A Blog recording the life a Web Scientist
Digital Engagement 2011
The Digital Engagement Conference 2011 was took place within St James Park, Newcastle (or less formally known as SportsDirect.com) during the 15-17th November. The crowd had grown since the 2010 conference; presenting itself with a mix of familiar and new faces ready to talk about the present and future impacts of digital technologies on the modern society. It kicked off to a quick start, including the necessary safety briefing (note to ones self, if there is a fire alarm, do not move for 6 minutes, and then proceed to leave the building in a calm fashion). The opening speech was great by John Baird, who started the morning off on a high by announcing the winner of the best student paper award – Laura Carletti for “A grassroots initiative for digital preservation of ephemeral artefacts: the Ghostsigns project”. Following this, Professor James Hollan gave an engaging keynote on his work of bringing HCI into the digital world, which included various approaches to improving every day human experiences such as driving. He closed with a statement that appeared to encompass the theme for the rest of the conference – we need to use rich data to improve people’s lives.
Following this, a selection of speakers invited from a variety of industries gave their take on the current and future growth and development of the digital economy. Gary Moulton from Microsoft kicked off, discussing the need for technologies which cater for all sectors of society, highlighting their experiences with the developing technologies and product which are suitable for all ages and levels of ability. Ian Marshall then gave a sobering yet needed presentation on fusion of digital technology within the finance sector. Ian discussed the trailing use of current technologies and raised four points of concern: keeping up with the pace of change, the structures of organisations and operations, keeping data or information reliable, relevant, and integral, and finally the risk and problems that data security presents. Dave Sharp then discussed the video games industry, highlighting that over the years it has become a much tougher industry to survive in – it’s a 90/10 industry, where 90% of the profits are made from only 10% of the games made. Dave also highlighted the gaps between academia and the industry; suggesting that academia needs to keep up to speed with the pace of change and also prepare graduates more efficiently, making their transition into the industry more streamlined. Dave also raised a key point, the stereotype of the ‘games developer’ has changed, no longer are they ‘all dressed in black wearing Metallica’ (as Dave put it) individuals; the field has widened, requiring people from all different academic and vocational backgrounds. But as Dave made us aware, finding these people, and moreover, letting these people know that this industry needs them is not an easy task. The audience was then given a presentation on the decline and possible failure of the pharmaceutical industry, which has been in decline since 2001, with over $1 trillion of stocks being wiped even though $600 million has been pumped into the industry. Alarming figures with repercussions for not only the drug companies but also the patients that use them. Where did the industry go wrong? Oversimplification. What’s the solution? Network Pharmacology, which is the combination of network sciences and chemical biology, something which not many would of heard of. The presentation ended with a number of challenges for the digital economy to allow the industry to survive, including: educating people with the right skills and also develop and improve computational systems for analysing new drugs. Finally, Aart van Helteren from Philips gave an excellent keynote on Philips drive towards digital health technologies including DirectLife – an active lifestyle technology, and Lifeline – a monitoring technology for the elderly. Although this is excellent work, and something that is potentially beneficial to society, especially the old and frail, as Aart agreed, getting these technologies into the home is not so simple, with barriers not only from the people, but also from governments themselves.
A Hungry crowd then proceeded to discuss the issues over lunch – possibly equally as good as the presentations, given the choice of dishes. This was then followed by the workshop sessions, which ranged from Gaming in the Digital Economy to examining Intellectual Property issues. The afternoon of the Wednesday was then filled with a 3 slots of parallel sessions which focused on a variety of themes including music and sound, assistive technologies, cultural heritage, managing user sourced information, independent living and new directions of the digital economy.
This lead quite nicely to the evening event, which included a short but chilly trek to the Great North Museum to where the poster presentation and conference banquet was held. A excellent choice of location yet bizarre, discussing current research ideas in a room filled with ancient artefacts and full size replicas of creatures from a time long ago. The banquet was executed well, with the presentation of ‘Telling Tails of Engagement’ competition winner (and the announcement of DE2012 in Aberdeen) happening between the starter and main. The evening ended well, some brilliant discussions; there was a real buzz in the air as people departed.
Thursday morning started promptly, with the opening keynote by Don Marinelli discussing the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in Carnegie Mellon. A truly engaging presentation highlighting ETC’s approach to getting academics, students and industry to work together. This really addressed the concerns and problems that Dave Sharp discussed on the previous day, closing the gap and improving the relations between academia and commercial industry.
Following Don’s presentation, a short coffee break was taken, and then remaining parallel sessions began, which included: technologies for sensitive spaces, crowdsourcing, Open Data and security, engaging users online, connecting communities, and supportive services.
Unfortunately my time at the conference finished after the second round of parallel sessions, but I did get to catch some great crowdsourcing and open data demonstrations, areas which are of great interest to me.
Since last year, the digital economy agenda has grown, and so has the community which supports it. As with any maturing subject, continuous effort is required to make it successful, and DE2011 has shown that this support is in full strength. I’m looking forward to what DE2012 brings (apart from the deep fried Mars bar).