The place is massive (and rather far out east on the light railway for those familiar with London). It’s all held under one roof at the Excel Convention Centre (apart from a small jaunt to the Google UK offices, which where a highlight in themselves) and covers a bunch of key tracks or trends, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), IoT, 5G, connected cars, drones, robotics, blockchain360, and the futurist summit. The tracks are displayed in various areas of the exhibition hall, and are assigned to different stages where approximately 800 speakers are scheduled to present on their areas of expertise across the three days. Needless to say I didn’t get to see everything and spent a good portion of my time trying to follow the map to reach my highlighted headliners.
The VR & AR World Creative Stage was where I spent most of my time, that and the Diversity in Tech area, plus wandering aimlessly through variously intriguing exhibits chatting to randoms about their work, and of course visiting Google as part of their Scale-Up Leadership series (which I sweet-talked my way into as technically speaking Diversifly is still very much a start-up!). You may have seen the pics I posted on my socials of the Google offices – totally clichéd and wonderful – brimming with colours and creative nooks and crannies, and banquets of fancy sarnies, salmon bagels and fruit infused water at every turn. Really very civilised!
Fire side chats hosted by Google
Cindy Rose, UK CEO of Microsoft was a big supporter of workplace diversity and the need for more women and minorities in tech. She also recited the principles, which Microsoft came up with to guide employees around ethical application in AI. No doubt this argument of what technology can and should do will surface more regularly now as boundaries are pushed and worlds are merged – leaving little distinguishing humans and reality from robots and constructed realities. She spoke of how Microsoft are (unsurprisingly) working to anticipate the future needs of AI by extending human capabilities to better manage data overload and freeing up humans for more meaningful tasks. Rose cited RACs use of AI to predict breakdowns rather than wait for the car to break and take action retrospectively, and the nearby prospect of driver-less-cars saving on costs (fuel or Uber) and space (no need for car parks as these cars can circulate to collect the next passenger rather than waste time stationery).
We then had the opportunity to break out into a smaller ‘leaders in tech think tank groups’ of which I scuttled off to the Innovation corner: The opportunities for AR/VR adoption in enterprise’ moderated by Thomas Gere, CEO and Founder of the AVR Realities Centre. Funnily enough I was 1 of a small handful of people producing work in the area, and the remainder were representatives from big banks and professional services firms, curious to find out more and get on the bandwagon.
Benedict Evans, Founder and Partner from Andreessen Horowitz, which currently manage $4 billion in tech assets and boasts several high profile exits including Skype, Instagram, and Oculus VR, spoke last. He was a memorable speaker – his mind was Ferrari fast (the MC from TechCrunch made the mistake of alikening him to a Rolls Royce – which he quite rightly pointed out is a slow ride!). Interestingly for me he spoke in depth on the ability of machines to make more efficient, bias neutral decisions. “Algorithms can expose inner workings of grey matter and systemic bias can be identified and deconstructed, he said”. He closed the Google Leaders In Tech Summit for Day two with a ‘what’s next in tech, and a run down on trends from the Silicon Valley investment scene’.
VR provides 100% focus and 100% engagement
Back at the Excel Convention Centre, Greg Furber, VR Director at content creation agency Rewind, spoke about how VR content can better drive home messages and get stronger, more emotional responses from consumers than TV or other media. His team services several large consumer brands and he is firm in this belief that every marketer needs VR in their toolkit.”It’s the only medium where users are 100% focused, 100% engaged,” he said, arguing that the TV experience is constantly interrupted by smartphone and tablet usage. He offered the example of a VR experience that Rewind created on cutting a tree. Users were able to see the tree and also to cut it down, and understand the impact that cutting it down had on the forest. According to Furber, those who experienced it had a far greater sense of the environmental impact and became far more conscious about their own usage of wood products. So much so, that they were more likely to be careful with their consumption of toilet paper rolls.
They also produced Clouds Over Sidra, a VR film about Syrian refugees created for the United Nations (UN). It resulted in more than twice the donations gained from other UN and UNICEF advertisements. Red Bull, BBC, Jaguar, Bjork are some other brands they have done work for, and who are embracing VR for enhanced marketing and communication.
Diversity in tech
One of my favourite panel sessions on the diversity and tech innovation stage was a panel discussion led by Marija Butkovic of Women of Wearables Women in VR discussing gender diversity across the emerging immersive technology industry to unlock the full potential of the VR and AR Buyer Market. The panel also included Executive Editor of BBC Knowledge and Learning, Chris Sizemore, Managing Partner of Nest VC UK, Karen Winton, and Founder of Women in VR UK, Luciana Carvalho Se – all seriously inspiring and energetic, expousing the power of VR to change, engage, tell stories and present previously unexplorable experiences including the unique ability to leverage first person narrative to develop empathy. Much of our mission and values were also echoed here in this forum, giving me even more confidence that our application of VR to enhance connection and interaction for humans to excel in the future of work, is happily on track!
A case study of high impact learning in VR
The Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service are tackling campaigns through VR, and I experienced their GearVR solution for young drivers distracted by texting. The 5-minute virtual reality film plays out a horrific scenario (so much so that I felt a need to warn the boys after me to brace themselves). When you enter the experience, you are the passenger in a car. There are three other people in the vehicle, chatting loudly and showing each other their phones. You can see the road ahead of you, it is a country lane, quite narrow and with low visibility on corners. Your driver isn’t paying attention — he is using his phone and teasing the girl in the back seat with photos taken of her. She takes off her seatbelt and reaches into the front of the car to retrieve the phone from him. That’s when you see the tractor pulling out from a side lane. There are screams, you feel the car break and swerve, the screen goes black – you have passed out. When you come to, and the experience fades from black you see your friend from the back seat motionless on the bonnet of the car, and the driver covered in blood and panicky, unable to move. It’s so real that it’s shaken me for a while after the experience and I take some time to re-adjust to reality. I congratulate the emergency services for taking bold steps towards change and suggest Australia’s Drink Driving campaigns could do with something similar.
I left wanting more…
Vowing to better manage my schedule next time to see it all and proud of our first steps to contribute to this tech and innovation movement, i left (almost) satiated until next year albeit a little frustrated at the lack of progress and solutions for diversity in tech, and diversity in general. Despite the same old stats being thrown around (60% of millennial entrepreneurs are women, and diverse teams are 60% more profitable) there was no silver bullet offered, and no case studies as shinning examples of enterprise actually moving past box ticking PR fluffing to delegate decent resource to prioritise this imbalance.
London Tech Week produced this visual roundup to summarise: