October 25th, 2013

Mill techspert Neil Evely ventured to Wired last week to get the latest low down from the tech scene. I caught up with Neil to find out what his highlights were and if there are any new gadgets we should keep an eye out for…

Wired's 3rd Annual conference was hosted at the Tobacco Docks last week over the course of Thursday and Friday and I was fortunate enough to go along for both days. I was lucky enough to go along last year to see and hear such visionaries ranging from MIT's Sebastien Seung to Uber chef Ferran Adria so I was excited to see what they lined up for us this year.

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With nearly 50 speakers, each given between 15-30 mins, its a jam packed schedule of some of the worlds most gifted thinkers and inventors, covering such topics from Social Media, Bio Engineering to Astronomy and Music. It's nearly impossible to give you a full rundown of the conference but here are some of my highlights from the 2 days.

First up was teenage programming sensation Nick D'Aloisio. When Nick was 15, he successfully taught himself enough programming to build his first App called Trimmit, The App was popular enough to catch the eye of Hong Kong super investor Li Kashing who, without realising Nick was 15, agreed to invest $300,000. Soon, he was working with some of the brightest minds at Stanford Uni (responsible for the development of Siri) and soon after, Summly was born. The App was launched in Dec 2012 and had over 150,000 downloads in the 1st week. In March on this year it was bought by Yahoo for a rumoured $30 million. Not bad for a self taught teenager.

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Nicholas Lovell, ex corporate finance whizz and gaming enthusiast gave a fascinating talk about his theory of The Curve. The core concept is 'how do you make money when everything is going free', can art continue to be made in a market where everyone assumes its their right to get paid? His theory is based on that of the 'Superuser', allowing for 70% of your users to be freeloaders whilst working hard to develop the remaining 30% who are so enthused about your product or service that they will gladly pay a premium and help you turn a profit. It certainly works for popular phone game 'Candy Crush' which is a free App but still makes upwards of $200 million a year!

I think the most impressive speaker was another teen brainiac, Jack Andraka. You may have already heard of him, but he's the 15 year old who after losing 3 people to Pancreatic Cancer, decided to see why it was so expensive and hard to test for this disease successfully. Entirely on his own, he developed a paper sensor that is 400 times more sensitive than current diagnostics, offers results within 5 minutes and costs just 3 cents as opposed to the current £800 test. It's 168 times faster and nearly 100% accurate and also can detect cancer at the earliest stages when people often have a nearly 100% chance of survival. Jack, not surprisingly, received a standing ovation at Wired.

Bjork was a headline speaker on day 2 and spoke about her interactive album 'Biophilia'. Recorded over 3 years from 2008 - 2011 and released in 2012, alongside a full suite of apps at the same time. Each app was designed by different developers in partnership with Bjork and various brains from MIT, to allow the user to explore and interact with the songs themes and possibly create new versions of them. The apps contain games which are related to the song and the instrument that was used in the composition, which was often an entirely new way of making music, for example a Tesla Coil was used as an instrument on the track 'Thunderbolt'.

Since its release Biophilia has found a new audience within education and Bjork has since formalised the Biophilia Educational Programme. The suite of apps are used to help children understand the relationship with sound and nature and how they connect.

"I really wanted to empower kids -- now they see something in nature they recognise and they play with it and hear the structure they just made. It makes a direct impact -- I could see them in weeks learning what I learned in five or ten years."

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There was a myriad of other impressive and engaging speakers including such highlights as Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, Virgin Galactic Commercial Director, Stephen Attenborough, Founder of Kickstarter, Yancey Strickler, Chief Media Scientist for Twitter, Deb Roy, Technologist Evan Grant from Seeper, Jonah Peretti from Buzzfeed (my new favorite site), Jake Davis AKA 'Topiary', Uber Pianist Lang Lang and Ellen MacArthur.

Plus, it wouldn't be a Wired conference if there wasn't an opportunity to play with some toys. There was the breathable coffee and hot chocolate courtesy of David Edwards Le Laboratoire. The DIY gamer kits from Technology Will Save Us, inspired me to reevaluate the old game of Snake, but nothing quite blew me away like the Samsung 4K monitor. 50 inches of Ultra HD readiness produced a picture like i've not seen before, it was so clear and dynamic i really thought that i could step into image. 4K for the average consumer is a little while away if only due to the costs, but when it does hit and people have access to true 4K footage (not uprezzed SD pictures Mr Murcdoch), then you can count me in.

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It's a very intense 2 days with a tremendous amount of information to try and take in, but when you listen to people dedicating their time to bio engineering mosquitos to rid the world of dengue fever or designing and distributing $29 tablets so India can come online easier, you can't help but be inspired. You can find a full breakdown of all the speakers at Wired 2013 here.