A magnificent gathering of technical minds
CW's 10th annual conference attains showcase status after slow start
The tenth CW International Conference at the Wellcome Genome Campus, after a slow start, showed why it is one of the most engaging forums in the annual calendar.
The mix of keynotes and panel discussions remains a popular format. With seven sectors to focus on, there was something for everyone. The sectors were:
■ 5G & Network Innovation
■ AI & Machine Learning
■ Mobility into the future
■ Industrial IoT
■ Mixed Reality
With intros by the redoubtable Faye Holland over, David Cleevely welcomed guests. The first speaker was Ian Simmons, Magna VP of business development, R&D, who speculated on ‘Do we really know we’re asking the right questions?’.
Next was Matt Hatton, research VP at Gartner. Now, Gartner may be a much-respected research and advisory company, but that should put it in a secure position: it seemed a wasted opportunity to use the platform to project how invaluable Gartner is to the way that technology is going to develop.
Nor is the Gartner Hype Curve Cycle – expounded as a revelatory new scientific discovery – an actual metric: it is a guideline on what happens when new technology is deployed, which common sense should already have made apparent to you. These keynotes went on too long and were too diffuse, and that sense lingered when Rosalind Singleton, chair of UK Broadband, followed. Singleton noted that “the success of the future of 5G sits on a fine line between collaboration and competition” which is fine but much of her talk was rather personal – poignant, yet there was an odd sense of going down rabbit holes for the first hour of this year’s proceedings.
Fortunately, things picked up immediately as the formalities were dispensed with.
The Industrial IoT session at the Francis Crick Auditorium looked at 5G. Dr Juan Nigueira, a senior director at Flex – the world’s second largest global manufacturer after Foxconn – explained that “5G is not an upgrade, it’s an evolution” and one which will be worth “$12trillion of global economy” by 2035.
Graham Burnett-Hall, who followed, is a partner at Marks & Clerk and stuck to the title of this year’s conference – ‘Thinking Beyond the Hype’ – when he said: “If you look at the hype it’s a huge investment in making a wifi-enabled kettle but it’s much more than that”.
Mr Burnett-Hall was optimistic about the future, although said it may not be taking place in a globalised economy because, he said, the world’s economies are becoming splittist and anyone looking beyond Brexit to a “truly globalised economy” is being disingenuous. But not to worry, because “customs borders are going to be irrelevant when it’s the data being transferred”. I tried to switch off the magical thinking alarm bell upon hearing this, with only limited success. Keep your IP under lock and key, seemed to be the message from Graham – though Germany and France are, he said, way ahead of the UK in terms of number of patents filed.
Next up was Nicolas Devillard, a senior project manager at Arm, who noted memorably that “the ‘s’ in IoT stands for security”. The panel for this first track session suggested that with next-generation technology “it’s all about designing security in”, though this was challenged from the floor by Henk Koopmans, CEO of Huawei R&D UK, who said it is not about security, “it’s about ownership of the data”.
Over at the Rosalind Franklin Pavilion the Blockchain talk went down very well. Peter Busch, a senior expert at the Robert Bosch Group, said that “every product will have an IP address in the future”, which helped put things in perspective. The talk titled ‘Blockchain and autonomous agents: a match made in heaven’ by Toby Simpson, co-founder and CTO at Fetch.AI, was generally agreed to be one of the highlights of the day.
There was an enlightening talk by Charles Appleton of Darktrace right after lunch. Mr Appleton, an account executive, offered one of the day’s more refreshing analyses to the drama of technology in the 21st century, interspersed with detail but never losing sight of the bigger picture. The threat landscape in the digital age is vast – and most of it comes from insider threats.
“We have an immune system approach so, rather than a suit of armour, we focus on what normal activity should look like and that allows us to identify threats in a much more efficient manner,” said Mr Appleton, whose arrival on the scene had all the impact of Mbappe’s for France in the World Cup. Darktrace has become the world’s foremost cyber-security firm by being smart about security: by sitting inside the system it can identify suspicious activity in real time. Mr Appleton’s example of how a camera was compromised by a remote intruder, and transmitted data outside the network, was clear-sighted and of educational value.
The first afternoon plenary session was on satellites. Dan Mercer, VP & general manager, EMEA & Russia, for Iridium, showcased the firm’s expertise from Garmin to SpaceX.
“When we started 20 years ago we could not imagine how our network was going to be used,” said Mr Mercer. “It’s limited only by imagination!” And indeed the Satellites session was very productive and clearly there is an incredible amount of synergy that’s being developed and will continue to develop at pace.
‘Mobility into the Future’ was the first post-lunch track session and by this time – mid-afternoon – the conference was really starting to live up to CW’s very high standards.
Ian Simmons of Magna looked at the autonomous car future and identified that “you may not pay for the vehicle, you may pay for the service – that’s the disruption, and the common thread is mobility”.
Dr Steve Marsh, the founder and CTO at GeoSpock, outlined why the big data firm has an incredible future. We have a whole lot of information, he said, and “the problem is the data isn’t leading to new insights”. GeoSpock is “creating an operating system for the physical world”.
Dr Marsh said: “Data is siloed and we need to bridge those silos to get the most out of it.”
By bridging the data and sharing the insights “we can give contextual advice as it’s needed and make sure the entire network is functioning at optimum efficiency – and we can reduce the running costs of this infrastructure over time”.
Over at the mixed reality AR/VR and UX/UI session they looked like they were having a lot of fun too, especially during the talk by Dr Tom Carter, founder and CTO of Ultrahaptics.
The final sessions of this rather magnificent gathering of technical expertise were on AI/Machine Learning and then 5G and Network Innovation. Phew.
Congratulations to CW CEO Bob Driver on his outgoing conference.