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Why Baja Will Be the Next Big Thing In High-Tech

Why Baja Will Be the Next Big Thing In High-Tech
On Feb. 27, Nathan was born in Otlen, Switzerland. Nathan is the world's first general purpose artificial brain to live on the Internet. This is a big breakthrough for computing.
Nathan enables any developer to build intelligence into any software application — without any special training or knowledge about artificial intelligence. Nathan simply learns by feeding it data. Without any human intervention, it recognizes the patterns and associations that make data meaningful. No longer will someone need a Ph.D. in machine learning or mathematics to know how to build machines that can learn like humans.  It takes less than an hour to learn how to use Nathan. And it costs as little as $25 per month — so anyone can afford to try it. Our goal is simple: Empower people to improve their lives by harnessing the power of data and artificial intelligence to solve our most vexing problems.

Less than 18 hours after Nathan's birth and almost halfway around the world, we will announce Tijuana as the location of the first program dedicated to building companies to produce software that can learn like humans.

That's right: Tijuana beat out traditional technology hubs like San Francisco or Boston to host the world's first program dedicated to building new businesses around artificial intelligence.

Tijuana? My family won't travel there because they think it's unsafe. My neighbors warn me that corruption is so rampant that nothing can get done without a bribe. The death count from the drug war is so staggering that they no longer report names — only statistics. Recently, a business partner called me to ask, "I hear you are launching a new business in Tijuana. Are you crazy?" "No," I said. "We are launching at least five. Baja is the next big thing in high-tech."

Here's why: Baja has the people, the desire and the ecosystem. And we want to be a part of it.

We will start by mentoring five new companies so they can learn to use our technology to solve problems where search engines fail — such as the electronic discovery of legal documents.

Because Tijuana is such an unlikely venue, it is the ideal place to validate the potential of Nathan by transforming the community. Innovation happens by creating value where others have not. The people of Baja know they have problems. They are hard, smart workers who crave a better life. This is why so many immigrate to the U.S. Their desire to improve their lives makes Baja the perfect environment to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs.
We all know that desire alone will not make Baja a technology powerhouse. It takes skill, capital and collaboration. Last month I visited Tijuana for the first time since I was a teenager.

bit-012Sergio Langarica invited me to visit the Business Innovation and Technology Center located in the heart of the city. Sergio is the president of the Baja branch of the largest high-tech trade association in Mexico, CANIETI. We went on a tour of the facility — a 100,000-square-foot building featuring the best technology money could buy. He introduced me to the director of the BIT Center, Claudio Arriola, who said, "We are fostering an ecosystem for innovation by bringing together a diverse set of companies, people and sources of capital — like a rainforest rich in biodiversity."

He hit a nerve. I'm a serial entrepreneur who has had my fair share of success and failure. Inevitably, success comes down to the will of the people involved in a startup — not technology or fancy degrees or funding. It is mostly about willpower.

Walking around the BIT Center, I met the Latino versions of those who started the dot-com boom in the early '90s in San Francisco: Groups of young engineers showing up after their day jobs to hatch crazy schemes to overtake the world with completely new ways to use technology. I learned that Mexico graduates double the number of engineers per capita as the U.S. Many of them go to work in maquiladoras to manufacture electronics designed by other engineers in foreign countries.

Like them, I grew up working in factories. So I know firsthand that the best place to frustrate an engineer into becoming an entrepreneur is to stick him on a factory floor. Doing the same thing. Over. And. Over. ... For. The. Man.

Many companies have already discovered Tijuana is a hotbed for innovation. Chris Anderson, the founder of TED and former editor of Wired magazine, located the manufacturing for 3D Robotics just a short walk from the BIT Center. Anderson's reasons for picking Tijuana vendors over Chinese: They offered better quality, lower costs and could crank out prototypes faster than vendors in Asia.

Everyone knows about the problems of Mexico: Poor. Riddled with crime. Fraught with bad governance. It is the source of most of our illegal drugs and many of our illegal immigrants. It's easy to consolidate those facts and think of Tijuana as a poster-child for everything wrong in Mexico — especially if you have not visited recently.

So it is understandable why many Americans are skeptical about Baja's technical prowess. But I've seen the change. And I've learned valuable lessons about skepticism through my work in artificial intelligence: First, those who doubt are the last to discover. Second, even the most outrageous claims about technology eventually become true. And third, human willpower (not technology) is the indomitable force that defines the course of our lives. If people's lives depend on change then, more often than not, they will change. So yes, Baja will be the next big thing in high-tech.

The annual open house and ExpoTech Conference at the Business Innovation & Technology (BIT) Center will take place Thursday at 10:30 a.m. It is an open party.

Olin Hyde is vice president of business development for ai-one. Follow him on Twitter at @olinhyde.