This month marks the completion of my first year in tech, and it’s completely flown by. After moving back to the North East after almost a decade away, I have been blown away by the amount of amazing things going on in the region, particularly in the tech sector. I was tasked to get myself up to speed with all things tech. So from North East England -> London -> Amsterdam -> Paris: Here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve learned from my first year in tech:
1. IoC = Internet of Cows.
I’m not joking. By now most people will have heard about IoT (Internet of Things), but what I didn’t know was how diverse the application of this technology could be. After visiting The Things Conference in Amsterdam, I learned about the wide variety of use cases of LoRaWAN. Covering everything from manufacturers getting data from machines in a factory, to farmers understanding the health of their cows in a field (hence, Internet of Cows!). My favourite examples are the ones with environmentally friendly consequences. For example, The Ocean Cleanup has been designed to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040, and uses a really clever system incorporating IoT and solar energy to power it. This is what I really love about technology - the capabilities and use cases are ever-growing and becoming more useful to the world we live in. There comes a certain point where the fad cases for the technology passes, and the really useful and interesting cases for technology can shine.
2. Tech with a Conscience.
I don’t mean we have reached the stage whereby technology itself has a conscience (like a robotic Jiminy Cricket, that’s a whole other discussion) – I mean the conversations around why we use or need tech has grown massively. With the introduction of GDPR more consumers have become aware of the data they are giving to companies, but still not everyone has a solid grasp of what this is used for. Now I understand why I get those ads on my social media, and to be honest, I really don’t mind it!
Recent successful ads that have led to purchases are; a travel hammock, a weekend away in a yurt, and an app that helps me understand how sustainable the shops I buy from are. These are all things that I have no problem being directed my way. However, if you do not have this understanding, that companies are harvesting our data to target us with more specific ads, then this could be a recipe for a lot of unnecessary purchases(!) Where this will start to enter an area that raises ethical questions for me, is if adverts can be targeted to know what time of the month you are likely to spend more money, for example, payday. There are still quite a few ads that pop up that have no relevance to me at all and I wonder if my phone has been listening to conversations in the office rather than using my personal data to identify my own actual interests. That being said, being empowered with the knowledge that you do have data that is being used to manipulate which ads you see, I feel gives you a better edge before pressing purchase.
3. More tech does not equal less jobs.
Instead, adopting more advanced technology into business should just mean more interesting jobs. If we can give technology the mundane repetitive tasks and create an environment whereby staff can be up-skilled to do more interesting things with their time, is this not something everyone would want? Historically, there has been a fear of new technology, but while we are still at a point where computers need to be instructed what to do by humans there is still control.
A study by economists at Deloitte were optimistic in suggesting that rather than destroying jobs, technology has been a great job creating machine, and also shows that dangerous and dull jobs have declined. Specifically, I have focused on how manufacturers can adopt advanced technologies without the fear of this meaning job losses. For the most part, this seems to be well understood, but there is still some way to go to help manufacturers look at the long term results of adopting emerging technologies now to remain competitive and future-proof.
4. AI and Europe.
The UK is doing well in terms of leading the way with developing startup and scaleup communities, but we’re not the only ones. VivaTech in Paris highlighted the amount of incredible activity going on worldwide, and particularly how Paris wants to be seen as a hub for startups, scaleups and entrepreneurs. I saw such a variety of content from Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Ussain Bolt, Pepper the Robot, David Bowie, the Batmobile and having my hair augmented pink by L’Oreal. Amidst all this, the hottest topic at this event was the future of AI.
It seems there is still a lot of uncertainty around this topic which is making people wary of AI and how it will develop in the future. There are arguments for and against if we can even call current AI, true Artificial Intelligence, or if the technology is far away from earning that title, as it is still inundated with bias and errors. Whilst AI and machine learning will become increasingly intelligent the more data we feed it, I believe there is no need to be worried just yet - algorithms still can’t quite pick up the difference between a pug and a blueberry muffin. There is still some way to go.
And that rounds up my first year in tech! It's been full of great experience, meeting and hearing from great people and I can't wait to see what the future holds for tech.
If you'd like to find out more about the work that Sophie is doing with manufacturers, please visit https://www.sunderlandsoftwarecity.com/project/digital-manufacturing-programme-digital-catapult-north-east-tees-valley-launch-digital-manufacturing-programme/