Thinking Digital 2011, Sage Gateshead, Day 2

Ian & Herb at TDC closing party

Even though I was worn out by all the information and ideas that Thinking Digital day one thrust into my head, I was up early (for me) and bounced over to The Sage for day two’s talks. Here are the potted highlights of my day via my rambling notes…

Firstly for me, Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC R&D, whose perspective I always find interesting, plus having worked for BBC R&D under Matthew’s leadership I’m always pleased to hear about the deptartment.

His talk, entitled ‘“Who needs telly when we’ve got each other”: how broadcasters will thrive in the information age’, took a look at how broadcasting is shifting from the industrial age to the information age and how this will challenge and change broadcasting as we know it.

He kicked off by saying about his role “It’s about helping the smart guys do the ideas”. Matthew talked about BBC’s mantra – inform educate and entertain in terms of broadcasting being live and having an immediacy, topicality, persistence and a level of quality.

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He also showed a couple of demos, one was R&D’s Surround Video project which uses a fish-eye mirror to project video around a room beyond the television, which give an immersive experience of ‘being there’. The other was from a BBC nature programme (AutumnWatch, I think) and I recall Matthew quipping “I never thought I’d show a trout in a presentation!”

He said that new context creates challenges for broadcasters, in terms of:

  • New entrants
  • Creative competitiveness
  • Radically reducing costs
  • Adopting a global perspective
  • Re-imagining our relationship with the archive
  • Understanding a two0way relationship with audiences

– Guaranteeing access: a digital public space

Matthew acknowledged the democratisation and choice of technology and content, which is giving everyone the opportunity to be their own broadcast channel. Looking forward, Matthew commented “This is very much a future that is going to be created by collaboration and the BBC is very much committed to open innovation and open research.”

TDC: BBC's Matthew Postgate & Herb Kim

At the end there was time for a couple of questions, he was asked about
listening to audiences and answered “We always start with the audience in mind’ and went on to say “you used to be able to send in a SAE (stamped addressed envelope) but new media takes this to a new level. Journalists engage with twitter and the BBC is trying to come up with a new language – it’s much more about that interaction.”

TDC: Dr Vincent W. Li on eating to beat cancer

Dr Vincent W. Li, co-founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation gave a heartfelt talk about angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. Dr Vincent informed us that Angiogenesis helps the body heal wounds and grow essential blood vessels during our lifetime, but during times of disease the growing mechanism can get out of balance and that’s when ‘antiangiogenesis’ can occur. One of the diseases is cancer and he told us most cancers are not discovered until they’re in an advanced stage and hard to treat, so finding ways to stop them growing so quickly and spreading is crucial. Dr Vincent ponders, if antiangiogenesis is the trigger, how do we cut off the blood supply?

The Angiogenesis Foundation is looking at ways to prevent and starve various diseases of by investigating foods that act as blood supply inhibitors to diseases in both humans and animal companions. There’s also another interesting side to this, in communities where access to expensive drugs is prohibitive, eating to prevent or slow down disease is a way of using this concept to help people help themselves.

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A list of the good stuff to eat!

In the future Dr Vincent and his team are looking to get a number score system added to nutritional food facts to display a food’s ranking on the inhibitor list and a set of tasty recipes for those who want to follow the diet as some foods, such as tomatoes, work better cooked or combined with others.

I found Dr Vincent’s talk fascinating as although I do like my caeks, I try to follow a healthy vegan diet. I was lucky enough to catch-up with Dr Vincent briefly before he left to ask a question and hear a couple that friends had for him. I wonder if his foundation and The Quantified Self (as mentioned by Walter de Brouwer yesterday) could work together on the numbers system?

Jer Thorp is a digital artist from Vancouver, presently living in New York, he gave a talk on reflecting histories with mathematical design.

He did a live demo of The New York Times Cascade data visualization project that he’s been recently working on. It gives a detailed image of how information flows via social media, so one can track the history of a story or event.

TDC: Jer Thorpe on data visualisation

He also talked about his work on the National September 11th Memorial at Ground Zero in New York. He’d been working on it last year when he appeared at Thinking Digital in 2010, but had been under NDA to not speak about it till only recently. Jer was asked to produce an algorithm that would lay out all the names of the people who were killed on September 11th including those at the Pentagon. The 2900 names were to be places around the pools of the site, 1400 of these had adjacency requests for example friends or workers who had died together or were family. The clusters of names requested to be together could get quite large, the biggest was a group of 70 whose families wanted them to be together. Jer had the task of trying to get the names to work with panels, corners that would wrap and panels that didn’t join. He also had to work with typography, plus the groups and departments of people to fit in too. What made it difficult was that there were to be no visible groupings or clusters or noticeable breaks – this proved very difficult. Jer solved the problem, part maths and part typography, with his bespoke algorithm. This kept the architect Michael Arad happy too! The memorial that will be made in bronze will open on September 11th this year.

He finished with a quick demo of Openpaths.cc from the NY Times R&D Lab, it’s a site to track travel history via the location data collected by iPhones. It tracks a path on a map and the user can look back to see where they’ve been on certain dates or show friends and family a location on a momentous occasion. It’s also a research project, so if a user happy to share your data it becomes part of a bigger research piece. Openpaths.cc allows one to revisit up to a year of travel data and people find they have an emotional response to replaying their personal narrative and history. This is quite a nice idea, but as I don’t have an iPhone this site doesn’t work for me – I wonder if there’s something similar for Android?

Tan Le, entrepreneur and co-founder of Emotiv neuroengineering company demonstrated the EPOC brainwave headset and software. Her introduction mentioned EEG as a non-evasive way at looking at how the brain is functioning and how the brain is constantly rewiring itself, learning and can rehabilitate itself – that evidence suggests our synapses are not hard-wired, but are changing all the time.

TDC: Tan Le on Emotiv brainwave technology

She talked about how up to now we’ve had to give machines commands to get them to do anything, whereas humans use body language also to convey information. Tan then showed data on her brainwave visualisation software and gave a live demo of it working with the help of a glamorous volunteer, Rob Colling of Internet Subtitling, who put on an spidery looking EPOC brainwave headset. The audience cheered as the headset software showed some activity in Rob’s brain in the form of regions lighting up in different colours on the back projected software, but the real fun started when Tan instructed Rob how to move a box up and down on-screen with his thoughts! Rob has written an excellent post about this experience.

To illustrate some of possibilities for usage of the Emotiv technology, Tan showed a video of someone driving a car with it (slightly scary but amusing) and an artist using it to create mood artworks.

I enjoyed the demo immensely and was amazed to hear from Tan that the headset is possibly affordable and even as she was speaking I was looking up the prices for the developer set and SDK, though hope the contacts on the headset would work with my big frizzy mess of hair – I have some ideas already – watch out!

TDC: Tom Scott on Facebook privacy

To round off Thinking Digital, geek comedian Tom Scott performed a live experiment in social media privacy using Facebook, it was quite hilarious and caused a few people in the audience to check their privacy settings.

Afterwards, all that was left to do was skip over to the Baltic for the closing party and it was all the better for Ian Forrester being back this year after missing it due to #hisbrushwithdeath in 2010.

Ian, Tim & me at TDC closing party

To sum up, I had a very enjoyable Thinking Digital 2012, it was ran like clockwork, it exhausted me as usual and I took some very interesting ideas home with me to think about. Plus I got to catch-up with great friends and made some new ones along the way – sadly there wasn’t any vegan caek – so next year I might bring my own ;-P

Congrats and thanks to Herb Kim and the Codeworks organisers and of course the speakers who were great!

TDC: thanks for the Codeworks team

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