Before we notice details, it’s easy to think they don’t exist.

How can we pay attention to things we don’t even know are there? 

My 2020 CES adventure was sponsored by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.
My goals: To notice. To learn. To see the unseen.
How? Curiosity.

“Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” Albert Einstein

Is what we see ever all there is?

Probably never. And that’s why EMD Performance Materials, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to reveal the “company behind the companies”.

You don’t “see” their innovative materials solutions and technologies as you gawk at the self-driving cars, smart city and internet of things (IoT) products, bendable screens, and artificial intelligence (AI) tools, but they’re there. They’re in nearly all state-of-the-art electronic devices.

As a Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany sponsor and part of their #AlwaysCurious initiative, I wanted to learn more about this “company behind the companies”. It’s amazing what a subject-matter noob like me can learn when one applies curiosity, notices details, and asks curious questions to smart people.

What will cities look like in the future?

How will they work? How will digital living affect how we’ll live?

Roy Moore, CEO and co-founder of EvoNexus, a premiere tech startup incubator, was one of the panelists talking about the smart cities of tomorrow. “The easy things are done. Now it comes down to doing hard things. That’s what EMD Performance Materials does.”

I interviewed Gottfried Wastlbauer, Head of Global Marketing Display Solutions, for Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, to find out more about cities of the future.

  • Digital living will come to the remotest places on earth. Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites have made a good case for smart antennae. EMD Performance Material’s liquid crystals enable the smart antennae that will bring digital living to the remotest places on earth.
  • Smart cities will require innovative materials, the kind EMD Performance Materials provides. Think interconnected and energy-efficient buildings or smart traffic systems supporting self-driving cars.
  • Bringing innovation to market takes time and requires a long-term mindset. At 352-years old, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany was probably the oldest company at CES. This was cool, because I was probably one of the oldest women there! They have a long-term mindset partly because they’re family controlled. They think in generations, so thinking about the future is in their DNA.

How should I think about quantum computing? What about neuromorphic computing?

I talked to John Levy, Founder & CEO of SeeCQ. He explained how they’re partnering with EMD Performance Materials to develop the first scalable quantum computer. They’re also working with the government to detect cosmic background radiation in the universe…signals from the big bang. Mind-blowing.

I chatted with John Langan, CTO Performance Materials about neuromorphic and quantum computing to find out more about this stuff.

  • At the fundamental level, our world is quantum in nature. Quantum is tiny, the tiniest possible discrete unit of any physical property. Think energy or matter, then go small. When we make assumptions about things going on in nature, we miss a lot. Quantum computing is how we test these assumptions. As Chief Curiosity Seeker, challenging assumptions is something I help companies do, but certainly not at the quantum level…at least not yet!
  • Quantum computing is like nature where subatomic particles exist in more than one state at any time. This means huge storage for massive computations that classic computing couldn’t handle.
  • Neuromorphic computers run on new neuromorphic chips modeled after the human brain. EMD Performance Materials combines electronics and biology. Consider the marriage of electronics and biology and you get a peek at the future.
  • Neuromorphic isn’t one thing, it’s a field. Imagine artificial neurons structured like the real ones in the brain; an artificial version of our brain’s neural network. Every neuromorphic chip consists of many small computing units that correspond to an artificial neuron.
  • In 2-years we’ll have neuromorphic chips in our home, cars, and ears. This will enable and augment smart everything…including us. How soon will AI applications know us better than we know ourselves?

EMD Performance materials might be too small to see in a CES booth, but they’re there, enabling what’s happening today and driving what’s possible tomorrow.


Thanks to smart people, Joanne Manaster (pictured with me) @sciencegoddess, Cody Gough @producercody, Ashley Hamer @smashleyhamer, for hanging out and bringing curiosity.