Day 2 at CogX Festival 2021

It’s another day at CogX Festival and the agenda is brimming with even more spectacular sessions. To help you stay as up-to-date as possible, we’re going to blog about them a little differently this time. Keep an eye on this post for live updates on today’s top sessions so you can follow the Festival — as it’s happening.

Let’s get started.

9 AM: Day two takes off in The Aga Khan with a session on the future of flying, led by Sean Doyle (Chief Executive Officer at British Airways) and moderated by Helia Ebrahimi (Economics Correspondent, Channel 4 News, ITN). With Helia on stage and Sean livestreaming from home, they chat about how travel will certainly be revving up again as the world slowly reopens.

‘We’re encouraging the UK and the US to open up a travel corridor’, Sean says. ‘We’ve made amazing progress with vaccinations so we can open up the economy. And we can’t open up the economy without opening up travel’.

He also acknowledges the exceptional challenges for the aviation industry (and their staff) due to the pandemic, and maintains that the key is being transparent with the team on what to expect, and accelerating innovation to get airlines ready to reunite people with the loved ones they haven’t seen in so long. The insightful conversation then moves onto the sensitive subject of how the aviation industry is dealing with the climate crisis.

‘I don’t think the industry is ignorant to the climate crisis, but change will take time’, Sean says. ‘Our new aircrafts will be 45% more efficient, we’re also researching sustainable fuel sources and we’re close to hydrogen-powered aircrafts. We’re looking at a realistic and credible pathway to carbon net-zero’. He wraps up his points with a very true statement, ‘People don’t have a problem with travel, they have a problem with the carbon footprint. So when we solve that, we solve the problem of travel’.

10 AM: Next up is another hybrid session about sustainable technologies, green IT and Cloud — with Yves Bernaert (Senior Managing Director, Technology Europe Lead at Accenture) and moderated by our very own Founder and CEO, Charlie Muirhead. With a focus on exploring the possibilities of technology while preserving our closeness with nature, the two bright minds dive right into the role of companies in the climate crisis, to which Yves reminds both the live and virtual audience that only 20 companies are contributing to 70% of global carbon emissions.

‘The way we lead our business can make a positive impact on the world’, Yves says. ‘Even your IT consumption as a company can reduce your carbon footprint’.

‘IT needs to be seen as something to be fixed. If you look into using IT more efficiently, you can improve the cost and reduce your carbon footprint.’ Yves Bernaert, Senior Managing Director, Technology Europe Lead, Accenture.

When asked about the benefits of businesses moving from data centres to the cloud, Yves gives the impressive stat that doing so can help businesses reduce their footprint by up to 84%. ‘Every year that cloud migration can save up to 60 million tonnes of emissions per year — the equivalent of 20 million cars. It’s your responsibility as CIO to make a change’.

Just outside the room, a keen CogX team member is showing attendees the new CogX mobile app so they can get a personalised feed of snackable, short-form thought leadership right in the palm of their hand.

With so many fascinating insights popping up around the globe every second, it’s a good idea to have an app where you can just sit back and scroll through the ones that are actually relevant to you. (Download the app here.)

11 AM: Professor Kate Crawford (Leading scholar of AI’s social implications and author of Atlas of AI) tunes into her session on ‘power, politics, and the planetary costs of artificial intelligence’. The session moderator, Azeem Azhar (Founder of Exponential View) starts off with one of Kate’s own quotes: We have to move away from the idea that AI is immaterial, abstract and in the cloud. We have to see it as a profoundly material technology, made from the earth.

Kate follows up with a quick explanation on what she means by that. ‘It’s not just 1’s and 0’s in the cloud’, she explains. ‘There are actual humans and hours of effort involved to make AI work’. She adds that while she’s inspired by all the new efforts in AI (like ethics), there’s not enough focus on the actual supply chain involved to make AI work.

‘By challenging this idea of artificiality, it’s really an attempt to bring us back to the material costs, the human costs, the limited resources  from water to energy and beyond.’ – Professor Kate Crawford, Principal researcher at Microsoft Research, Co-Founder and Director of Research at the AI Now Institute, NYU.

Throughout this remarkable session, Kate touches on everything from worker’s rights to the need for governance in AI, and throws a clever question over to Azeem about how he thinks governance could keep up with the tech sector in 5-10 years. Azeem swiftly recalls that the NHS launched a chest-imaging Covid database where participating hospitals can share CT scans for any researchers to tap into for their own studies. He adds that, usually, some company with colossal venture capital would’ve just hoovered all that data up and sold it off, so this greenshoots effort from the NHS — and many others like it — shows a potential for ‘participatory governance’, which can also be applied to AI. Kate mentions that not only governance, but governance at scale.

Around noon, The Lighterman is beginning to come alive as lunch hour nears. Attendees are chatting at their tables and enjoying the warm weather, while others begin to settle in for a well-deserved break after a full morning of learning.

 1 PM: We kick off the early afternoon on the top floor of The Lighterman with a popular session about driving growth for your startup, led by Peace Itimi (Head of Growth at Hover). It’s a lively delivery of knowledge and wisdom that keeps the audience on their toes. Every so often, an attendee picks up the microphone to ask Peace a question, to which she always gives a detailed, practical answer.

A strong theme in this session is how ‘growth is largely experimentation’. If I measure today, I can benchmark my strategy tomorrow,’ she advises the audience, ‘make sure you’re using the insights’.

She then delves into how — as a startup — your work is to find what kind of content to experiment with, and what content your users connect with the most. If you do that, ‘the engagement will just happen‘. So, the real question isn’t necessarily how to grow your startup, but how well do you know your audience? Once you’ve cracked that, you can create the content you know they’ll like, find what works, and watch your numbers go up.

‘Growth is not a series of tactics or hacks, it’s a process. You have to learn to love the process, make mistakes along the way, learn from data, create content and communicate with your audience.’ – Peace Itimi, Head of Growth, Hover.

2 PM: At The Aga Khan, the session on the ‘exponential age’ is underway with Azeem Azhar (Founder at Exponential View) — who you might remember from a previous session with Professor Kate Crawford — and moderated by Greg Williams (Editor-in-Chief and Deputy Global Editorial Director at WIRED). Azeem admits he felt a bit doubtful about sitting on-stage and boldly announcing that ‘we’re entering the exponential age’, but that is, in fact, what we’re doing. Greg follows up with a question on how AI is helping with that shift, to which Azeem responds,

‘The source of “exponentiality” is learning. And AI, for all its limitations, at its heart has a learning loop built in. It’s about looking at the data, learning from it and improving your processes. We can now do that in an automated way, which is AI’s paramount contribution to the field.’

Meanwhile, if we pop into Hopin at this hour, the CreaTech session ‘Dream’ — inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — is enthralling our virtual audience and giving them plenty to chat about.

Back at King’s Cross, attendees are lounging at the Everyman while listening in to either the in-person sessions or the virtual sessions being livestreamed on the different screens around the bar area.


Although with a long-awaited session featuring Nile Rodgers coming up at 3 PM, some attendees glance at the agenda on their phone and begin to bustle over to The Aga Khan.

3PM: Speaking of The Aga Khan, an orderly queue is already forming outside the room where the session, ‘Youth To The Front: Taking systemic racism, inequality and injustice head on’ will soon be gracing the stage. An introductory video begins to play on the projector screens while almost every socially-distanced seat is quickly being filled. Nile Rodgers begins by introducing his Youth To The Front fund as well as four ‘frontline’ youths — connecting with us from Brazil, India, South Africa and the U.S.

Nile begins with an anecdote of how he involved himself in several youth programs as a teen and felt like he was changing the world by helping the hungry and the homeless. Farai Mubaiwa (Co-Founder of Africa Matters), follows up by explaining how today’s youth has the potential to ‘shape the Africa that we want’, then explains that educating a group of young people can change an entire generation and how she can’t wait to see what the youth of Africa will do in the future.

Riana Shah (CEO, EthixAI), who is actively working on fighting algorithmic bias, then rightly states, ‘We need to empower young people to understand how AI works and challenge the decisions that AI makes that will affect their lives.’

Lastly, Arthur Lima (CEO and founding partner at AfroSaúde) dives into how technology isn’t always a barrier, but a tool to bring healthcare to the people who need it — a mission that’s actively supported by Nile’s Youth To The Front fund.

At the end of this awe-inspiring session, Nile Rodgers shares what he’d do if he could wave a magic wand to change something major in the world.

‘It’s very easy for people to be incited to do bad things, even if they’re not bad,’ he says, ‘so if I could develop a system where people actually got rewarded for doing good, you’d wake up in the morning and say, “What good could I do today?” After a while it just becomes the way you think.’

With a thundering round of applause from a satisfied live audience, the session comes to an end and the room is emptied for a deep clean before the next session: Ethics and Bias in AI.

4 PM: At Everyman, a huddle of attendees check the Boomset app for the next sessions, interrupting their scrolling to share with us that their favourite part of the Festival (aside from the sessions) has been the incredible selection of food on every corner. A few attendees nearby overhearing the conversation readily nod in agreement before filing into the theatre hosting a session on Women in Tech.

Upstairs by the bar, a pair eagerly exchange business cards while others zoom past for an afternoon coffee, or to settle down near the various sessions lighting up the screens.

One screen is showing an incredibly intriguing session on ‘engineering life for space’ with Christopher E. Mason, the Head Geneticist during the ground-breaking NASA Twin Study. He takes audiences through the 2015 study where NASA astronaut Scott Kelly went to space while his identical twin stayed on Earth. For a year, scientists closely monitored and compared everything from their gut bacteria to how each twin reacted to the flu vaccine. During his livestream, Christopher goes over his book as well as answering audience questions sent through our virtual platform.

‘The survival of our species has to be our top priority’, he says in response to a question about the risk of engineering life for space so humans can create societies on other planets. ‘There will always be a risk. It’s hard enough to save one life let alone billions.’

When asked what he’d like to say to our global audience of creatives, academics, policy makers and entrepreneurs, he says, ‘This mission is a team effort. You can think of creating new companies, developing new technologies and funding research that supports life in space’. And with that, his virtual session ends on a strong note, leaving the screen free for the next session.

5 PM: Attendees leave the downstairs theatre at the Everyman after a motivating session on the female founder experience. As the speakers chat around the stage, one of our VoxPop reporters swoops in for a quick interview. Priya Guha (Venture Partner, Merian Ventures) laughs as she tells VoxPop that her favourite thing about CogX Festival is, ‘being near people after what feels like years’. Similarly, her fellow panelist Tahmima Anam (Author and Board Member, Roli) says, ‘It’s been wonderful to meet real people again!’ (By the way, you can get her book at our bookshop.)

Back at the bar area, the virtual CreaTech session ‘playing for the planet’ is on-screen, with a focus on how games have the power to make a dent in global issues.

‘To be able to take digital content and connect it to the real world, and have that lead to real action being taken. It proves that games can lead to effort, energy and work that is ultimately making a positive impact.’ – John Hanke. CEO, Niantic.

The Everyman begins to free up as attendees make their way over to The Aga Khan, eager to make it on time to the much-awaited livestreamed session on life lessons and leadership, with none other than Matthew McConaughey.

6 PM: The room is at capacity with starry-eyed attendees as Matthew McConaughey (Actor and Author of Greenlights) pops on-screen alongside Jennifer Zabasajja (Reporter and Host – at Bloomberg). Matthew starts the session with some background on why he decided to write his book, Greenlights, and how he went off into the desert for 52 days and returned with the story of a lifetime. He didn’t know the theme or even the title when he started, but he looked over his shoulder at his own life experiences and then looked at his present at what motivates him to keep moving. Then the clever analogy of traffic lights came to mind.

‘Red lights in our life always have a lesson for us,’ he says. ‘When you learn the lesson they turn into green lights. All those red and yellow lights in your life are actually just green lights waiting to happen.’ Which, he adds, is the reason the cover of his book is a traffic light where all the lights are green.

He clarifies that the book isn’t about his wild Hollywood adventures, but an ode to recognising the challenges in life and how to turn a page when you’re stuck in a rut. ‘It takes sacrifice, hard work and a little luck to turn a bad day around and make a change,’ he concludes.

The fast-paced conversation flits between clever nuggets of wisdom and deeper details about his book. ‘For 30 years I’ve done movies written and directed by someone else. But I did this book’. He says with an unquestionable sense of pride before delving into how others can propel their own dreams forward. ‘Look back before you go forward,’ he states. ‘Figure out what are your non-negotiables’.

With the timer running faster than anyone would like, Jennifer asks him a closing question, ‘Who will you be in 10 years’ — prompting a gleeful laugh from Matthew before answering, ‘That’s still to be determined. That’s what I’m still chasing. I want to be more me — the best version of myself that I can be.’ And with that, the session ends.

6:30 PM: Closing today’s Global Leadership stage are the inimitable Robert Downey Jr (Actor and Investor) and Tony Fadell (Future Shape Principal, iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor, Nest founder, Future Shape). Attendees from the previous session haven’t dared to even move as they wait for the session to begin. Finally, the heroic pair appear on the projector screens, ready to talk about how investing in innovation can help break humanity out of the climate crisis. With Emma Sinclair (MBE and Co-Founder of EnterpriseAlumni) chairing this dream-like session, she starts them off with a question on the ‘hottest topic’ we need to tackle to swerve the climate crisis.

‘Plastic.’ Tony Fadell says without hesitation.’Everything is packaged and then all that stuff is going to be in our environment for hundreds of years. It’s really hard to fix but we’re working on it.’ Emma nods in agreement before moving to Robert with a question on how he chooses what ideas to invest in.

‘Our approach has been about abandoning templates,’ he begins, ‘because those are what got us here, so now it’s about making intuitive and informative decisions on what technologies we can scale, what they need and for how long.’

‘Every startup starts as a story. Supercharging these technologies through media is a way to normalise that we’re in this together and we have to embrace it in a smart and calculated way.’ – Robert Downey Jr., Actor and Investor.

Tony quickly follows up with, ‘If we want to get to 2040, we don’t have that many years to get it right because it takes so long to get these ideas into the system and scale them.’ Robert chimes in with his own two cents, ‘Anything that can fix even 1% of the problem puts us in a better position than before’.

The session is alive with realistic insights about the investment world of green innovation and plenty of laughs as the group bounce jokes and even Star Trek references off of each other. Nearing the (very unwelcome) end of the session, they touch on why they’re focusing on entrepreneurs first and the government later, to which Tony Fadell has a noteworthy answer.

‘Governments are retroactive. Entrepreneurs are proactive.’

Emma then asks a final question on what responsibility Hollywood and celebrities have when it comes to taking action on the climate crisis. Robert shakes his head and explains that change is something you either do or you don’t. Although, he does mention that ‘participating in grounding enthusiasm for science in our citizens is our best hope.’ Making an inevitable reference to his character of Tony Stark, which inspired generations of children to pursue careers in STEM.

After a bit more banter and a generous dose of spontaneous wisdom from Tony Fadell, the session comes to a close as the live audience applauds with a mix of awe and enthusiasm. As many would agree: what a brilliant way to end the GLS stage — and what an impressive memory to take from the second day at CogX Festival.

To catch the whole session, or any of the sessions on our agenda, watch it on-demand at cogx.live.

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