traffic vibration.

The project is currently still in the research and development phase, but the results look promising. This initiative is just one of the many ways we as a company have begun to explore and even operate in the intersection between humans and technology.

By supporting Thrival Innovation, we hope to help move the conversation forward, and learn how other companies, organizations, and individuals are employing new and innovative solutions for the issues facing our region and beyond.

See you in September!

- The Peoples Team