[Editor’s Note: This guest post is from Antonia Bradford, who attended “ICT Days” in Trento Italy, and offered this report.]
Trento, Italy, hosted a technology conference ‘ICT Days 2013’ between 20th and 23rd March. Like all such events it was interesting, dynamic and informative, but it was also quite different from the normal conferences.
It broadcast a very loud message that Semantic Technology, Big Data, and the interconnectivity of things will – without any doubt – affect everything and everyone; that these technologies will change the way everyone interacts with public services, the way in which dwindling natural resources are distributed and managed, the way citizens interact with each other, the way in which public and private bodies cooperate to support the needs of the citizen and the way in which public bodies are monitored and held accountable to the people that elected them.
The ‘message’ is more than words; it is embodied and palpable through the involvement, support and collaboration between the university, commerce, local and regional governments to promote the event and the technologies. Not only were political representatives describing how important these technologies are NOW for the efficient operation of the region, but they also presented a clear vision of how the technologies will be used in the future to deliver public services and articulated eloquently how essential they will be for the economic stability and growth of the area. The local government has even provided a series of rooms in their own offices for the development, exploration and exploitation of such technologies.
Going for a walk in the beautiful alpine city in the evening, one cannot avoid noticing the posters announcing the event. There is a deep desire to inform the wider population and to involve as many of them in the event as possible. It could be argued that this is a small community and that an event of this type is big news, but other technology conferences in other small towns do not follow this model.
Another component of the message is that we are not just dealing with bits and bytes, these technologies are not just for techies. They will affect everyone and they require a multi-disciplinary approach: linguists, psychologist, physicists, geologists, etc., etc., etc. need to be involved, to benefit from them and to contribute to their development. One of the challenges for the computer scientists is to make the technologies easy to use, accessible and intuitive so that the end users can focus on WHAT they need to do: the technology needs to become transparent. Students from other faculties were encouraged to attend, and it was very encouraging to see future lawyers, economists, linguists and psychologists attending what at other conferences could be classed as ‘nerdy, techy sessions’.
It is a conference model worth following.
About the Author
Antonia Bradford studied English Philology in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and then took a Master’s degree in Computer Science at University of Hertfordshire (England). In 1998 she created AB Computing, a consultancy specialising in Business and Database analysis and design. Early in her career she realized that the analysis of data and business processes has as much in common with linguistics as it does with engineering. The application of linguistic disciplines to Business Analysis has been a key factor in the success in her commercial career and now it forms the core of AB Computing’s development and strategy. As Director of AB Computing she has been supporting the development of a toolset to make Semantic technologies useful and usable to end users, hiding the technical complexity and unlocking the potential at every level.