An invigorating return to Inspirefest – Our 2018 top takeaways
Inspirefest is a two-day celebration of all things STEM and STEAM, with speakers from a cross-continental pool of scientists, advocates for social change and leaders in a variety of tech centric industries.
After attending day one of last year’s festival, (which we wrote about here) we were left in no doubt that we wanted to have the full Inspirefest experience this year. The quality of the speakers, the relevance of the talks, and the warmth and welcoming nature of the festival all made it an easy decision to attend both days this time around.
From Ann O’Dea’s opening remarks and the official opening of events by minister Simon Harris right up to the final speaker on day 2 we were captivated by an array of smart, highly motivated and engaging speakers. There are far too many to mention in one post so we’ll share some of our highlights and key takeaways here and we encourage you to have a look at the Inspirefest site to get to know some of the people we had to leave out this time.
AI and unconscious bias
The evolution of AI was something that came up in a number of talks, covering everything from facial recognition software and connected autonomous vehicles, to the unconscious bias that is present in seemingly unbiased software. Over the course of these talks we were reminded of a recent lunch and learn which we hosted with EY’s Olivia McEvoy where we learned more about unconscious bias in the recruitment process. While Olivia’s talk centred on the unconscious bias that can be present in all of us at a personal level we were struck by the speakers at Inspirefest who made the point that software programmes can also contain unintentional bias.
When looking at the language used in writing job specs, at a candidate’s vocabulary in their application and at the software that is used to match them, there are many ways that bias can creep into the matching process. Algorithms are only as unbiased as the programmers writing them, a point that was illustrated to great effect by Bharat Krish in his talk on eradicating biases and stereotypes when developing systems. Bharat talked of his own experience where he developed facial recognition software that didn’t recognise him and how it made him examine his own unconscious bias. His company have gone on to define and classify more than 180 human biases and are using this information to create more inclusive software.
Driverless cars in Connemara
John Cormican from Jaguar Land Rover was on hand to talk to us about the future of connected autonomous vehicles and why JLR had picked Shannon as their Irish base. A desire to access graduates for their recruitment drive made Shannon an appealing central location from where they could access the University of Limerick, as well as being close enough to entice grads from the National University of Ireland in Galway, GMIT and University College Cork. It’s great to see international companies seeing the wealth of talent across the country, particularly in areas outside of the usual hotspots of Dublin and Cork.
Another attractive aspect of Shannon is its proximity to challenging road conditions in the west of Ireland. John made the point that if they can figure out how to get driverless cars to autonomously and safely navigate the road conditions and challenging weather conditions in Connemara they can transfer that learning to any road in the world. As a family run business, led by three sisters, we’re always interested in how other families work together and although Easkey and Beckey work independently of each other we were definitely inspired by how their individual work complements each other’s.
Sea Saving Sisters
Easkey Britton is a passionate believer in the power of the sea to change our mindsets and to help us look after our mental health. A professional surfer with a PHD in marine environment and society, after listening to Easkey it’s hard not to find yourself wanting to dive into the closest sea and experience the sense of connection to the environment and associated mental and physical benefits that she speaks so eloquently about.
Her deep love of the ocean has made Easkey a keen advocate for making Ireland the first country in the world to become fully ocean literate. With Irelands recent social and environmental changes, from smoking bans, to plastic bag charges to the current move away from single use straws, we’re certain that it won’t be long before that dream is realised.
Beckey Finn Britton is an advocate of looking after our seas and seashores and works closely with the Clean Coasts initiative in Donegal and Leitrim. Beckey’s talk was full of facts about the amount of marine litter that is present on our coasts and in our seas, and what we can do to help. From a simple 2 minute beach clean to downloading and using apps like Litterati and Beat the Microbead there are lots of ways to help us be more mindful of looking after our environment.
The Business Romantic
One talk that we really enjoyed as part of the Future of Work section of the festival was Tim Leberecht’s on The Business Romantic; Tim started off with the slightly worrying statement that if you can describe your job in one sentence you won’t have it for much longer thanks to the ever-growing automation of work. It might have seemed like the talk was destined to be all doom and gloom but it was in fact the opposite.
In an era where more and more things are engineered, Tim maintains that there still has to be room for feelings, something that machines and AI have yet to master. Speaking about the world being on the cusp of disenchantment, how exciting that is, and about his prediction for an age of new romantics in business he advocates that people should work beautifully rather than efficiently.
Despite the messages we receive in the business world about being as optimised as possible, Tim gave three pieces of advice that seem contrary to this. He maintains that we should do the unnecessary, to create intimacy, and to suffer a little; all of these things will help us to move away from everything being personalised but cold and towards building a more personal relationship with people. We recommend taking a look at his talk here to fully appreciate his message not to see the world as it is not, but as it could be.
The high quality of the speakers we saw at Inspirefest makes it difficult to narrow down two days of talks to one post so we’re going to come back with a part two in the coming weeks. There are so many other speakers we want to highlight, from Sheree Atcheson of Women Who Code, to Noeline Kavanagh of Macnas, to Eden Full Goh of Sun Saluter, and Thaler Pekar and her lessons on communicating with people.
We came away from Inspirefest reflecting on the ways we can incorporate the lessons learned by others and their experiences here at Glandore. From implementing small changes like promoting cutting out single use plastics and engaging in 2-minute beach (or canal) cleans, to larger changes like being more aware of our unconscious biases and how they can impact the diversity of a workforce, we’re determined to continue making our flexible workspaces at Glandore a place where businesses can grow their own inspiring ideas.