Almost ten years ago, Steve Jobs held up the first iPhone and declared ‘this changes everything’.
Driverless cars, however, will have an even more profound impact on society. This is the opinion held by Finbarr Murphy speaking at last Saturday’s 2016 TEDxFulbright event at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. His talk, amongst others at the event, vividly demonstrated how Dublin stands firm at the centre of global tech thinking.
Since their rise to popularity in the early naughties, TED talks have become a global phenomenon, with events now held regularly across the globe. These recent talks, organised by Ireland’s Fulbright Commission, covered a broad range of topics, from sustainable, information-driven cities of the future, to social media as a tool for saving minority languages.
Notes On Future Cities
In an engaging talk entitled ‘The Road Ahead’, Finbarr Murphy of the University of Limerick explored the rise of the driverless car, and how in coming years we can expect to see a rapid increase in the safety of our road systems, positing that ‘by 2050 we can reduce road accidents by 90%’. Amongst numerous, other advantages Finbarr pointed out that an autonomous car would be capable of driving parents to work, later returning to pick up the kids for the school run.
MITs Marguerite Nyhan (pictured, above) explored ‘how sensors and data are transforming urban life’. With the objective of influencing the design of future cities, Nyhan studies interactions between the environment, human populations and urban systems. Via a series of stunning visuals, Marguerite showed how our future cities will be dynamically monitored to facilitate daily city operations and future planning. For example, one dataset showed live traffic and weather data in Singapore, and how traffic is affected by changing weather.
This led on nicely to ideas from Monica Zawadzka, a Postdoctoral Fellow based at Dublin Institute of Technology, when she spoke about how we mistakenly trust our senses, using the example that millions of people each year get sick from eating contaminated food. She imagines a future city where detectors are embedded in our homes, clothing, and utilities, to monitor potentially dangerous processes which we, in our current everyday lives, are unaware of.
The Future Is Social
The talks then turned towards the applications and effect of ubiquitous social media on our society and thinking processes.
Teresa Lynn from the ADAPT Centre demonstrated ‘how social media is breathing life into minority languages’. With a series of images she displayed how minority languages are widely in use on Twitter. Focussing on Ireland, one data map showed how social media use of the Irish language is widespread across the country, dispelling the myth that the Irish language is restricted to use in the west of the country. Indeed she offered statistics suggesting that ‘to date there have been over 1 million tweets in Irish’.
The tech-oriented segment of the TEDx event concluded with Information Security Consultant and psychologist Dr. Ciaran McMahon (pictured, above) discussing ‘the death of the mind, and what comes next’, whereupon he spoke about the current and future rewiring of the mind in response to the internet and our social engagement in media. McMahon provided a fascinating historical insight into how western societies moved from externally focussed thinking to the internally focussed individualistic manner adopted today, asking the question ‘can social media rewire our internal focus?’, and suggesting that the future may present a fundamental shift in the way we perceive ourselves.
Until Next Time
Common themes resonated throughout these sold out talks: technology, motivation, and above all, inspiration.
Speaking after the event, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission, Dara Fitzgerald said ‘TEDx and Fulbright have a fantastic synergy’, adding ‘I certainly see no reason why we can’t host another even larger Dublin event next year’.
— TEDxFulbright (@tedxfulbright) February 6, 2016
Pictures: Conor McCabe Photography