Who are the builders, transformers and watchdogs leading us into the data-driven revolution?
New ideas need infrastructure, from nuts and bolts, bits and bytes, to policy and regulation.
These are the people drawing the lines that bind the future of science and technology, and creating the stable foundations on which this future will be built. They are the policymakers, data protectors, blockchain architects and cloud controllers we need for progress.
Yasmeen Ahmad is a practice partner in analytic business consulting at Teradata, where she uses her extensive big data and data science expertise to solve complex business problems and provide invaluable insights. A major leader in the field, Ahmad manages a large team in the UK and Ireland.
‘Visualisations push the human to look beyond individual numbers and values, to thinking about data as a series of connections to be explored’
– YASMEEN AHMAD
As well as some formidable leadership skills, Ahmad is also behind the Art of Analytics project, which brings together beautiful data visualisation, allowing people to engage in new ways. Ahmad explained: “The visualisations push the human to look beyond individual numbers and values, to thinking about data as a series of connections to be explored.”
A man with a storied career, former lieutenant colonel Oz Alashe is passionate about the human side of cybersecurity. Founder of London-based cybersecurity start-up CybSafe, Alashe knows that examining human behaviour can help mitigate cyber risk with greater certainty.
By applying psychological theories to its SaaS platform, GCHQ-accredited CybSafe aims to change our behaviour and help people become more vigilant when it comes to spotting red flags. Given the year that was 2017, increased literacy when it comes to online crime is a more than welcome development, and Alashe is “passionate about using tech to help reduce societal threats to stability and security”.
A leading light in the open-source software movement, Brian Behlendorf was the primary developer of the Apache Web Server. Now, the expert technologist is helming the Hyperledger project at The Linux Foundation.
‘By developing a common distributed ledger technology that is shared, transparent and decentralised, the possibilities are endless’
– BRIAN BEHLENDORF
Behlendorf is working to establish common standards for blockchain, the technology that is set to transform almost every industry. He has big plans for the future of Hyperledger, telling attendees at this year’s JAX London conference: “By developing a common distributed ledger technology that is shared, transparent and decentralised, the possibilities are endless.” For Behlendorf, cryptocurrencies are the moonshot in terms of blockchain, and Hyperledger is the rocket that puts everything into orbit.
As manager of machine learning at Amazon Alexa, Catherine Breslin aims to bridge the gap between engineering and machine learning, and change how we interact with machines.
‘The bridge between science and engineering is a great one because it allows you to be involved at the cutting edge’
– CATHERINE BRESLIN
Home assistants are some of the most popular internet of things (IoT) devices out there, but it takes lots of spadework and creativity to make them intuitive and fun to use. In the age of the connected world, Breslin and her team are at the coalface of some pivotal technological changes: “I think that the bridge between science and engineering is a great one because it allows you to be involved at the cutting edge.”
A recent winner of the Internet Hero award at the Eir Golden Spider Awards, Dylan Collins is the only person who can say they’ve claimed the same victory twice. The man behind Demonware won the award this year for SuperAwesome, a kid-safe marketing firm, which recently raised $21m in a funding round led by Mayfair Equity Partners.
‘Our technology now ensures that over half a billion kids every month have their digital privacy protected’
– DYLAN COLLINS
More than 500m kids engage safely with the SuperAwesome platform, whose customers include the likes of Lego and Cartoon Network. Collins told Siliconrepublic.com’s editor John Kennedy: “Our technology now ensures that over half a billion kids every month have their digital privacy protected with their interactions across brands and content.”
In a world where robots are evolving to become more sophisticated at lightning speeds, there needs to be regulation and well-thought-out planning for humanity to manage this new era. Luxembourgish MEP Mady Delvaux did just that this year when she wrote a report defining rules to govern how robots and humans interact.
‘There will be a cooperation between robots and humans. I imagine that everyone can learn to work together with the robots’
– MADY DELVAUX
A firm believer in accountability and regulation, Delvaux’s report was voted on in February, giving robots legal status as “electronic persons” and laying out how bots will be held responsible for their actions in future. Delvaux said: “There will be a cooperation between robots and humans. I imagine that everyone can learn to work together with the robots.”
The world is becoming a much more politically fraught place, and technology is being applied in sometimes unsavoury ways by authorities and others to monitor and censor activists and vulnerable communities. Eva Galperin is the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) where she applies her knowledge of political science and tech to writing security training material such as the Digital First Aid Kit, and publishing material on malware from Vietnam and Syria, among other places.
Galperin explained to Motherboard: “What I get particularly concerned about is when the surveillance might of the state is focused on people who don’t have this protection – and that includes activists, journalists … even scientists or lawyers.”
Dakota Gruener serves as the executive director of ID2020, an alliance of governments, private-sector partners and NGOs, including the UNHCR. It aims to give the 1.1bn ‘invisible’ people with no form of ID a digital identity. It’s a complex problem to solve, but Gruener is intrigued by the possibilities. ID2020 could provide vital documentation for those seeking refugee status or an important vaccination.
For Gruener, relying on paper just doesn’t make sense in the digital age. “There’s a particular blockchain that seems logical now but we have no reason to believe that it will be the only one relevant in the years to come. The same goes for biometric technology or any other supportive technology.”
2017 was truly the year that blockchain technology reached the mainstream, and Deloitte has its finger firmly on the pulse, having set up a brand new blockchain lab in Dublin. The EMEA centre of excellence is helmed by Lory Kehoe, who has been working full-time in blockchain for the last three years.
Kehoe explained the swift pace of change that occurs in the industry: “Blockchain technology is moving so fast that, if you don’t spend part of every day keeping up, you are quickly behind the curve.” For Kehoe, the joy of blockchain is in getting to “challenge the status quo”.
Cloud computing has rapidly evolved over the past five years, with companies of all sizes gunning to get their enterprise cloud strategies in top shape. Theo Lynn is professor of digital business at Dublin City University and principal investigator at the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce (IC4). He specialises in examining the role that digital technologies have to play in transforming how companies do business.
A former scientist at NASA/USRA, Will Marshall is the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Planet. Formerly known as Planet Labs, Marshall’s company sends up thousands of tiny satellites to flock with already-orbiting instruments and capture images of Earth. These images form a dataset with the potential to transform how the world works, from farmers examining their land to note crop patterns, to emergency services figuring out the best way to direct assistance following an earthquake.
Marshall explained his vision to Smithsonian magazine: “We really thought long and hard about all the problems of the world, and what is it that we could do using satellites to help those things.”
Professor of software engineering at the University of Limerick, Bashar Nuseibeh also holds the role of chief scientist at Lero, the Irish software research centre. His award-winning research into ‘adaptive privacy’ has been presented in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, New Scientist magazine and Buckingham Palace.
An expert in the areas of privacy and security in software development, Nuseibeh and colleagues in The Open University won the 2017 IET Innovation Award for Cybersecurity for their novel wearable privacy-management device, Privacy Band, which makes users more aware of potential privacy threats in real time. The exciting technology is currently the subject of patent applications.
Active in politics since she was a teenager, Julia Reda is a German MEP and member of the Pirate Party Germany, part of the Greens-European Free Alliance. A staunch campaigner for political transparency, open communication structures and open borders, Reda is also enthusiastic about protecting digital freedoms in the EU.
‘To the outside, the EU must not seal itself off, but has to take its commitment to human rights seriously’
– JULIA REDA
Whether it’s fighting against overly restrictive copyright rules or questioning if regulations could be abused to create a culture of online censorship, Reda looks for accountability from all. She sums it up thusly: “To the outside, the EU must not seal itself off, but has to take its commitment to human rights seriously.”
German journalist Matthias Spielkamp is the founder and executive director of AlgorithmWatch, a non-profit with a noble mission to examine the consequences of increased algorithmic decision-making on the society we live in.
‘Lawmakers, judges and the public should have a say in which measures of fairness get prioritised by algorithms’
– MATTHIAS SPIELKAMP
A strong figure in the world of ethical tech, Spielkamp has called for closer inspections of how these automated decisions can have potentially devastating consequences. He believes that hard questions must be asked of developers and, indeed, ourselves: “Lawmakers, judges and the public should have a say in which measures of fairness get prioritised by algorithms. But, if the algorithms don’t actually reflect these value judgments, who will be held accountable?”
If blockchain is the buzzword of the year, there are few people more qualified to talk about it than David Treat of Accenture. What began for him as a hobby led to him becoming the global head of blockchain at the firm.
Treat is fascinated by the potential within blockchain technology outside of the cryptocurrency world, and recently discussed Accenture’s work with ID2020, an organisation aiming to give everyone on the planet a digital identity: “For a guy who’s been in banking for more than 20 years now, I just couldn’t be more excited to do something with that scale of humanitarian focus.”