Disrupting Wichita's Future
Learn more about how disruptive technologies like AI and blockchain could be used to transform the way we live, play and conduct business in Wichita.
In James Chung’s most recent report, he told Wichitans that the way this city operates isn’t working. Watch this short video to learn more about how disruptive technologies could be used to transform the way we live and conduct business here in Wichita:
The future of every industry is in question. New technologies are overturning everything — how we get around, how we work, how we consume content and even how we communicate. The only thing that isn’t changing is the fact that everything is changing.
Some of these technologies are more disruptive than others. Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, advanced robotics and the internet of things are all poised to disrupt the entire global economy in the coming years. But what makes these technologies particularly disruptive?
"Disruptive is in the application," says Tonya Witherspoon, director of commercial ventures and applied innovation at Wichita State University. "Often, that means it puts another business out of business or it changes a habit — a consumer habit — so that we don’t use some specific type of technology. We do something differently."
Disruptive is in the application. Often, that means it puts another business out of business or it changes a habit — a consumer habit — so that we don’t use some specific type of technology. We do something differently.Tonya Witherspoon
Witherspoon has used disruptive technologies throughout her career, particularly in the classroom through work with WSU and Internet2, a non-profit that works to integrate new technology into the classroom.
"That was a disruptive job," she says. "We did distance learning, video conferencing, all kinds of things. … Speeds were changing, technology was upgrading and it allowed us to do a lot of cool stuff."
If disruption is in the application, how can some of these technologies be applied in a disruptive way? What might some of these technologies allow us to do? And why is it so important for Wichita to take part in the disruption?
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & THE FEAR OF CHANGE
Put simply, artificial intelligence is technology that allows computers to make cognitive decisions similar to humans. But the real application of artificial intelligence is about data, says Jason Toevs, vice president of technology at Alyss Analytics, a Wichita startup that uses AI to read the soft skills of job applicants.
"Ultimately, it’s going through data sets that we, as humans, cannot consume," he says. "And the more data you have, the more valuable your models can become."
AI can seem otherworldly and might even conjure up scenes from The Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but ultimately, it’s another tool that has the opportunity to advance the world onto even greater discoveries.
There’s two kinds of ways you can approach tomorrow. You can be fearful, … or you can be curious and somewhat excited.Jason Illian
When artificial intelligence pairs with advanced robotics, it becomes plausible that robots will be doing many jobs we, as humans, are doing today. For people working in trades like transportation, data entry or even manufacturing, the prospect of robots taking their jobs can be pretty scary. But Jason Illian, managing director of Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture capital arm of Koch Industries, says humans will likely move on to bigger and better jobs.
"People who are curious, people who want to work hard — and I believe that Wichita has a lot of those people — are going to have a whole new set of jobs available to them," he says. "They’re going to be transformed because of technology."
That doesn’t change the underlying problem of having a fear of change. Disruption requires change, which can be pretty messy — especially for those who lose jobs, businesses or investments because of it. But that doesn’t make it any less necessary for Wichita to step up and face the future.
"There’s two kinds of ways you can approach tomorrow," Illian says. "You can be fearful, … or you can be curious and somewhat excited. I often lean to the curious and exciting side of things because there’s opportunity there."
But that opportunity won’t stick around forever. We have to grab it when it presents itself.
GEOGRAPHY OF DISRUPTION
Most of what we think of as disruptive seems to happen, well, not in Wichita. We often look to Silicon Valley, Austin or Kansas City.
A major part of Illian’s job at Koch Disruptive Technologies is traveling between America’s tech hubs in search of mid- to late-stage startups that are on track to change the world. Silicon Valley, for instance, is great at generating these types of technologies. Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix — all of these transformative companies came out of this one region. But Illian says Wichita doesn’t need to become the next Silicon Valley to take place in disruption.
"We shouldn’t try to be somebody else," he says. "How can Wichita be really good at whatever Wichita’s really good at, … and how can that be impacted or accelerated because of technology?"
Wichita’s pretty good at a few things. We have a world-class aerospace cluster and serve as a regional hub for healthcare, retail and several other industries ripe for disruption.
My hope for Wichita in the next 10 years is to embrace our identity in all the good senses, but also challenge ourselves to be constantly surrounded by disruptive ideas.Jason Toevs
Witherspoon says Wichita needs to implement new technology across all of its sectors so that the city has several viable industries driving the regional economy. She says technology developed in the city’s mature aviation sector could also be applied to other uses, growing the city’s overall economy.
"What we need to do is take the technology we have and apply it in cross-cutting measures across those other industries and disrupt them," she says. "Which is hard, because that means you’re going to actually kill some revenue streams to create new revenue streams. … But that’s what we need to do."
Chung’s latest research makes it clear that people and businesses are no longer buying what this city is selling. That’s a tough message to hear, but it’s also an opportunity to embrace a new, disruptive way of thinking.
"My hope for Wichita in the next 10 years is to embrace our identity in all the good senses, but also challenge ourselves to be constantly surrounded by disruptive ideas — things that could change our very way of life to the core, and just have a go," Toevs says. "I would like to see us become a community of early adopters, and a community where feedback is raw, authentic, and we can tell these innovative companies, ‘Yes, self-driving cars work,’ or ‘No, it’s a terrible idea.’"
Wichita could be that hub. But it will take a community-level commitment to fearless adoption and ruthless disruption.
Are we up for it?