The atmosphere was electric at yesterday’s Future Decoded event, which opened its doors to over 10,000 people.
The keynote theatre drew a huge amount of attention first thing as Ryan Asdourian, Microsoft’s Windows and Surface lead, took to the stage to introduce a number of high profile keynote speakers. First up was Cindy Rose, UK CEO of Microsoft, who gave details about how Microsoft is seeking to advance the waves of change in digital transformation. “We are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution,” she said, going on to declare that “action is the only option.”
Next on stage was Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, who focused on Microsoft’s advances in artificial intelligence. “AI is a powerful and broadly applicable technology that has the capacity to transform every business,” he said. He went on to explain how AI will evolve in four ways: with digital agents; new applications; new services; and through a better infrastructure. "Microsoft's approach to AI is not to replace people, but to help them achieve more," he said.
Towards the end of his presentation, Bishop gave the audience a sneak preview of the advancements his team has made in Microsoft Translator. He demonstrated how the technology is now capable of translating multiple languages in one conversation – in real time. “We’ve got to the stage where this technology now has the same error rate as a human transcriber – which is remarkable,” he said.
Toni Townes-Whitley, corporate vice president of the worldwide public sector at Microsoft, was next up. “We see cloud as the engine and data as the fuel for the fourth industrial revolution,” she said. “Every industry is transforming – health, education, government. We can solve cancer with machine learning and AI, using cognitive science to predict how tumours grow. How we might be able to program cells to fight disease. This is part of digital transformation that we can see, feel, touch and experience. With every opportunity comes a challenge, though. We know about privacy concerns, about hacking. About how jobs will be displaced by digital transformation.”
Whitley went on to introduce four customers: Mike Bugeme, chief analytics officer for JustGiving; Dr Ian Levy from National Cyber Security Centre; Nick Walker from RAC; and David Trice, chief technology officer at Centrica, who all gave compelling presentations about the technology that is transforming their businesses.
Following this, Chancellor Philip Hammond was welcomed to the stage. “As old jobs disappear, new opportunities open up and the economy retrains and reabsorbs workers,” he said. “Technology has the power to make everyone in society better off, to improve our quality of life, to lower prices. Applying technology raises productivity and raises incomes. I am in doubt we must embrace change, not fear it. I want Britain to be the best place to found and grow a tech business.”
Outlining the importance of security to the future of the UK’s transformation, Hammond went on to announce the launch of the Government’s national cybersecurity strategy which is underpinned by £1.9bn of transformation spend over five years and international partnerships.
“The fourth industrial revolution should flourish in the home of the first,” he said, concluding the morning’s keynotes.
Attendees were then able to take a look around the exhibition floor, which featured some very impressive stands. Rolls-Royce and Bloodhound brought along their 1,000 mph car, which attracted a lot of attention, but not quite as much attention as Microsoft’s HoloLens device, which people were queuing up to try.
As well as a massive Microsoft presence, there were a wide range of Microsoft partners showcasing their wares. risual, cloud direct and GCI were particularly prominent. “This is our first Future Decoded event and I’m very impressed,” Scott Riley, chief strategy officer at GCI, told The Record. “I’m glad we went big with our stand – it’s been well worth it and has generated a huge amount of interest.”
The afternoon’s keynotes were just as impressive as the morning’s. Asdourian introduced Brian McBride, chairman of ASOS, who explained the importance of mobile to the retailer’s success. “People using our app spend more time on ASOS, spend more money, interact with the company more and are more likely to buy,” he said.
Next up was Martine Wright, 7/7 survivor and Paralympic athlete, who captivated the audience with her story. “We all have choices in life; maximise every opportunity you have and embrace change,” she said. “Change brings opportunities. Good can come out of bad.”
Finally, it was time for the much awaited Q&A with author Bill Bryson, whose personality kept the theatre transfixed. “All the things that we take for granted is all stuff that no one foresaw when I was a child. I don’t know what will happen in the future but it will be exciting stuff. That’s what makes the world so exciting,” he said. “My message to you all is we should all try to leave the Earth a bit better than how we found it.”
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