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Lightning Talks at the Japan EXPO

I recently learned about something fun: customer lightning talks at the Japan MATLAB EXPO 2021. A lightning talk is a simple concept. It's just a very short talk, in this case, ten minutes long. I’ve always been a fan of this format because of my belief in the Iron Law of Asymmetric Interest:

You are always willing to talk about something longer than your audience is willing to listen.

These is a curious fact, because everyone has a visceral appreciation of it when they’re in the audience, yet they forget it the instant they step onstage. Such is human perversity.

The single best solution to this problem is to drastically limit presentation time. If you work at it, you can communicate a staggering amount of information in a very short time.

Anyway, back to Japan. The EXPO is a big annual conference on all things related to MATLAB and Simulink. The Lightning Talks have been a part of the Japan EXPO event for the last five years. Here's what the organizers had to say (fun fact: one of the organizers is none other than Pick of the Week blogger Jiro Doke!).

Along with the main sessions of the EXPO, we had three 1-hour slots of Lightning Talks, where 19 MATLAB enthusiasts (actually, many more since we had some multi-presenter talks) gave 10-minute talks on cool ways they were using MATLAB. In each Lightning Talk slot, we had 706, 530, and 493 viewers respectively, which was on par with many of the other official sessions. There were talks from primary and secondary school students, as well as from hobbyists who have been using the Home version to its fullest extent.

Many of these folks had never spoken to a large industry-oriented audience, making it a great opportunity for them to make connections. And the audience enjoyed seeing MATLAB applied in unusual and entertaining ways. Like what? I’m glad you asked! Here is a short selection of topics.

1. Analysis of courtship behavior of crabs. This was the grand prize winner (as determined by audience votes), and it came from two high school students!

2. The BEEtles: 4 bees playing “Let it BEE”. The speaker took the song “Let it Be” by the Beatles and replaced the sounds with the buzzing sound of bees.

3. Becoming a cute anime character. This talk was by a Waseda University freshman. He trained a neural net to listen to his voice and animate the mouth of an anime character in real time. So naturally, the talk was given by the anime character, as animated by MATLAB.

How’s your Japanese? You can watch all the talks on YouTube.

Part of the magic of the lightning talk format is a good host. In this case it is the man with the signature bowtie: Hiroki Iida. He puts the presenters at ease, asks good questions, shows that we respect their work no matter their age or experience, and demonstrates that math and simulation software can be fun as well as instructive.

This is a wonderful event, and I hope we can replicate it in other MATLAB EXPO venues around the world. I predict that in a few years we will hear stories about people who jump-started their career because they once gave a well-received lightning talk at MATLAB EXPO.

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