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WiresThe train ride early Tuesday morning from Connecticut to Grand Central was followed by a subway ride to Bowling Green with a stop at Wall Street. It was then a short walk along Battery Park to The Museum of Jewish Heritage to attend the WIRED Business Conference: Disruptive By Design. Attending technology conferences is a good way to keep connected with the latest trends and developments that are changing the world. The Wired Business Conference–they call it Disruptive by Design–was very well organized and loaded with interesting speakers. I missed the conference last year due to a calendar conflict, but comments from the first year’s conference are here.

Chris Anderosn, editor of Wired, kicked off the conference with a string of good sound bytes: the end of physical media, embracing change, disruption is the ultimate change. He used the tablet computer as an example. He didn’t say iPad, perhaps becuase the first speaker was Bill Gates. Another tangible example of disruptive change is the iPhone.  He gave Apple credit for re-imagining  what a phone could be and cited Google for having opened up the idea to huge numbers of innovators with Android. Chris said that one of the biggest dangers of cars today is texting, and Google’s autonomous cars may be the solution. Chris’s favorite topic is the decomcritizatin of production, and this came up in detail with other speakers.

A nice feature of the conference was that each attendee received a keypad to answer instant polls throughout the day. The first poll was to predict where the Dow would finish at the end of 2011. 63% said 14,100.

I have seen Bill Gates at many conferences over the years, but this is the first time that he never mentioned the PC. He was there to talk about about energy, mainly nuclear energy. He knows an incredible amount about the subject and is an investor in dozens of energy companies. He started by saying that the status quo is unacceptable. Energy is fundamental to just about everything. Reducing the cost of energy through technology could have more positive impact than anything a political leader could do. He discussed three key factors: cost, environment, and security. The good news about nuclear is that there hasn’t been any innovation and that very modest progress can make a huge difference. The 40-year-old designs did not have the benefit of computer simulation and simulation changes the game. New designs can permit a total and safe shutdown, no matter what catastrophe might occur. There are 400 reactors in the world: 100 in U.S., 70 in France.  Japan, China, and Russia growing their nuclear capability aggressively. There are 4 or 5 new 4th generation designs — one of them by a company Gates is an investor in. “Coal-based energy kills very large numbers of people, but only a few at a time, which politicians prefer.” Solar electric and solar chemical have the most long term potential but further breakthroughs are needed. Wind has to be subsidized by a factor of 2 and solar by 5. The amount of IQ working on energy is night and day more than years ago. An exception is ethanol, which has nothing to do with emissions — it is a farm subsidy. China works day and night to solve very difficult engineering problems and they likely will use robotics in making batteries for electric cars. If the entire U.S. was powered by nuclear, the waste could all be stored in one place for hundreds of years. Hydrogen doesn’t make sense. No mention of computers or software or tablets.

It was a superb day, featuring interviews and panels moderated by Chris Anderson and other Wired writers. A few more highlights follow. All of the content is available at wired.com.

Poll: Where do you consume most of your news 6% print, 51% web 31 % mobile devices.

Martha Stewart talked about how her company designs products and sells through others. $1.6  billion through Macy’s last year. She has built 21 kitchens of her own. She had some good soundbytes too: “There is always room for improvement.” What things did not work out well for you? “Going to jail.” “I love coming up with ideas.” Martha loves her iPad and doesn’t travel with a laptop anymore. She said you have to be where the customer is. “Always satisfy the customer.” “You must invest in the future if you are going to be in the future. Change is good.” I have heard her talk before and continue to be impressed. She is very progressive.

Salman Khan is the founder of Khan Academy and he has a vision to tutor billions of people online. He started Khan Academy on YouTube with a few ten minute segments for friends and family. He has now produced 2,100 online videos in math, science and the humanities, and has two million viewers per month watching hundreds of thousands of videos. Students work at their own pace. Teachers can monitor progress. A free world-class education for anyone anywhere. The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. “We are a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are free.

Poll: 39% said we are in a bubble but only the dumb will be hurt.

Nick Mountz CEO of Kiva Systems talked about networks of robots in warehouses that are part of a network that figures out where to go to pick up one of tens of thousands of products and take it to a packer who is packing packages. Kiva is revolutionizing physical distribution.

Poll: Future of U.S. manufacturing: 41% said high-value goods designed here and made overseas.

Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, and Chris discussed the trend to self-manufacture. Design at home, print it in 3D, or send your design to a company that makes it or makes it into a kit that you put together. TechShop has the machines that can fabricate whet you design. TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so you can build the things you have always wanted to make. They have three locations open and four more opening soon, including one in Brooklyn. The democritization of manufacturing has many implications. You can capture a 3D image with an iPhone–you take ten phontos and it can be made into a 3D design. You could take a picture of a piece of furniture in a store and then have it made — cheap. Self-manufacturing is at the prototyping stage but Chris and others think millions of people will want to do this.

The Wired conference is definitely on top of the latest trends. They were first to have an iPad magazine. Whether it is iPad or print, reading Wired allows one to know where things are headed. The added attraction of the conference, as always, is catching up with friends and colleagues from days past.