Today was the first ever TMRW conference, and it was AWESOME. It was a one day event at Manchester Central, and is apparently a place where ‘those defining the future meet those ready to embrace it’ - it left me feeling inspired, a little bit freaked out, in awe, and generally very enthusiastic about both tech and about Manchester!
Councillor Sir Richard Leese kicked off the conference and talked about how Manchester is fantastic at producing and embracing new tech, and how we’re creating a new generation of innovators by adopting initiatives such as teaching code in schools. We’re a ‘smart city’ with ‘smart citizens’ and hopefully with developments such as Tech North arriving soon - we’ve got a lot to look forward to!
Tim Lovejoy, from TV’s Sunday Brunch, then took to the stage and shared what drew him to the TMRW conference. Apparently they regularly get ‘randomers’ as guests on Sunday Brunch, and Tom Cheesewright (Applied Futurist) was one such randomer…in Tim’s words, it was a “special glint in his eye” that he just couldn’t (and can’t) get enough of!
The incredibly charismatic Samy Kamkar was the first Keynote Speaker, he talked about how receiving a computer as a present from his mum and an obsession with The X Files, led to a his first experience of systems being vulnerable to attack and manipulation. He shared how this “intoxicating ability to hack” resulted in him hacking MySpace, becoming everybody’s hero (such a funny story) and ultimately led him to getting a search warrant and a whole load of trouble! He now uses his passion for hacking to help educate people and businesses on what risks, and potential breaches in security, they may be exposing themselves to. To summarise, technology is awesome but companies should be transparent about what they’re doing with the information they are harvesting.
‘Very Personal Shopping - When Shops Know us Better Than Ourselves’ was being discussed next, and the common consensus from the panel (which included CANDDi’s Tim Langley!) was that retailers are getting better at influencing customers, but in return customers are definitely becoming more savvy. Some retailers are accidentally doing an amazing job, and some are trying their best and going horribly wrong. There was some interesting discussion on the concept of the customer giving a retailer ‘permission for intimacy’, there is a trade off between giving a retailer your information for good service - but there needs to be trust involved…and it’s questionable how much trust an algorithm may be able to build!
‘Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: Digital Currencies and Future Payments’ covered some very interesting topics surrounding innovative ways people are deciding to pay for things and what the future may hold. Banks are trusted but have to rely on startups coming up with ideas for them, Bitcoins are volatile, and local currencies such as the ‘Brixton Pound’ seem to be a hit. It will be interesting to see how this pans out, and which ideas are embraced by the general public, and which will remain quite niche.
‘The London Thing’ was discussed quite a lot at the ‘Agency Founders Session: Lessons from Mancs who’ve Made it Happen’, and it was decided that Manchester is doing just fine thanks very much, and we/people/Mancunians need to play on our strengths and not try to be all things to all people. The collision of creativity and technology has been an interesting development in recent years and there shouldn’t be this sense of inferiority because we’re not London - the focus should be on being the best agency for the client, and actually the client couldn’t care where you’re based, as long as you’ve got tonnes to offer and will deliver - which Manchester agencies are doing again and again!
The next session I attended was ‘Augmented, Automated, Awesome: Smarter People and Smarter Places’ where the concept of wearable tech, and invisible augmentations were being discussed. There is a lot to gain as technology becomes more augmented and easy to wear such as getting nutritional tips based upon your DNA, and having a smart car that flirts with passers-by! But there is also a lot to lose, as we rely more and more on tech and less on ourselves (such as memory, do you know your partner’s mobile number?) and our characteristics are changing too - teachers have noted an increase in ‘Facebook Face’ a phenomenon where students seem to glaze over and have a lack of facial expressions! But what’s the point in creating a solution when there isn’t really a problem to solve? Do we need to be notified of how many steps we’ve taken? How long until the novelty of your Apple Watch wears off?
The final session I chose to go to was another one about ‘Mancs Who’ve Made it Happen’, but this time with Startup Founders. The panel were great, and although there was a sense of frustration about the lack of investment from London (and it’s to their detriment that they don’t broaden their horizons), a lot has to do with investor mentality and having a billion pound exit in the city may be a massive game changer for the City - and until then, everybody seemed quite happy to get their heads down and graft. It wasn’t all doom and gloom - there was a feeling of rebelliousness and determination in the room - a feeling that even though there isn’t much of an appetite for risk, or a mentality problem from investors, Manchester was going to find a way to succeed regardless. There are lot of exciting things happening such as the arrival of Ignite tech accelerator programme launching in Manchester…it will be interesting to see how things are different in TMRW 2016!
There isn’t much to say about Professor Brian Cox drawing the session to a close, other than he was amazing, and awesome, and brilliant, and SO down to Earth (see what I did there?), and inspiring, and most of what he said was beyond my comprehension, but he had the audience hanging off his every word. He ended with a fantastic quote from Humphry Davy “Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”
</br>It’s safe to say that I thought the day was awesome, and can’t wait for the next one!