Future Assembly

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at Future Assembly. This is such a fantastic technology festival, I'm so pleased I got to be a part of it. I met so many incredibly talented people, working on really fantastic projects.I spoke about data-driven discovery and the most ambitious telescopes ever built. I really wanted to kickstart a discussion about the next-generation astronomical facilities and telescopes, how they are driving new technologies, and how they are changing the way astronomers approach data–intensive research. I also wanted to highlight some of the fantastic projects being led by Australian researchers, starting with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Most importantly I wanted to find out what everyone else thought about all this. Often it's difficult to convince the everyday tax-payer of the value research and technology, especially for seemingly esoteric, yet incredibly pricey, science experiments.

Anticipating a diverse audience, I kept this talk quite general, and created this webpage for those who wanted more information. It's essentially a curated selection of videos from the SKA, LSST, GMT, JWST, and other NASA projects.

But more about my talk later....

The aim of Future Assembly is to bring together researchers, technologists, designers, software developers, thought–leaders and futurists from all backgrounds, to share ideas, experiences, and learn about emergent technologies. It's very much participant driven, which I love. From experience this type of conference always results in interesting, thought-provoking conversations, where everyone gets involved. The one golden rule for speakers was that you weren't allowed to use the event to promote yourself or your own product. While there was undoubtably a little bit of self-promotion, the passion for sharing stories and engaging the audience was infectious, and I came away from every talk with the feeling that the future is shaping up to be unbelievably awesome.

With so many fantastic speakers, panel discussions, demonstrations, parallel sessions, and workshops, it was difficult to see, hear and meet everyone I wanted to. Throw in an impromptu catch–up with a friend, and my well planned out schedule was soon tossed aside. Here are some of my highlights from the weekend.

1. Running into Gemma Telford at the Truly Deeply workshop

I briefly met Gemma, a few months back at May's Creative Mornings Talk. New York dynamite design duo Wade Jeffree (originally from Melbourne) and his partner Leta Sobierajski were talking about the reality of creative companionship. This was such an a fantastic talk, I highly recommend hunting it down on the Creative Morning's website. Anyway, we were sitting next to each other and had a quick chat over coffee and croissants. She has a fairly distinct Irish accent so when she started leading the Truly Deeply workshop I thought hang on a minute. Bumping into her again in a completely different context is one of the things I love about Melbourne. It's small enough that it does happen. There is so much overlap between the various tech, creative, design communities that you inevitably run into people you know. 

Gemma ran a 1 hour session called Workshop a powerfully different brand. I've never participated in this type of workshop before. Normally I steer clear of anything related to marketing and branding, but as much as I loathe the idea, understanding your motivations and creating your own personal brand can be really powerful. I also wanted to workshop techsavvyastronomer.io which at this stage is still a bit of a hodge-podge of ideas. I'm still not sure what it should be, what it  stands for, how effective if is,  and if it's not, how to turn it into something useful.

We began by looking at examples of really powerful brand statements (the Why? and then the How?). Apple and Harley Davidson are fantastic examples and in my case, these were perfect. They both exude a rebellious nature, they speak to community, they challenge traditional ideas and the status quo. It's exactly what techsavvyastronomer (and to a large extent myself) is all about. Within the hour I had feedback on the existing site, a better sense of direction and suggestions for moving forward, and resources to help figure out exactly what I was trying to pitch. 

2. Appearing on That Startup Show

A few days before the festival I was contacted by Anna Reeves (@AnnaKReeves), the producer of That Startup Show. Admittedly I hadn't seen it before, so I had to do a bit of googling. Turns out this is a really fantastic show. Really funny, very clever. Normally it's filmed in the Savoy Tavern in Melbourne, but fittingly it was filmed live during Future Assembly. I gotta say it looked like they had a great, albeit stressful? time. A few of us were interviewed throughout Saturday and we were asked questions about the future colonisation of Mars, how we think the space program will evolve, what's the most exciting things to keep an eye on. That sort of thing... Of course this was completely alien to me (see what I did there?) and I was totally out of my comfort zone. I'm sure I radiated a level of awkwardness never seen before,  but it was fun nonetheless. I met some really cool people: funnyman/@tsushow writer/science geek Josh Samuels (@JoshSamuels2), producer/makin' it all work/she with the clipboard, Merrilee McCoy (@mezzamac), engineer/designer/UX-er Amelia Schmidt (@meelijane), AI evangelist/educator Raphael Nolden (@RaphaelNolden), Academy Xi Co-founder, Charbel Zeiater (@CharbelZeiater) and she who loves giving the kind of hugs Jo Clarke would approve of, CEO of Girl Geek Academy, Sarah Moran (@SarahMoran). I was pretty excited to finally meet Sarah. I've been a member of Girl Geek Academy for a few months now and I hadn't had the opportunity to meet her before.

3. Going from 0–77 kph in heartbeat. 

A handful of members from the Tesla car owners Association of Victoria brought their cars to Future Assembly. Very cool seeing these cars up close and talking with the owners. I'm also really glad that I waited until late afternoon for my very quick 0-77 kph test drive. Straight after lunch would not have been fun. I swore enough as it was.

4. Giving a great talk.

I was really that my talk was well received. I had a few people approach me afterwards and there was at least one very enthusiastic tweeter in the audience. With so much to talk about, it was a little bit of whirlwind. Thirty minutes including Q&A is tough when you know that most of the concepts you're trying to get across will be completely new to people. I could have just talked about the SKA and still not done it justice.

5. Good conversation and a workshop with Saber Astronautics

I had a couple of really great conversations with the folks from Saber Astronautics (@SaberAstro). Saber is a research and development company based in Boulder, CO and Sydney,  building cutting edge technology for both space and Earth-based applications. At the most of their clients are telecommunications companies although it sounded like they were keen to grow their research clientele. They've found their niche in developing real time tracking software – based on a gaming technology – and it's pretty fantastic. They've also developed what appears to be a sophisticated diagnostic system that uses machine-learning to quickly identify issues and affected components. Understand how machine-learning helps you do this is still a mystery to me. They didn't really explain that, but I'm assuming they model normal signals, temperatures, voltages etc., and then use ML to predict well behaved systems or weed out anomalies... perhaps? I do know some of the ML work involved predicting stock prices, and rocket behaviour (e.g. roll, pitch and yaw against atmospheric dynamics). I also attended their workshop on Designing  your own Space Business, which ended up being more of a demonstration and  Q&A session about their software, and an open discussion about where and how you would place, and track satellites for various observations.  

And that's a wrap. 

I'm already looking forward to Future Assembly 2017

Some snaps from the day;