It’s 8 AM when King’s Cross begins to buzz with the first attendees trickling into CogX Festival 2021. At The Aga Khan, a handful of guests gather outside the conference room, chatting quietly and perusing the coffee tables while they wait for the opening session. Inside the conference room, the speakers are getting mic’d up and the final sound check gets a thumbs up from the tech team at the back of the room. A few moments later, attendees begin to file in and quickly settle into their seats, some tapping elbows and chatting animatedly as they recognise each other from previous CogX Festivals.
At 9 AM on the dot, the session moderator, Oli Barrett, jumps on stage and gives a warm welcome to both the live audience in the room and the virtual attendees watching from home. With a generous dose of enthusiasm, he ends his opening remarks by encouraging everyone to hop on social media and #JoinTheConversation at #CogX2021.
As cameras click furiously in the background, CogX Founder and CEO Charlie Muirhead takes the stage and gives his own welcoming speech. After a quick trip through the unpredictable year we’ve all had — with a pandemic, remote working and a stellar vaccine rollout — he wraps up with a genuine welcome to the world’s largest hybrid Festival of its kind, and a reminder for everyone to explore the 350+ exhibitors at the Virtual Expo, as well as the 5th Annual CogX Festival Awards celebration gracing the virtual platform this afternoon. (We’ve already announced this year’s winners here!)
Finally, he announced the launch of the CogX mobile app, which looks to help those struggling to keep up with the exponential pace of change and feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content, not to mention how long it takes to find what they need. This app puts a personalised feed of snackable, short-form thought leadership in the palm of your hand. It’s designed to help you get up-to-date in one tenth of the time and be your fastest way to discover, learn and connect in the new world of work.
As Charlie is clapped off stage, Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom) steps up to the podium. He welcomes the live audience with a cheerful introduction before diving into his short but sweet speech about the importance of innovation.
‘We would not be here today if it had not been for the power of human ingenuity’, he said, as he speaks about the incredible effort to engineer our way through the pandemic.
As keen attendees look on from their socially-distanced seats, Dowden moves onto the main message of this first session:
‘I’m proud to announce Tech Zero Taskforce […] to speed up the UK’s race to NetZero. I hope this marks a turning point in our fight against climate change, and it’s right that the tech industry leads the charge.’ – Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom.
For a little more context, the Tech Zero taskforce wants to help thousands of tech companies make their net zero plans. Everyone’s been grappling with the challenge of net zero on their own, and working together means we can make progress faster. If you’d like access to the network of tech companies (including Bulb, OLIO, GoCardless, MoneySuperMarket as well as Tech Nation) and the resources they’ve created, register your interest here.
Meanwhile, over at the Everyman Cinema, all three theatres are in full force with sessions from several stages.
In one theatre, attendees are comfortably seated with pillows and holding branded CogX caps, while Poppy Gustafsson (CEO of Darktrace) is on-stage in the midst of a chat with Tamzin Booth (Technology and Business Editor at The Economist) about the new era of cyber threats.
‘Sophisticated AI attacks are going to happen’, Poppy warns as Tamzin nods in agreement. ‘The vast majority of these attacks are using some form of automation rather than AI, but it’s only a matter of time until that happens.’
At the back of the theatre, the production crew are hunched over their equipment, completely focused on capturing every single word and streaming it through Hopin for all our virtual attendees watching around the world.
A few steps away from the theatre, the Everyman bar area is lit up with staff prepping coffee and organising their stations for the attendees who will soon be leaving their sessions (likely needing a caffeine boost).
Around the corner in the seating area, several screens are livestreaming the session on stakeholder capitalism with Dame Vivian Hunt (Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company), and moderated by John Thornhill (Innovation editor at the Financial Times). A few attendees lounge around with their laptops, while others hang around the screens. One attendee stops in his tracks to listen to the virtual session on ‘building a digitally fit future’ with Margrethe Vestager (Commissioner for Competition & EVP A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, European Commission) and Martha Lane Fox (Chair, WeTransfer).
‘We’ve learnt a lot about technology during the pandemic, but we still have a long way to go in understanding the digital skills needed to function in a digital world.’ – Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for Competition & EVP A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, European Commission.
At The Lighterman restaurant, the tables are gradually beginning to fill as more attendees venture from the venues into the sunshine in-between sessions, filling the air with excited chatter as speakers and GLS pass-holders bond over a generous spread of coffee and pastries.
With noon rolling in, the conference rooms and theatres are left empty to be deep cleaned, while attendees browse the menus nearby to refuel for the second half of the Festival.
As the clock strikes 2 PM, attendees begin to trickle back into the venues, where several sessions are already kicking off. At The Aga Khan, the GLS conference room is captivating attendees with a livestreamed session about the benefits fully autonomous transportation — with Avinash Rugoobur (President & CSO of Arrival) and moderated by Shona Ghosh (Senior tech editor at Business Insider Inc.).
‘There’s still the importance of the human element in the commercial vehicle segment’, Avinash said in response to Shona’s comment about how most people are wary of autonomous transportation ‘replacing’ humans at the workplace. He then plays a video showcasing Arrival’s impressive fleet of autonomous vehicles (where humans are very much in the picture).
Over at Everyman, the Heath & Wellbeing stage is busy with Google’s session on how they can revolutionise healthcare, led by Alan Karthikesalingam (Research Lead at Google Health UK) and moderated by Dr Jack Kreindler (Founder & Medical Director, Centre for Health and Human Performance).
‘What happens if it turns out I’m not as good as a machine?’, Dr Jack asks — prompting a chuckle from a few attendees who clearly had the same question in mind. Alan nods before carefully delivering his answer. ‘We’ve seen both over-reliance as well as scepticism when it comes to artificial intelligence and deep learning’, he explains. ‘The interesting component is learning to understand the “complimentarity” between the medical professionals and the technology assisting them’.
Meanwhile, upstairs at the bar area, attendees are scattered across the plush seating, either quietly typing on their laptop or scrolling on their phones as they listen to Avinash’s livestream still happening over at The Aga Khan.
Down the road at The Lighterman, one of the CogX team is presenting the CogX app to a curious attendee, with a small audience looking on and chatting. On the other side of the room, another attendee is taking advantage of the post-lunch quiet to get some work done on his laptop — although seemingly distracted by the video showcasing the app on a screen in front of him.
Back at The Aga Khan, the room is bubbling with compatible opinions and attendee questions about the power of privilege and the importance of allyship in the workplace. The lively conversation bounces between the panelists and the live audience, who are eager to learn how to better manage diversity matters at work.
‘It’s important to win hearts and minds when you’re trying to instil change.’ – Angela Jain, Managing Director, Lifted Entertainment, ITV.
Her quote is met with nods of agreement from her fellow panelist, June Sarpong (OBE – TV Presenter, Diversity Expert & award-winning Author) and the session moderator Hephzi Pemberton (Author of The Diversity Playbook and Founder & CEO of Equality Group).
While the session with Alvy Ray Smith (Author and Co-Founder of Pixar) on the biography of the pixel is gracing the Crown Room at The Lighterman, the session about life on Mars at the Everyman is regaling attendees with tales about the Curiosity and Perseverance Rovers. The moderator, Anushka Sharma (Founder of Naaut) takes a question from a virtual attendee on what the most exciting part of exploring Mars is. The speaker, Sanjeev Gupta (Professor of Earth Sciences from the Imperial College London), smiles as he tries to pick a favourite tidbit to share. Soon enough, he settles on the fact that the Curiosity Rover found pebbles on its bold expedition — pebbles which can only form in the presence of water.
‘It’s like the early stages of exploring the geology of Earth, so it’s all rather fascinating’. Sanjeev adds.
On the ground floor of the Everyman, Sunil Pithwa, a Senior UX Designer from Aviva — who will be MC-ing a session on Wednesday — passed by to chat on his way to the upcoming session on psychedelics and pharmaceuticals.
‘It’s nice to be out and about again’, he says about being at the Festival in person. ‘It’s actually a lot more intimate this way. And everyone’s been so friendly, especially at The Lighterman’. Sunil, who’s a first-timer at CogX Festival, added that he’s especially excited about the great speakers and the equally brilliant minds in the audience. Plus, he simply can’t miss Matthew McConaughey’s hybrid session on life lessons and leadership tomorrow at 6 PM.
As the session on psychedelics is about to begin, Sunil makes his way to the Everyman theatre along with a dozen other attendees who are tightly gripping their notebooks and laptops. On-stage, Katherine Templar Lewis (Creative Scientist at Kinda Studios) is moderating the last hybrid session of the evening. She sits next to David Erritzoe (Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Psychiatrist at Imperial College London) while Lars Wilde (Co-Founder, President, CBO at COMPASS Pathways) joins from home.
‘We’ve seen a 30% spike in mental illness since the pandemic’, Katherine said to highlight the shift in healthcare innovation. She follows up with a question for David on what’s needed to move this incredibly important conversation forward. David explains that people don’t usually agree with legalising cannabis — until they’re told the medical benefits of using it.
‘If you show people results through science, attitudes will change, and then politicians will have to change. It happened with cannabis and it will probably happen with psychedelics.’ – David Erritzoe, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Psychiatrist, Imperial College London.
As the day begins to wind down at around 6 PM, most attendees are in the final sessions of the day, while others begin to make their way over to The Lighterman to kick back, network and swap stories about their first day at CogX Festival.
With even more fascinating in-person, hybrid and virtual sessions planned for Tuesday 15th, it’s shaping up to be another electrifying day at the Festival — both at King’s Cross and on our thriving virtual platform.
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