London Tech Week 2017
Global entrepreneurs and innovators gathered in London last week for London Tech Week 2017 (June 12-16) – a festival of events across the city to celebrate the tech industry. Against a backdrop of smart cars, flying jetpacks and drone racing, leaders reflected on the need for meaningful innovation, beneficial artificial intelligence (AI) and responsible tech culture. We highlight the themes set to make the biggest impact in the months and years ahead.
- Man & Machine: At Human vs Machine – a four-day pop-up expo hosted by marketing news site The Drum and London-based real-time media agency Tug – panellists reflected on the challenges, opportunities and philosophical tensions that lie in store as intelligent machines increasingly become a part of everyday life.
- “Human value is changing,” said John Ridpath, head of product at international tech education firm Decoded. “Productivity is for robots; what humans are good at is wasting time. Creativity, innovation and social skills are more important than ever. In order to survive, we need an education revolution – lifelong learning is the only way to survive in the age of automation.” See our 2017 Consumer Lifestyle Look Ahead for more on how self-improvement is becoming a core consumer concern.
- Beneficial AI: Meanwhile, London-based consultant and futurist Adah Parris examined how tech and AI can augment our capabilities and solve human challenges. “The way we talk about technology is a mobile phone – but it’s also a piano,” she said. “Technology is just art, craft and process. We have to start thinking about how tech can change the world, from a human perspective.”
- Pete Trainor, founder of London-based human-focused digital agency Nexus CX, also stressed the need for “AI that embraces basic human conditions”. Nexus’s emotional support chatbot Su, currently in pilot mode, is a “life support system” to help men at risk of suicide. The app, which will run in any major social application, uses machine learning to intelligently chat, answer questions, check in with users and send life-affirming inspiration.
- Microsoft product marketing manager James Murray also emphasised the brand’s commitment to using AI to augment and assist humanity. In May, the company’s research innovation director Haiyan Zhang invented the Emma Watch– a wrist-worn device that aims to significantly reduce the almost constant limb tremors associated with Parkinson’s. The device sends vibrations that cause the wearer’s brain to focus on their wrist, reducing the extra signals that cause muscle tremors.
- Time Well Spent: Finally, speakers addressed shifting ethical codes in a world continually shaped by rapidly advancing, human-designed tech. Time Well Spent, a non-profit movement aiming to “transform the race for attention so it aligns with our best interests”, is pushing brands and consumers to “take a look at how we’re structuring our future”.
- Created by design thinkers, philosophers and ex-Google employees Tristan Harris and James Williams, the global advocacy group seeks to raise consumer awareness of how technology brands design apps and mobile devices to capture as much of their attention as possible, with no consideration of how constantly using these devices may reduce their quality of life. “YouTube autoplays videos so we forget to leave, Instagram shows new likes one at a time so we keep checking in, and Snapchat turns conversations into streaks you don't want to lose,” reads the site.
- The initiative hopes to bring “moral integrity to software design”, decouple screen time from profits, and persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” said Harris. “There is a way to design [that’s] not based on addiction.”
For more on the tech trends shaping the future of human work, life and leisure, see Tech for a Divided Society: DLD 2017.