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Future Decoded - A safer, more productive and secure future with machines?

ExCeL, LONDON, November 2016 Future Decoded is Microsoft’s annual conference hosted at the ExCeL in East London. The event typically focuses on near future technologies and the themes, challenges and dilemmas humanity face right now and in the near future.

This year promised to be one of the most exciting yet – Professor Stephen Hawking was set to appear on-stage during the first day to discuss AI and the digital transformation mankind is undertaking.

Microsoft touted the event as an opportunity to showcase and learn about technologies related to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Cyber Security. We sent along Jon Davis of our marketing team to take some notes:

Future Decoded – A quick overview

This is the third time Microsoft have run Future Decoded at the ExCeL. It’s a significant event on their calendar and plays host to some exciting technological reveals. For the first time, Microsoft spilt the event into two days -Business and Tech.

I went to the Business Day. From reading the agenda I downloaded to my smartphone, it was pretty clear to see there was a real focus on Digital Transformation. They really hammered this point home during the first keynote of the event:

Digital Transformation – It’s happening all around us

The first keynote of the day was a star studded affair. And the audience in attendance certainly reflected it. Unfortunately, the first (and only) disappointment of the day arrived with announcement that Professor Stephen Hawking wasn’t able to attend. In a pre-recorded message, he explained his absence and expressed his disappointment.

This was quickly swept under the carpet as Cindy Rose, the CEO of Microsoft UK began with a speech on how Microsoft is “not immune from the waves of disruption” and is “seeking to not only embrace, but lead these waves of change”. She welcomed Chris Bishop to the stage, who presided over some of the most impressive parts of the keynote.

AI – A very bright future

Chris Bishop, scientist and Director at Microsoft Cambridge is responsible for many of Microsoft’s research efforts. He took to the stage to discuss AI and said:

Artificial intelligence is a very powerful and very broadly applicable technology. Over the coming years and decades, it will transform nearly every aspect of our lives, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of debate and discussion about the future implications of artificial intelligence in the long term for our society.”

“Microsoft’s approach to AI is based not on replacing people with machines, but using AI to empower people to achieve more for themselves and for their businesses.”

According to Microsoft, AI has three core design principles. It should:

  • Augment human ability and experiences
  • Be trustworthy
  • Be inclusive and respectful

Chris went on to demo several impressive products he and his team are working on:

  • InnerEye – A remarkable technology that uses AI to speed up the time it takes for oncologists to scan MRI images for tumours tenfold. It can also render tumours in full 3D.
  • ChatBot – An AI powered customer communications tool. They showcased a scenario where the ChatBot communicated with a customer, processed their responses and suggested solutions to their issues. In this case, the ChatBot wasn’t able to assist, so a human representative stepped in to close the case. Meanwhile, the AI monitored the dialogue and learned from the experience, to solve the issue if it arose in the future.
  • Skype Translator – A startling translation tool, that can translate 50 languages and up to 8 simultaneously in messenger, in real time. The more you use it, the better it gets as the AI picks up and learns from each user.

IoT – Enterprise scale applications

The next segment of the keynote focussed on IoT and the applications for that technology in business. One high profile case really stuck out. Nick Walker, Managing Director of the RAC (Royal Automobile Association) delivered a colourful presentation on how embracing Digital Transformation is going to drive RAC forward in the future.

Nick said that the RAC has largely been the same since they were founded 120 years ago. Their members simply telephone the RAC when they’ve broken down. And this strategy still works! But in an era, where data is a commodity and technology can give businesses a competitive advantage, Nick was unwilling to rest on his laurels.

His answer was adopting technology associated with IoT. Nick and the RAC have been working to introduce a device to their member’s vehicles, that feeds the RAC with data about the health and status of a vehicle. Things like oil levels, hydraulics, breaking time, fuel consumption and many other things. With this data, they can paint a picture of the overall health of your vehicle and pre-empt potential issues.

Not only that, but it empowers agents of the RAC with more information than ever to help and assist their customers.

Cyber Security – A new era

Perhaps the most significant part of the session was provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond. He delivered a speech, launching the UK governments brand new Cyber Security Strategy. He said:

“…Our new strategy, underpinned by £1.9 billion of support over 5 years and excellent partnerships with industry and academia, will allow us to take even greater steps to defend ourselves in cyberspace and to strike back when we are attacked.”

The strategy is built on three principles, which you can read about here.

Closing Comments

Future Decoded 2016 was an excellent event. It certainly gave me a great deal to think about and I’ll be covering some of the themes explored in future content on the Advantage blog. If you get the opportunity to attend next year, I highly recommend going.

In the meantime, I’d be really interested to hear from you all in the comments section below. Let me know what you think and if you attended.