After hearing nothing but great reports in previous years, I attended this year's Thinking Digital conference, which I believe is in its 6th year. I totally agree with all the reviews - it is an awesome and engaging event. Great speakers, great conversation, and definitely food for thought. It has a totally different vibe to any conference I've been to before, with The Sage, Gateshead, being just right to maintain a more intimate, personal connection between the speakers and the audience.
As a three-day event, the conference brings together people from the worlds of technology, media, science, industry and the arts. The line up of speakers reflects a really eclectic look at what’s happening in the digital space right now. Also, aside from the speakers, one of the pre-conference events was a start-up competition where companies pitched their business models to the audience, who then voted for their favourites. Ventures ranged from data security solutions, mobile apps and accessories, to Internet-connected lamps. YPlan and Bubblepix went through to the final, with Bubblepix being crowned TDC13's start-up champion.
In terms of the conference itself, with its diverse roll call of speakers, I was taken on a journey of discovery through subjects and ideas I'd never considered before. Although a bit unfair to single out specific talks, particular highlights for me were:
- Alexander Reben introducing us to BlabDroid - a super cute robot, with quite a squat, boxy look and wide-set eyes, and the voice of a 7-year old boy. We saw video of BlabDroid as a robot documentarian, roaming the streets and asking questions of random people and recording their answers. The friendly, cuteness of the robot induced people to let their guard down, and we saw people 'fessing-up to all sorts, with questions such as "What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone?"
- Professor Sugata Mitra talking about his 'Hole in the Wall' experiments, where he embedded a web-enabled PC in the wall of a New Delhi slum and found that, with little formal direction, the children Began to learn, teach themselves and each other. We also learnt about Sugata's success using the 'Granny Cloud', where retired teachers in England acted as e-mediators, Skyping once a week with classrooms in India to provide encouragement and praise to the students.
- Maggie Philbin's Never Mind the Digits Quiz, and walkthrough of things we saw first on Tomorrow's World. In addition, Maggie talked about TeenTech, which endeavours to inspire young people, especially girls, to consider a career in technology, science and engineering, by getting them engaged by doing things rather than just talking to them.
- Alexa Meade's talk about how her interest in shadows inspired her to create innovative and visually stunning art, where she paints directly onto live models in 3D space, making them look like 2D paintings.
- Seeing the BBC's Future Media North Lab showcase their innovative ‘perceptive radio' was exciting. Attempting to move away from the 'one size fits all' radio, the radio changes content according to the listener’s location, weather, and time of day, in order to create a more compelling experience. To hear more about the radio, I also attended a lunchtime session and listened to a proof-of-concept drama, which used a computer-generated voice for one of the characters, that adapts according to data pulled from external sources.
- We heard Jack Andraka talking about his development of a test for Pancreatic Cancer that can detect tumours before they are too advanced to treat. Starting his journey at just 15-years old after his uncle died from the disease, Jack initially used the power of Google and Wikipedia to develop his breakthrough dipstick paper sensor, which is estimated to be 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and potentially 100% accurate in its diagnosis.
- Dr. Sue Black talking of her campaign to help save Bletchley Park, and her interest to encourage more women in tech-related industries. Having not been to Bletchley Park before, I pledged to Sue that I would rectify that this year. So watch this space ... I'll blog about it when I do.
- Graham Hughes talked about his Odyssey Expedition, where he visited every country in the world (201) without ever once resorting to an airplane, raising funds and awareness for WaterAid in the process. Graham's exploits sounded exciting and very scary at times, especially the 4 days he spent in an open fishing canoe from Senegal to Cape Verde, only to be arrested and jailed for 6 days when he arrived, with officials believing he may be a spy! After I think it was 3 years, 10 months and 63 days, Graham's World Record Breaking expedition ended in South Sudan which wasn't even a country when he first set out.
Only hope I get the chance to attend again, next year. A conference thoroughly worth going to. I wholeheartedly recommend it.