From Coal Mining to Data Mining: Highlights from Dynamo14

I spent yesterday in the presence of some very clever people at Dynamo14 – a conference all about defining the North East IT economy – and appropriately on Labour Day someone suggested that the region has moved on from coal mining to data mining.

The keynote speakers were BBC News’ technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, and TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra who created the Hole in the Wall project in India.

Thankfully no one asked me any questions about coding, but I thought it might be interesting to flick back through my notes and jot down a few interesting things about technology that I picked up during the day:

  • PCs used to be the domain of the hobbyist (and no, I didn’t have a ZX81 and kept as far away from the school’s BBC Micro as possible) but now even taxi drivers – or at least the ones who are driving Rory Cellan-Jones around – are thinking about use-cases for Google Glass.  Just goes to show how technology has affected all of our lives.
  • The ‘Internet of Things’ is connecting everything, and one of the results of that is it’s now possible to control your thermostat remotely using an app on your phone…or at least you can if you’re connected, and you’re prepared to risk the the same domestic dispute Rory Cellan Jones has with his wife about turning the thermostat up or down.
  • In terms of user-experience online, you’re not only battling with your direct competition within your industry; you’re now also competing against all online experiences. Expectations have been raised. For example, when you go onto a banking website, you’re not just judging it against other banking websites, you’re comparing experiences with other websites you use as well.
  • Technology has the power to transform, as clearly demonstrated by Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall project. This project was about carving a ‘hole in the wall’ that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. A computer was set up within it and the idea was to allow children in the slum to learn to use the computer on their own.
  • When the children in India who took part in the Hole in the Wall project found a search engine, their homework results improved dramatically.
  • The grandmother’s method of admiration and encouragement – i.e. ‘that’s amazing, I’d never be able to that’ – was incredibly effective in getting the children to work out how to use the Hole in the Wall computers. Mitra would say ‘that’s great, what else can you do?’ and they would try more things.
  • Cloud Grannys (who mentor/ encourage the children in India via Skype) are proof that you don’t need to be in the same room to work well together and achieve impressive results.
  • Most businesses need to understand the value of and how to analyse the data they have, before getting confused by trying to understand the concept of Big Data.
  • Big Data is a term created by (evil) marketers that (good) marketers then have to clarify and explain using words like analysis and insight.
  • Innovation is about matching what’s possible with what’s needed to create economic value or social – I like that!
  • We need great marketing to open up people’s eyes to what is possible – I agree entirely!

Food for thought for a Friday afternoon!!