Wired 2016 Presents What’s New in AI, VR and Tech Activism

Despite an absence of fashion tech at Wired 2016, the annual conference (too dull a word for the excitement served up) demonstrates fashions in tech, of a sort.

It’s that time of the year pre-christmas when many a head is full of ideas, swarming with information from dozens of conferences, meet-ups, launches, talks and exhibitions when it’s time to cut through the noise and find out what to focus on – some of which you may have heard of and some you definitely won’t have.  Welcome to Wired 2016.

Those with true passion for innovation know that the most exciting ideas and creations arise from special situations involving special people.  Whether they be from tech, medicine, art, music, engineering or social sciences.  Ideally, they’ll be a mix of these fields.  I look forward to seeing fashion added to this mix as the fashion tech sector grows on the back of the launch of Plexal and other cross-disciplinary hubs.

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Before the talks kicked-off I browsed the demo area and was struck by the COLLAPSE SCULPTURES (above) by ScanLAB Projects, who gave a fascinating talk at Wired 2015, and are a team specialising in large-scale 3D scanning in architecture and the creative industries.  COLLAPSE is a collaboration between ScanLAB projects, dance company New Movement Collective and composer/cellist Oliver Coates.   This series of sculptures features digitally fabricated fragments of dancer’ limbs which are suspended, lingering where their performer once created them.  Traces of movement are solidified and stand as physical echoes.

From art to tech, standout talks at Wired 2016 included Hike, the Indian messaging app that works offline (useful in a country where connectivity is patchy and data is bought in packages) and transcends the dozens of languages and avoids complex keyboards by using digital stickers as tools of communication.  50% of households in India share smart phones, so the privacy app allowing hiding of selected conversations is a hit with young family members.

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Mustafa Suleyman co-founded DeepMind, now owned by Google, and is forging ahead with the application of AI to solve some of the worlds biggest problems.  The use of AI diagnosis in medical imaging can speed up treatment times for cancer and improve patient prognosis.  DeepMind are attempting to solve the problem of most NHS data currently being written on paper, and therefore largely inaccessible.  Mustafa says “In life, data is pushed to us.  In the NHS it’s passive”.

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Syrian human-rights activist Abdulaziz Alhamza is the co-founder of RBSS – Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently – a defiant broadcasting platform that exposes the devastation and brutality caused by ISIS in his home town.  RBSS covertly captures images and videos, sharing them on social media and acting as a news source for news organisations.

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Philip Rosedale is CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity – a shared VR experience that has global users sharing experiences by meeting in VR “locations” around the virtual world.  It’s like creating your own avatar, hanging out with other avatars and socialising with them, like you might do in real life.

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Adding to the Indian flavour running through the two days of Wired, Gingger Shankar told a beautiful story of her experience in the musical family made famous by Ravi Shankar and the plight of her mother who broke out of domesticity to sing on a global stage.  The gems of Wired are in the unexpected, and I captured her playing the ten-string double violin and sharing with us her five octave voice.  Enjoy, and stand by for part two of my coverage of Wired 2016.

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Wired Next Generation Provides Next Level Inspiration

In the spirit of turning things upside down, breaking the rules and doing things my own way I’m going to start at the end.  Wired Next Generation followed two days of Wired 2016, but I’m going to serve up some Next Generation gems first.  

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Wired Next Generation is mental fertiliser, creative juice – food for thought –  which brings me neatly on to the work and wisdom of Heston Blumenthal.  A self-confessed irritant at school, always asking “why?”,  Heston’s curiosity and over-active senses have led him on a culinary and scientific journey inspired by human evolution and imagination.  Despite beginning his story with oysters he cites Einstein, rather than Rick Stein, as an inspiration and shares his infectious energy with a captive audience.

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Inspiration was never in short supply at Wired Next Gen, with heart-warming accounts of the triumph of education over adversity in a refugee camp in Jordan by Syrian campaigner Muzoon Almellehan, who is now a proud resident of Newcastle and happily getting to grips with the Geordie accent.  Read Muzoon’s blog posts explaining her work and experiences here.

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Samantha Payne presented a ground-breaking social, medical and technological innovation in the form of bionic upper limbs.  By using 3D scanning and printing, she and the team at Open Bionics have slashed the cost of bionic upper limbs by 10 times and produce them in four days rather than four months.  For the world’s 2 million upper limb amputees, this provides not only functional, but personalised affordable limbs.  Samantha’s work turns kids (and adults) into bionic superheroes, questioning the future superiority of human anatomy over bionic alternatives.  Empowering and moving, this transformative tech was demonstrated and explained by Tilly:

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“What have you done today?” asked Oliver Franklin-Wallis, Assistant Editor of Wired, of the audience at Wired Next Gen after Google Science Fair award-winner Krtin Nithiyanandam explained how at the age of 15, he combined two antibodies to devise a way to detect early onset Alzheimers, drastically improving patient prognosis.  Since then, he has devised a way to alter untreatable breast cancer cells into treatable ones.  He is now 16.  Oliver, I’m going to pass on that question…


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Rounding off this article with a lyrical trip to the playground is Hussain Manawer.  After getting sacked from Sainsbury’s (for eating a doughnut on the shop floor) he moved on to a job at Primark, followed by a stint at Coca Cola.  He studied Quantity Surveying at the University of Westminster, which was “pretty dry” and went on to found his youtube channel Hussain’s House,  seeking to support youth causes through artistic expression.  He has since raised his voice at the One Young World Summit in Bangkok to speak for those who suffer from mental illness but struggle to be heard.  

Hussain’s speech won him a Rising Star Award and a place on a space flight in 2018, when he will become the first British Muslim to go to space. His honesty, candour and wit are disarming and charming.  Here’s a clip of him taking us back to the playground.

To play us out, here’s Swedish popstar MY, who is unsurprisingly difficult to track down on a Google search.  Here she is at Ohheymy.

Thank you Wired, for the sparks and the seeds that will help the next generation of bright minds to blow ours.  Bring it!

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