A rousing start to a festival of sci-tech inspiration

30 Jun 2016

Pictured at Inspirefest 2016 are Judith Williams, global head of diversity, Dropbox; An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD; Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer, Accenture; and Ann O’Dea, founder, Inspirefest. Photo via Conor McCabe Photography

At only halfway through day one of Inspirefest 2016, many among the audience of over 1,500 were already bursting with inspiration.

Inspirefest 2016 began with an opening address from An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD and quickly took a turn from the formal to the fantastic by first diving into the convergence of science and technology with the arts, followed by frank discussions on gaming and equality in education systems.

Intel’s IoT and wearables lead Noel Murphy invited his two young daughters on-stage for a demonstration of sensors programmed to create music from the girls’ movements. It didn’t go 100pc smoothly – as is expected of a live demo with children – but the message was clear: there’s lots of creative fun to be had with technology.

Murphy was later joined on-stage by University of Limerick lecturer Nora O’Murchú, Connect centre director Prof Linda Doyle and interactive storyteller Zoe Philpott for a panel discussion on injecting more art into STEM (the popular acronym to group science, technology, engineering and maths). This very concept will be on show at the Inspirefest Fringe festival on Friday evening, when Philpott performs her one-woman tribute to Ada Lovelace wearing a dress twinkling and transforming with LEDs.

The talk of interdisciplinary creation sparked plenty of interest among the audience in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and – despite some wobbly Wi-Fi moments – they took to Twitter to share their own musings and experiences.

Next to the stage was a woman who works in a sector that successfully weaves together technology and art, though that sector has not typically shown its welcome to her kind. Brenda Romero is a long-standing game designer and now co-owner (along with husband, John Romero) of Romero Games.

Romero started by invoking nostalgia for eighties role-playing games – particularly Dungeons & Dragons – but what really animated the audience was her comedic dissection of female avatars in gaming. In the face of such things as hypersexualised characterisations, marketing that hides women away and the ‘jiggle physics’ controversy of Assassin’s Creed, one would have to either cry or laugh.

Thankfully, with Romero commanding the stage, we managed to wring a lot of laughs from this sore subject, delivered in good humour from a New Yorker fired up by four espressos.

After Recode co-executive editor Kara Swisher and NewsCorp SVP Raju Narisetti gave Silicon Republic editor John Kennedy their predictions for the future of media, the conversation turned to inclusion in education, starting with a keynote speech from Alexandra Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12.

Based on the data, Bernadotte believes she was born in the wrong zip code to achieve higher education. Two degrees later, she is working to change that presumed destiny for others like herself by using the data.

When Bernadotte was joined by Prof Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland and Dr Christine Loscher of Dublin City University, the crowd enlivened once again when Loscher’s emphatic, “It’s a culture change. We don’t need to fix women, we’re already brilliant,” almost took the house down.

Throughout the morning, Twitter was filling up with Inspirefest tidbits, with the most powerful moments reflected in an immediate surge in use of the hashtag. Suitably so, as it was time for social media to take centre stage.

Lian Bell, Sinéad Burke and Dr Sue Black delivered keynote after keynote proving the power of platforms such as Twitter, be it for changing the face of Irish theatre, finding your voice in the online fashion community, or saving an important part of the history of women in tech.

And all of that before lunchtime.

More than 50 speakers will take the stage at Inspirefest as the boutique sci-tech event continues into Friday 1 July, along with Fringe events in Merrion Square park in the evenings and on Saturday 2 July.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.