LAS VEGAS — Stormtroopers. Robotic bartenders. And dancers that looked like they stepped right off the Cirque de Soleil stage.
No, it wasn’t the world premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or even post-event shenanigans at the Republican presidential candidate debate.
It was all a part of Autodesk University 2015, the giant software company user conference that took place Dec. 1-3 at the Venetian resort-casino. This event — AU as organizers like to refer to it — isn’t like most other conferences put on by software companies. It’s a lot bigger: Organizers say almost 10,000 people attended the event, exhibiting at the trade show or attending one of the 700 educational sessions on subjects such as building information modeling, computer animation, mechanical construction or 3-D printing.
It’s also a lot louder. Instead of holding an opening reception in a ballroom somewhere, Autodesk books a performance venue and incorporates lighting and sound effects more typical of a concert.
At the opening ceremonies, Lynn Allen, whom Autodesk calls its “technical evangelist,” was escorted onto the stage by a group of “Star Wars” stormtroopers as the film series’ familiar theme music blared throughout the darkened hall. The crowd of Autodesk customers — which probably included a few fans who still have their own toy lightsabers — cheered.
Allen welcomed the attendees, pointing out that events sponsored by the company have evolved since the first one took place in San Francisco in 1993.
“AU has grown from a single event to a series of 13 conferences all around the world,” she said.
Her appearance was followed by Autodesk Chief Technology Officer Jeff Kowalski; Andrew MacAfee, a co-founder of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology digital initiative; Hugh Herr, Ph.D., also from MIT, who lost his legs in a 1982 mountain-climbing accident; and Carl Bass, chief executive officer of the $2.5 billion company.
They discussed where technology is going and what it is likely to mean for the public, or in the case of Herr, what it has meant for him now. With prosthetic limbs, Herr has resumed mountain climbing and said he’s an even better climber than before the accident.
Kowalski said the working world is changing faster than ever.
“Over the next 20 years, we are going to experience more change to how we do our work as we have in the last 2,000 years,” Kowalski told attendees. “Today we are on the cusp of the next great era of how we do our work: Welcome to the augmented age.”
Autodesk CEO Carl Bass also addressed workers, especially those who use Autodesk products as part of their jobs.
“We need to reframe our thinking about people,” Bass said. “There’s a lot these days about the future of work and how jobs are going to disappear, but I don’t think that’s the problem, especially not for those of you in this audience.… The problem is going to be a shortage of people. There’s a drought of talent coming. So how do you compete?”