A year of work in progress – day 91

Day 91 – 21 May 2014

Thinking Digital is one of the highpoints of the year for me. This is the third time I have been (it turns out that there have been seven) and I would recommend it to anyone who has any interest in digital and the affect it is having upon all of our lives. There are a lot of technical people who attend the two plus days of the conference but it is not technical. It covers a broad church from the sciences to the arts. It is about application rather than engineering but above all it is about the human story of creativity, ingenuity, inventiveness and passion.

I love it, it is so inspiring and so this morning I made my way once again to the Sage Gateshead. To be honest I hadn’t even looked at the list of speakers but I was excited for another great event. It is not just me judging by the number of people I know who are going and the noise in the Twitter-sphere.

I don’t intend to go through each of the presenters as that would be dull but rather give a flavour of what I was able to take away.

Jenni Tennison from the Open Data Institute talked about the data reformation. Just as Martin Luther’s translation opened the bible up from behind the closed walls of doctrine to the ordinary person, opening up data allows more involved conversations about what it is telling us. It allows a different kind of balance between those who produce and those who consume. The real value of data isn’t in selling it but in sharing it. Dale Lane from IBM is developing Watson to unlock information caught up in complex English text. Perhaps soon we’ll truly be able to talk to computers.

Maik Maurer told us about Spritz a tool that allows information to be read on smaller screens. We have been reading in the same basic way for four thousand years and text streaming technology is going to change all that. The tool may also be useful for those with dyslexia. Meri Williams is working on the use of artificial intelligence in project management, enabling agents to make decisions independently in a complex environment towards a common goal. That’s what we should be doing with our people. Inclusion at work is vital and my job is to create space that allows my team to be awesome.

Aral Balkan (I saw him last year and he was just as good) reminded us that free is a lie. The devices we carry and the applications we use are no longer an option but essential to modern life. A handful of companies have a free business model that feeds on our data, capturing it through games and devices and the things we do. Free means that we are the quarry being mined and we are the livestock being farmed. Individual data isn’t useful in itself it is its combination that has value. Corporate surveillance is a money spinner.

I had to stop there others I would go on forever. It was a great first day, Herb and the team have done a fantastic job. What I enjoyed most was the feeling of being part of something huge and that I was able to play my part. I can’t wait until tomorrow.

Learning points for today: The North East is a great place to live but it is more than Newcastle; it isn’t a project it’s an adventure; tweets have a shape; the eye can take in 13 characters at once; parafoveal is a real word and; one blog is not enough to do Thinking Digital justice.

Today’s enjoyment rating 10/10 – what else?

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