Inspirefest 2017 has been and gone, but the spirit of the community lives on.
With Inspirefest done and dusted for another year, we’re still dissecting the data and comparing notes on all we learned over the course of those few days, embedded in Silicon Docks with great thinkers and creators.
We learned about transhumanism, soft robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain and the future of work, and came out fired up and demanding more from those waving the flag of diversity and inclusion.
For those of you who were there, get ready to relive the inspiring keynotes and insightful discussions over the coming weeks and months, right here on Siliconrepublic.com. For those of you who couldn’t join us, follow along as we release the on-stage content to share with the broader community (and try to keep the you-had-to-be-there commentary to a minimum).
The Inspirefest team is already gearing up for the next event in 2018, with some surprises in-between. Make sure you’re part of it all by signing up to the new, improved Inspirefest newsletter.
Dr France A Córdova: A Life in Science
Day one of Inspirefest kicked off with Dr France A Córdova in conversation with Inspirefest founder (and Silicon Republic CEO) Ann O’Dea. From writing about heartthrobs with the LA Times to leading NASA’s scientific endeavours, the current head of the US National Science Foundation has seen it all.
“Everything you learn, in all your jobs, you carry with you. It all comes to being an advantage,” she told the audience at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. “If you don’t have curiosity, you don’t pursue knowledge deeply. It helps to be well-rounded, to have a background in the arts as well as science.”
Special address from An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD
Embracing diversity was the special message delivered to the Inspirefest audience by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, during one of his first major public engagements as the new leader of Ireland.
Discussing everything from the gender make-up of attendees to the influence William Rowan Hamilton’s genius 19th-century graffiti has had on modern technology, Varadkar called for more acceptance and diversity. “We can’t assume progress is inevitable. Diversity is a strength, it makes us stronger,” said the current Time magazine cover star.
Marcus Weldon: Transformational technologies to create time
Many attendees have cited Marcus Weldon’s Inspirefest keynote as a highlight from the sci-tech conference. The Bell Labs president and Nokia CTO posited that saving (or creating) time is technology’s ultimate goal, and listed cars, planes and even the Hubble telescope as examples of time-saving done right.
Now, as we face an internet of things age replete with big data and artificial intelligence, technology is largely about automating things – continuing to save time on the mundane, and freeing our minds for more creative pursuits.
Researchfest champion Joshua Chao’s stunning spoken word performance
Year two of Researchfest certainly lived up to high expectations. The judges and audience were in agreement as NUI Galway researcher Joshua Chao was crowned prince of the PhDs for a tremendous three-minute performance that involved a rhyming explanation of stem cell therapy for critical limb ischemia.
When asked about his unique presentation style, Chao explained that he was inspired by Hamilton. While listening to the soundtrack to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical, Chao found a way to apply this cultural interest to his scientific studies and the result was nothing short of astonishing.
Ana Matronic: Robot Takeover
Robotophile and transhumanist Ana Matronic took to the Inspirefest stage predicting a future where gender doesn’t matter when we’re all cyborgs. Her talk posed fascinating philosophical questions for a present and future where the line between human and robot is becoming increasingly blurred, such as: what role does gender play, if any, when our brains are in robots or uploaded to the cloud?
“We have an opportunity in this moment to be prepared for the arrival of mechanical and digital people, and I believe it is our responsibility to be prepared,” she said.
David Moloney: Robots aren’t scary, people are
David Moloney is one of Ireland’s leading technologists. Since his company was acquired by Intel, he has gone from Movidius co-founder to director of machine vision at Intel’s New Technology Group, and his vision for future technology is one worth paying attention to.
Moloney sees artificial intelligence as an advancement as impactful – or even more so – than electricity. However, before we reach the heralded intelligent automated era, he wants to ensure that the architects of the age are not blinkered or hamstrung by bias. “What scares me is not robots, what scares me is people,” he said. “The real [purpose] for all of us, in terms of creating machines and systems to serve us better, is to eliminate bias.”
Omar Abbosh: From Imagination to Innovation
No one could sum up day one of Inspirefest 2017 better than sci-tech poet Kate Dempsey, whose ‘Praise Song for Inspirefest’ captured every magical moment of the day that had passed.
Early to the stage on day two was Accenture chief strategy officer Omar Abbosh, ready to warn companies not to shy away from disruption lest they become the disrupted. Speaking to the theatre audience, he said: “The job of any business leader is not to find where the innovations are, but how to shift from the core to the new.”
Kodak knew about digital photography. Nokia knew about smartphones. “They just couldn’t get there,” said Abbosh.
Tarah Wheeler: Infosec for a Brave New World
With constant ransomware attacks such as WannaCry and Petya making the headlines worldwide, infosec has never been in a bigger spotlight. No surprise then that there was quite the captivated audience gathered to see Symantec website security czar Tarah Wheeler take the stage.
Introducing herself as a “dirty, dirty hacker”, Wheeler assured the crowd: “The people that created the solutions and brought about the amelioration of the major ransomware attacks that have occurred over the last two to three months, they weren’t sitting in a boardroom. They were sitting in coffee shops and basements.”
Dr Carol Gibbons: Moving in the right direction
As Inspirefest 2017 neared its end, Enterprise Ireland’s Dr Carol Gibbons took to the stage during the investors session. A director at the State agency, Gibbons revealed somewhat encouraging figures amid a session that was shouting across a deep chasm: the funding gap between male and female entrepreneurs.
Out of 128 start-ups that joined Enterprise Ireland’s programmes last year, 63 were women-led businesses. This is up from 43 women-led start-ups in 2014, and an increase on the overall total of 104 companies that same year.
“63 isn’t enough. We need to shine a light,” said Gibbons. “We deliberately went out and sought female founders. We didn’t change the fund but we targeted the messaging and wrapped a lot of supports around female founders. We will keep going until it becomes the norm. Because it is not the norm today.”
Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, Sugru: Start small and make it good
One of the last speakers to grace the stage was inventor Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, sharing the story of her remarkable product. Ní Dhulchaointigh has been working on Sugru for about 15 years now, scaling the product from 1,000 packs sold at Electric Picnic to a proud community of more than 2m users worldwide.
This remarkable mouldable glue encourages fixing and ‘hacking things better’ rather than throwing them away. “Human ingenuity is an amazing thing, but fixing things is only part of the puzzle,” Ní Dhulchaointigh told the Inspirefest audience. “We believe fixing is never going to be done by finger-wagging. It’s all about inspiration.”
Family Fringe fun at The Dock
On the final day of Inspirefest 2017, young and not-so-young sci-tech enthusiasts gathered at The Dock, Accenture’s creative new office space in Dublin’s Silicon Docks. The free Family Fringe event welcomed all ages to make, create, learn and even sing along with interactive science, technology and engineering workshops and sessions.
Fresh from a midweek main-stage appearance, Dr Niamh Shaw shared stories of space exploration with a rapt audience. Dr Dónal Holland returned to Inspirefest with his soft robotics squad for a much-anticipated workshop. There were also workshops on game design with GameCraft Unplugged, electronics with Girls Hack Ireland, and coding from the combination of CoderDojo DCU and Coding Grace.
Trinity Walton Club students showcased their projects and Tog Hackerspace members showed off their creations while Arckit let participants’ imaginations run wild to build models and design buildings. The event also offered a taste of Dublin Maker with previews of three of the many exhibitors set to take over Merrion Square on Saturday 22 July.
Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 will be on sale soon. Sign up here to be the first to know when!
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