Day 3 at CogX Festival 2021

It’s the third and final day of the Festival, and in true CogX fashion, we’re going out with a bang. With an unbelievably talented line-up of speakers (who, by the way, are even more impressive in person) and plenty of surprises throughout the day, we’ll be covering today’s top sessions by the hour as we near our grand finale.

Let’s dig in.

9 AM: It’s a bittersweet morning as we approach the first of the last sessions at CogX Festival 2021, but there’s an unmistakeable air of anticipation and excitement as attendees wait around the GLS stage at The Aga Khan. After a quick introduction for our virtual audiences, none other than Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) takes a seat on-stage. To begin his session, he graciously shows his appreciation for the CogX Festival and the importance of getting the next 10 years right.

‘It’s an incredibly important moment both for technology and healthcare’, he says before reminding us how the pandemic has underscored the vital importance of technology — like video conferences.

Today’s MC, Alexandra Mousavizadeh (Partner, Tortoise Media) agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment and swiftly delves into the sensitive topic of how the government is using our data for medical research.

‘Data saves lives.’ Matt says simply. He goes on to share that the NHS has made incredible progress in both technology and medicine over the past year, thanks to data. He also touches on how they’re optimising clinical trials to get results faster — using a more diverse group of people. ‘The use of data in the NHS is important,’ he says, ‘but we’re going to need to make changes.’

He explains that the NHS has a rich opportunity to lead the way in finding new treatments and organising healthcare for our citizens. Matt also acknowledges that the general belief is that the government would ‘own the data’, and makes it clear that citizens own their data — always. He then talks about the current effort to improve the research environment to get better use of the data, while protecting the privacy of those providing it.

‘Everyone agrees on the use of data for research purposes. The question is how best to do it?’

Matt appropriately references the Covid vaccine program, which relied on an almost universal consent to use the data that ultimately gave us the COVID-19 jab. ‘If there is a proper mission and a clearly defined purpose, then people are enthusiastic about using their data to save lives’.

When asked what his favourite application of AI was during the pandemic, Matt takes a moment to think before highlighting several government projects that use AI rather spectacularly, from identifying cancer to preventing suicide. With a gracious thanks from the Alexandra, the live audience applauds Matt Hancock off stage.

9:40 AM: Next up at GLS, CogX Founder and CEO, Charlie Muirhead, is chairing an insightful session with Harmeen Mehta (Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at BT). Charlie kicks it off by asking the live audience who has some kind of contract with BT, to which at least 80% of the room raises a hand. With that, he dives into his questions on everything from why she chose her current role to how BT is preparing for the future of communications.

At one point, Harmeen says that BT ‘owes it to their customers’ to innovate the ways they communicate, and that as a company they’re ‘putting their money where their mouth is’. Charlie then pokes about her plan on using data ethically, prompting Harmeen to reiterate that BT’s mission is to ‘connect for good’, and they fully intend on staying true to that.

‘Our customers come in all shapes and sizes, so the challenge is building algorithms that capture the sensitivity of such a diverse customer base.’ She says, quickly coupled with the very important note, ‘We need to build the guardrails to not build bias into your AI.’

To wrap up the session, Charlie asks Harmeen the biggest question of all, ‘how can we get the next 10 years right?’ Harmeen starts by reflecting on the pandemic and even Brexit, then leans into encouraging everyone to ask themselves, ‘What did I do today that helped my organisation and my country move forward?’ And reminds us that every action has a reaction, so thinking a bit more about our actions would really further our progress.

‘How do you turn facts and build the next ten great years for this nation? And if we don’t do it, please tell me who will.’ – Harmeen Mehta, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, BT.

10 AM: With a GenZ session on youth representation in UK politics lighting up our virtual platform, and an equally incredible GLS session on the role of the BBC in the next 10 years — there’s much to see and even more to learn.

In the BBC’s session, Richard Sharp (Chairman, BBC) sits down for a chat with Tania Bryer (Broadcaster at CNBC International) on how they’re navigating the new world of creating and consuming media. He talks about the need for the BBC to continue the innovative culture they’ve always had. He also notes that the BBC delivers their news in 40 languages, and are able to feed the best of UK coverage to audiences around the world.

As for what’s happening in 10 years time, ‘We will speak the truth as we see it, irrespective of consequences’. Richard also appreciates that, unlike many media companies, the BBC has the advantage of being able to take those kinds of risks. ‘Impartiality is a competitive weapon for the BBC, but it’s also important for the world.’

10:30 AM: Over at Everyman, the session ‘Innovation: Supercharging Green Cities’ is taking questions from the audience as it nears the end. Tom Elvidge (SVP Vehicle Programme at Arrival) is on stage with Stuart Wood (Partner & Group Leader at Heatherwick Studio).

When asked how Tom would approach building green cities globally, he explains that every city is so unique that the approach will need to be quite bespoke, which is where governments will need to step in. ‘What are the top down requirements for the communities?’ He asks. Tom ends his session by reminding everyone that while design can do a lot of things, ‘it can’t upend deep economic structures’. So we’ll very much need government support if we truly want to supercharge greener cities.

11 AM: Back at The Aga Khan, the GLS stage is welcoming a highly anticipated session on what the UK needs from a National AI strategy. After a gentle introduction from the MC (and a reminder for the virtual audience to send in their questions through Hopin), she steps off-stage and Caroline Daniel (Partner at Brunswick Group) steps in her place to moderate the session.

She warms up the three exceptional minds beside her by asking what they think is essential when building a National AI strategy. Sir Adrian Smith (Institute Director at The Alan Turing Institute) takes the lead. ‘The key thing is recognising what are the strengths of the UK that we can build on and where are the competitive advantages. That will span everything from data to people’, he says. ‘And where we don’t have a national advantage we have to be open to global talent.’ Caroline then quickly interjects with a question on what he thinks are the key strengths of the UK, to which he mentions the NHS and our incredibly scientific community.

In contrast, Rachel Coldicutt (Director of Careful Industries) says she would start with the data — a prominent topic throughout the Festival — and making sure it’s genuinely representative of the UK’s diverse population. Andy Richardson (CTO at PUBLIC) notes that the UK clearly wants to be the leader in AI research and talent, but almost every country does. So the main job of the AI strategy is to tell us how. ‘What are we going to do and what are we going to stop doing?’

The rest of this casual conversation touches on everything involved with mapping such a bold national strategy, from funding to governance. Near the end, Caroline takes a question from a virtual attendee about the importance of educating the general public in AI, to which Rachel says what we really need is ‘governance and practical initiatives that people can take part in’. With excellent timing, Adrian brings up that one way you can take part in shaping the AI strategy right now is by filling out this brief survey from The Alan Turing Institute.

Meanwhile, in another session over at one of the plush theatres at Everyman, Ling Ge (General Manager and Chief European Representative at Tencent Holdings) is talking about whether 2021 is the year of Deep Tech. She points out that it’s not just about ‘doing DeepTech to make some cool technology’, but rather, ‘making an impact on society on real world challenges’.

While that session nears its end, attendees excitedly make their way over to The Lighterman for a complimentary CogX lunch. As you can imagine, there’s barely a table to spare as everyone settles down with friends — both old and new — to enjoy a delicious meal and bask in the sunshine.

2 PM: It’s just after a very eventful lunch hour, and the Everyman is already thriving with sessions. In one theatre, a sold-out hybrid session about how ‘death is just a technical problem’ is just beginning. Tina Woods (CEO & Founder of Collider Health) introduces her stellar group of speakers and poses an interesting opening question, ‘Does anyone really want to live until 180?’

James Peyer (CEO of Cambrian Biopharma), expresses his envy at the other speakers on-stage while he’s still ‘stuck in New York’. Then, to help set the scene for the session, he talks a bit about the overarching initiative to target the weakest parts of human biology, which ultimately age us.

‘To extend lifespan by years we’re going to have to systematically address the biology of ageing’. – James Peyer. CEO, Cambrian Biopharma.

Robbie Stamp (CEO Bioss International) then touches on the sensitive subject of access. ‘What kind of access are we going to get to our digital selves? Who controls this information?’ He very rightly asks. At this point, Peter Ward (Co-founder & CEO of Humanity Inc.) chimes in saying, ‘We have to be radically inclusive with the solutions we can bring […] We can’t solve the problem unless we all play a part’.

Around the usually lively bar area, things are a little quieter today as most attendees have already zoomed off to their sessions. Although some hang around the screens to watch the livestreamed sessions currently playing across our venues and virtual platform.

4 PM: Back at The Aga Khan, a fireside chat about ‘Making the leap, taking the lead’ with Paul Daugherty (Group Chief, Executive Technology & Chief Technology Officer at Accenture) is just beginning. While attendees queue outside, Paul and Christine Foster (CCO at The Alan Turing Institute) have a friendly chat about what the stage looks like on her end and the ‘great setup’ of all the hybrid sessions during the Festival.

Doug disappears for a second to make sure ‘the dog is out of barking range’ while attendees politely file in and settle down. Christine starts by introducing the session (while Paul proudly flashes his ‘Alan Turing Institute’ mug on camera) and then asks him about his key takeaways from last year.

‘We’ve been through an incredible year’, Doug says thoughtfully, ‘it really has been spectacular in terms of what we’ve learnt from it’. He also says that the pandemic has ‘compressed 10 years of change into a year or two in a number of different dimensions’, and that, ‘the nature of the impact is just starting to be felt by individuals and organisations’. He concludes his thoughts with an appreciation for how resilient people actually are and how technology was undoubtedly a lifeline during the pandemic. Now the question is: what have leaders learnt, what can they do about it and how can they operate in this new world?

‘There are two truths about technology: exponential technology is accelerating, and every business is becoming a technology business.’ – Paul Daugherty, Group Chief, Executive Technology & Chief Technology Officer, Accenture.

5 PM: Across the venues, the buzz is beginning to mellow as the afternoon leans into the last sessions of the day. Although at the GLS stage, high-spirited attendees eagerly await Dr. Werner Vogels (CTO of Amazon) for his virtual session on ‘democratising machine learning’. With unquestionable efficiency, Dr. Werner announces his name and dives straight into his presentation on how Amazon is using AI and machine learning (ML) to support their customers. But not just machine learning, he clarifies, ‘machine learning at massive scale’.

Various attendees are furiously scribbling in their notebooks, while others snap a quick photo of the projector screens. Dr. Werner swiftly explains the complexities of using ML in the supply chain, which makes the use of AI absolutely indispensable. He then takes the audience through the wonders of speech technology (like Alexa) and how ‘it’s important to curate these digital systems because we want these digital systems everywhere’.

“Applying ML is the core of data-driven decision making.’ Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon.

Lastly, he gives the audience a glimpse into Amazon SageMaker, the ‘most comprehensive ML service’, designed to make ML available to the many, not the few.

As the GLS stage is emptied and cleaned, attendees are winding down with casual chats on the beautiful balconies and outside areas of The Aga Khan, keen to squeeze in as much networking as they can into the last few hours of the Festival.

5:30 PM: None other than Jensen Huang (CEO and Co-Founder of Nvidia) is chatting virtually with CogX Co-Founder, Tabitha Goldstaub, on how AI is changing the world now and how it’ll shape the future. Jensen immediately catches the audience’s attention as he talks about Cambridge 1 — the most powerful supercomputer ever built in the UK.

“It’s going to be the most powerful industrial supercomputer in the world, and the most energy-efficient supercomputer ever created.’

He adds that they’ll use it to create AI models capable of predicting neurological diseases or other Covid variants to get a head start on stopping future pandemics. (Cambridge 1 will officially be inaugurated this July 7th!)

He then touches on how AI is ‘the most powerful technology force of our time’, wisely noting that intelligence is humanity’s superpower and AI is going to automate that intelligence at incredible speed and scale. But, because it’s so powerful, we have to be thoughtful about its use and make sure we use this technology wisely.

‘We need to democratise AI so that every industry and every company can automate the benefit of intelligence.’ – Jensen Huang, CEO & Co-Founder, Nvidia.

6:30 PM: The final session on today’s talent-filled GLS stage is as busy as it can (safely) get, with the delightful Dr. Hannah Fry (Author of Hello World: How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine) moderating a marvellous session on the future UK Scientific Research’. The audience eagerly settles in to hear from Amanda Solloway MP (Minister for Science, Research and Innovation) and Matt Warman MP (Minister for Digital Infrastructure, DCMS).

They begin by talking about ARIA, The Advanced Research & Invention Agency, and its implications on scientific research in the UK. Matt mentions that the tech sector is extremely good at innovation, but not all of those innovations are necessarily for the greater good. ARIA seeks to change that. Hannah follows up by asking how they know that’ll actually work, prompting Amanda to highlight the importance of ‘having the capacity to fail’ and even to stop projects and pivot — which is sadly not a luxury every organisation has.

Hannah’s next question is about attracting the best of global talent to accelerate research in the UK. ‘The UK has a unique mixture of business, academia, and government coming together in a way that’s genuinely open to the international community’, Matt says, adding that the main point is to see ‘where the UK can work harder to attract people’ and how it can do that effectively.

Next on the list is how the tech sector has ‘woken up to the long-term implications of their creations’. Matt nods and says, ‘It’s important to put ethics and innovators together’, as well as build regulation that allows businesses to flourish in a sustainable way. Amanda chimes in with, ‘If we want to make it as diverse as we can, we have a collective responsibility now to really engage young people’.

Every thoughtful question in this session is met with an equally thought-provoking answer, with a few laughs, the mention of a ‘camel named Neil’ and (even more) Star Trek references thrown in. Nearing the end, Matt highlights how reskilling and retraining is paramount to make sure the AI revolution doesn’t ‘destroy more jobs than it creates’. He also notes that there’s a lot of regulation coming down the line, and the government has to be involved, not only to shape it, but to share what they’re doing with the nation to prevent future generations having to turn back and fix it.

As the session ends and the speakers are applauded off stage, Alexandra Mousavizadeh, our MC, steps up to thank both our wonderful virtual and live audiences and strongly recommend downloading the CogX mobile app to watch all the playbacks from the Festival. (Psst! You can also catch up on any of our sessions with video on-demand at cogx.live.)

And with that, we close the glowing GLS stage — and draw CogX Festival 2021 to a spectacular end.

It has been three enriching days of community knowledge and experiences, with countless magical connections made along the way. Together, we toured today’s most miraculous achievements in technology, took an honest look at the algorithms shaping our future, and discussed the biggest questions of our time with some of the world’s best. We refreshed our perspectives on leadership, renewed our faith in a NetZero future and gained a deeper understanding of the technology turning the gears and cogs of society.

While technology may be the lifeblood of CogX Festival, at its heart, it’s about community. It’s about who we are, where we’re going and how we’re using technology to get there. It’s a beautiful demonstration of the power of bringing people together, where different perspectives can safely connect, grow and develop into new opportunities for a better future. And, if we want to achieve real change at scale, we need everyone to join the conversation.

So thank you for joining the conversation at our fourth CogX Festival and making it a triumphant success. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we know that it’s because of wonderful humans like you that CogX Festival 2022 will be even bigger and better. We sincerely hope to see you at next year’s Festival for more learning, growing and networking with the most extraordinary global community — so together we can take a step closer to getting the next 10 years right.

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