The keynote speaker at Miami’s top tech event has one rule: Don’t unplug her

Who’s that girl — and why does she have wires coming out of her neck?

Among this year’s keynote speakers at the 2018 eMERGE Americas tech conference is Sophia the robot, a human-like droid created by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics. Sophia made her debut two years ago at SXSW in Austin. In Miami, she’ll be speaking April 24, Day Two of the two-day eMERGE conference.

Her eMERGE appearance highlights one of the 2018 conference’s themes: artificial intelligence and what a future “digital society” might look like.

“It’s ‘Fear the robot?’ ” said eMERGE CEO Xavier Gonzalez. “She’s literally a walking, talking version of [artificial intelligence] and the possibilities of what it could bring to industries and how it could change the way people live their lives on a daily basis.”

Of course, there’s also a show-stopping element to Sophia.

“It’s something to wow our audience, something that is unique in the world,” Gonzalez said.

Now in its fifth year, eMERGE is designed to connect tech-minded professionals in a convenient (and conveniently warm) location. Originally organizers used the conference to help put Miami on the tech world’s radar — a goal that has officially been achieved, Gonzalez said.

“We’re much more recognizable,” he said. “People have an understanding of what eMERGE is. The connections that have been made in the past, those have a trickle-down effect.”

And they’re trickling down throughout Latin America, which Gonzalez sees as eMERGE’s primary audience.

“There are so many businesses, professionals, entrepreneurs and investors doing so much business in Latin America,” Gonzalez said. “That is the primary use case of this conference for a business.”

Gonzalez said he is expecting attendance of about 15,000, up from 14,000 last year. Among those participating will be University of Miami President Julio Frenk, who will be convening a summit of top university leaders from across the Americas to develop a network of what Frenk is calling “hemispheric innovation.”

The idea, Frenk said in a statement, is to use each school’s strength to create a network that can foster technology breakthroughs. The roundtable will be held April 23 and is open to conference attendees.

Other keynote speakers for this year’s conference include:

▪ Diego Dzodan, vice president for Facebook and Instagram Latin America, on why the next great global innovation will come from Latin America;

▪ Cesar Cernuda, president of Microsoft Latin America, on how artificial intelligence and the cloud are disrupting business models in Latin America; and

▪  Ronnie Moas, founder and director of Standpoint Research, on cryptocurrency and inequality.

Though these may not be household names, they are key thought leaders who are using eMERGE as a rare window to let an audience in on their companies’ current thinking, Gonzalez said.

“Today, most big enterprises and big tech companies — the vast majority of them have a presence in South Florida,” he said. “The question is how to get them engaged and involved with each other, as well as smaller businesses that may be leveraging technology in new ways.”

This story originally misstated the date of the hemispheric innovation roundtable.