The Bord Gais Energy Theatre transformed into a hub of technology, creativity, human stories and inspiration for Inspirefest 2017. We were lucky enough to go along and soak it all in - and left feeling exhilarated, slightly exhausted and obvious as it may sound, inspired. Across the two days we heard stories and saw presentations from a diverse bunch of speakers. A few common threads became clear as the festival went on: diversity, embracing failure from childhood right through to business, the need for creativity in STEM and AI and productivity.
Most speakers spoke passionately about how diversity leads to better insight, better solutions and better creative. In An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's opening speech he informed us that 75% of the speakers at the event were women and 65% of the attendees. For a conference largely about tech, those figures show progress. We were also promised there would be no 'pale, male and stale' speakers!
Dr. Michelle Cullen, MD of Accenture Ireland told us that diversity is not inevitable and must be strategic and thought-out. With a plan for Accenture to have a 50:50 gender split in their workforce by 2025, they are clearly living out this approach.
While gender is a large part of diversity and inclusion, it really is only one strand with ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic group, physical ability and religion all being other areas that need consideration. One story we heard that is tackling this at a grass roots level, is the story of Lottie Dolls. These dolls are inspired by real children with real interests, hobbies and dreams. One of these role models is Taylor Richardson, an African American tween whose dreams of becoming an astronaut is giving the message to young girls that the sky is the limit when it comes to their dreams for the future. Move over, Barbie!
"If you can't stand up, stand out" is the motto of the Irish sister team behind the awesome global success of Izzy Wheels, who make beautiful spoke guards to brighten up wheelchairs, which are often considered to be dull and unchanged medical devices. A great innovation to champion and celebrate diversity.
We heard from Arlene O'Neill of the Trinity Walton Club, an alternative learning club for second level students to discover more about Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM). This club, which isn't part of the mainstream education system, allows students from all walks of life to feel like they are in the driving seat of their own education. Giving them a space in which they feel safe enough to try and fail and then fail better next time.
Dr. Sue Black OBE shared her incredible personal story of going from fearing for her own life as a result of domestic abuse, to scaring herself with every new venture she embarks on, from founding #techmums, writing a book and even meeting the Queen. Telling us to disrupt ourselves and 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. Niamh Shaw told us that her life in both the arts and science has shifted her perception of failure. She now accepts it as a part of life and is determined to achieve her dream of going into space.
Keri Kukral and Eimear Noone are living examples of how when art and STEM come together (to make STEAM), they create better solutions. Keri started her career as a professional ballerina and has since conquered the worlds of bioengineering and media with Raw Science, an online network focussed on science and technology. On her move from arts into the world of STEM she said, “a combination of passion and determination can take you quite far."
Eimear Noone is another impressive woman. With a background in music, she has used technology to help bolster her career in composing and conducting for film and video games.
The last big theme of the festival was AI and productivity. Some fear AI and for others, it can't come quickly enough. Every other technological 'revolution' in history has borne inventions to save us time, like cars, planes or computers, but in this 'automatic' revolution there has been no increase in overall productivity. We now have constant distractions demanding our attention like free wifi, constant emails, news alerts and social media. The answer, according to Marcus Weldon, President of Bell Labs is to automate the mundane which he thinks, will give us more time to think creatively.
After two days of back-to-back inspiration we are ready to promote diversity, embrace failure and to inject even more creativity into our technical projects. We also look forward to automating the mundane… Hello AI, bye bye spreadsheets!