As now seems to be an annual ritual, last week I headed over to the School of Engineering at Cardiff University for the annual BCS / IET Turing Lecture. This year was the turn of Robert Schukai MBE, Head of Applied Innovation at Thomson Reuters.
The 2016 Turing Lecture was entitled “The Internet of Me: It’s All About My Screens.” It promised a look at how smartphones have revolutionised life, and the information challenge of constantly processing so much data.
My first glance of this year’s speaker came as he hovered around the single entrance to the mildly claustrophobic old style lecture theatre where the event had been held in each of the last two years.
Shoulder length dark hair, white t-shirt, prominent necklace, a rock star / surfer alter ego lurking, he smiled friendly hellos at some of us as we entered.
Schukai’s job title is Head of Applied Innovations. “It means you’ll be sacked in six months” he quipped early on in his talk. But that was as much as we got in terms of what his role involves. I hadn’t managed to get my hands on a programme or read his full biography by that point.
He used a lot of video, showing his own love of them to demonstrate the mobile consumer appetite for them. The first of these was a comedy sketch featuring Ronnie Corbett and Harry Enfield. There was much language tomfoolery in a greengrocer’s shop about BlackBerry, Apple, Orange etc. It was sort of clever but a tiny bit tedious.
This led on to talk of mobile phones. There are lots of them in the world and they are personal to people. He took one from an audience member to demonstrate this. Having once worked in the mobile space, although not directly for several years now, I couldn’t help feeling underwhelmed. I had seen many similar talks like this several years ago. Hadn’t we moved on?
Next came the data and numbers. Schukai spoke of how data capacity continues to grow and we’re now up to 25GB per second, following a recent announcement by Ericsson at Mobile World Congress. It’s undoubtedly impressive, but these are numbers you would expect to rise.
[Read the Composed blog on the 2014 Turing Lecture]
Data Generated by Genomics
The application of data generated by genomics will be significant, claimed Schukai. The amount of data generated by all of us in having our genes mapped will absolutely dwarf other sources of data. This area I found to be fascinating, and wish he’d stayed longer to discuss further medical implications. Will data help us live longer, or just make us more paranoid about everything?
Seguing into future thinking, Schukai pledged that genomics data will help create and reflect a world of better structured big data.
This seemed to make sense to me. The idea of enhanced data structure and intelligent filing is already permeating our digital user experience on a fairly basic level. We are encouraged to add metatags to everything when we create blog posts or file images. The behaviour behind how we digitally file, organise and secure data is a constant evolution, but surely it will be slow. Behaviour is tough to change.
Regularly discussed in Turing Lectures, cognitive computing will have a growing influence in our lives, according to Schukai. He showed an IBM video about Watson, the first computer system that actively learns.
* Machines must learn to think and interact with humans and with other machines.
* But learning does not always equal understanding.
These points seemed to be at the heart of Schukai’s belief in the next iteration of technology. He wheeled out and demonstrated an incredible piece of technology: a voice recognition and language processing radio and music system – the Amazon Echo. Schukai addressed the box by name and it played and stopped whatever radio station or band he wanted. Available in the US but not yet the UK, this pint-sized cylinder looks incredible and I badly want one.
The Echo was an example of a machine that interacts with you, learns from your voice and makes life easier. It also connected to the notion of intelligently learning ‘dayflow’ and the work/life blur we all wrestle with daily.
I was a little lost by the next video intended to illustrate Super Mario’s predictive knowledge base. In truth I was distracted in the world of childhood nostalgia, and saddened that kids won’t grow up playing slow pixelly platform games like this; indeed that children haven’t for many years.
Equally, the audience survey of favourite apps puzzled me. The conclusion I think was that the favourites were all about the user – books, podcasts, a sportstracker or whatsapp – the internet of me. If asked, I would have instinctively chosen Twitter. It’s an open, selective internet of its own that can take you anywhere.
The Big Finish
By now we were approaching the lecture’s final bend. I was yearning for a big mindpopping finish, a profound prophecy of future technology and what it will all be about. These were Schukai’s final points.
- Cognitive computing will change our interaction with big data
- In the future less search will be needed
- Everything will be more conversational and natural (like the Amazon Echo)
- The oracle of You will prevail, in that technology will know, understand and assist You
- Internet of me – the future of data is You
- There was a solid faith in the future intelligent personalisation of technology and data.
Again I wondered what experience the clearly well-informed speculation was based upon. Knowing something about his dayjob would have been nice. Or I could have just read the programme notes and Googled him afterwards.
For a much better read than this, visit Schukai’s own piece on The Guardian website about his talk.
Thanks once again to the BCS and IET for providing another thought-provoking Turing Lecture. Next year promises further cognitive computing goodness. Let’s hope we’ll all be bringing our robots along.
And more Turing Lecture goodness via the Twitter hashtag, (which could be given a number next year?)