Dublin Tech Summit 2017

A Skerries Perspective

This article was published in the 24 February 2017 edition of Skerries News.


What will all the developments in technology mean for our daily lives, here in this seaside town in North County Dublin? What is in store, technologically, for the next generation – what will life be like for our son, who is now 16, when he is our age? Indeed what will life be like for us all in one, two decades? That’s what I found myself wondering after attending the two-day 1st Dublin Tech Summit in Dublin on February 15 and 16.

There were keynote addresses and panel discussions, a singing robot who was very similar otherwise to the tall guy in Star Wars, you know, the one who isn’t R2D2; VR headsets you could try out to see what virtual reality looks (or feels) like; stalls with information for businesses and for consumers; and people from everywhere, it seemed, China and Palo Alto, California; Germany and Africa; Canada and India; and of course, Ireland – I even met a fellow Skerries resident & CoderDojo mentor (hello, Keith!).

Here are some of the thoughts I found of particular interest….

Technology changed faster than ever over the last 10 years. That change is going to accelerate. And the only thing that changes faster than technology? Our expectations of what it can do!

Mapping your walk along the South Strand and around the Head with your mobile phone, the kids begging you to have your phone so they can hunt for a rare Pokémon, and then using Facebook Messenger to arrange to meet a friend in Olive’s, or Season’s, or Ollies or wherever; paying your coffee after your stroll with a tap of our bank card. Checking your Smartphone how long it should take you to walk to the train station, using Google Maps, and when the next train to Dublin is due, while sipping your coffee. Sending a funny picture in which your nose looks like that of a little dog, with matching ears, to a friend via Snapchat. Sharing drone videos of our beautiful town with friends in Australia or Canada. All of this is no big deal technologically now… yet a short few years ago, we would not have thought them possible.

And this fast change is going to accelerate. Hold on tight!

Artificial Intelligence is becoming possible, and Robots Sing to Passers By

Many of the DTS speakers had hands-on experiences with Amazon’s Echo, interaction by voice with an interface that goes by the name of Alexa. Apparently, “Alexa, tell me a joke” is very entertaining, and “Alexa, what are the main cloud formations?” helped one speaker’s son recently with his homework. (It seems Alexa is not yet available in Ireland, though it cadublin-tech-summit-01n be used in the UK and the US. Sigh.)

Robothespian is the name of the robot I mentioned above. About the size of a human, he can sing and chat, and even debate. He greeted DTS attendees in the morning, and took part in a panel discussion on robots and AI. While he seemed likable enough, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he was voiced by someone in a control room, who could see and hear what Robothespian’s camera eyes and microphones took in… OK, I may be a cynic.

Data, data everywhere and ne’er a fact to think

More and more data is being collected, and much of it is publicly available – some might even surprise you. Did you know that Google Maps can tell you when Olive, yes, our Olive here on Strand Street, is busiest on a Saturday? (How do they even know, you may ask…. Hint: It’s all in your pocket! I’ll look at smartphone geolocation data and how Google, Twitter and others make use of it in a future Techie column…)

The Chief Technology Officer of the city of Palo Alto gave a very interesting keynote about smarter cities, and how obtaining data is often no longer the problem. But what to do with it? So Palo Alto invited app designers to come up with solutions. Their data is open source, it can be accessed (see for yourself, http://data.cityofpaloalto.org/home), and then enterprising app developers can build something with it. The CTO reported, a little amazed himself, that one of the most popular apps is one that maps every individual tree. You can see its botanical name, age, size… Actually, that’s something I would love for Skerries! A clickable map with all our trees!  Or could something be done with the fantastic work that was done on behalf of Skerries Tidy Towns mapping the graves of Holmpatrick Churchyard?

dublin-tech-summit-02More to come…

Smarter Homes, Future Transport, and Technology and the Greater Good (including some examples of how local authorities use technology to give their citizens a better voice) will be the subject of one or two future Techie Columns. Look out for them!


Sabine McKenna is a digital educator and opinionator. She runs weekly classes for children aged 5 to 15 in Kelly’s Bay and is currently planning the 2017 summer camps – go to cccSkerries.com/summer for details!