Each year Thinking Digital Conference acts as an oasis of insight and inspiration. The venue, Sage in Gateshead, was just as innovative and stimulating as the speakers. We heard from 15 incredible visionaries, each with a different career path and story to share.

Once again, Herb Kim and the Thinking Digital team curated a thought-provoking and exciting line up. We were honoured to have won an online competition for a ticket bursary, as part of their Digital Future Leaders programme. Thanks to the team for selecting us to attend!

Here’s our highlights from the line up…

Max Amordeluso – Amazon Alexa

“Tech is magic”, Max Amordeluso opened the conference with this statement and it was clear throughout his energetic and engaging talk that this is something he truly believes. But Max was here to talk about a particular type of magic within tech, Voice User Interface (VUI). In modern day households, VUI are becoming a normality. Despite their supposed ‘sci-fi nature’, Max stresses that everything with Alexa starts with the human being. We have to initiate every interaction with the VUI, leaving us in control.

In order to make their product stand out among competitors, Amazon are studying how different generations interact with Alexa. Studies like this have led to the Amazon adopting features like ‘Kids Court’, created by Adva Levin, which transforms Alexa into a judge to mediate conflicts between children. Another notable feature is the ‘magic word’ which teaches children to say please and thank you to Alexa like they would to a human. Through their studies, Amazon have also found that the elderly are more suited to voice assistance than mobile devices because speaking comes more naturally to them.

It was clear from Max’s talk that innovation is at the heart of everything Amazon do. It will be interesting to see how much further VUI like Alexa become embedded into our daily lives.

Follow Max on twitter – @maxamorde

Sarah Wiseman – Goldsmiths, University of London

When emojis first appeared on our keyboard we were rather dubious, but it didn’t take long for us to be converted into an emoji loving nation. In 2015 the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year was ‘😂’ and in 2016 2.4 trillion emojis were used in messaging app. It’s clear that emojis are here to stay.

But from her personal use of emojis Sarah Wiseman began to question whether emojis are widely repurposed and used in a way that is not their intended use. Sarah went on to study the use of emojis and was relieved to find that she wasn’t the only person to repurpose emojis. As we never actually get to see the names that the creators give to emojis it should come as no surprise that the perception of what they mean can vary.

Within her studies Sarah found that emojis are being repurposed for all sorts of reasons. The most obvious repurpose would be to hide illicit communications between people. But that is not the most popular purpose. Sarah found that emojis are mainly being repurposed to create a connection between people. Emojis add something extra to our digital communication, as we don’t just use words in verbal communication, we use a wide range of extra visual cues, such as body language and expressions. After hearing from Sarah we will definitely be paying more attention to which we use and why!

Follow Sarah on Twitter – @oopsohno

Tatiana Simone – Tumblr

Tatiana asks; in the digital world we now inhabit, where you’re constantly flooded with notifications, how can true mindfulness be achieved? It can be especially hard for those who work in the digital field to balance their digital life with their real life. But Tatiana Simone believes that mindfulness can be achieved within the digital world.

To achieve this desired state, Tatiana emphasises that we need to change our way of thinking. Instead of having FOMO (fear of missing out), we need to start having JOMO (joy of missing out). In order to accomplish this, we need to start determining what actually matters to us within our online space to avoid missing what’s in front of us in real life. Tatiana takes an analog hour every evening to take time out from being connected. But she stresses that you can take as little or as much time as you want to achieve mindfulness.

Follow Tatiana on Twitter – @tatiana

Ben Morris – ILM Visual Effects

Ben Morris spent the last few years working in a galaxy far, far away – literally! As the Visual Effects Supervisor and Creative Lead on Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi, Ben was able to show the audience how the magic of Star Wars was brought to life. Whilst the film was heavily executed using digital techniques, Ben revealed that surprisingly a lot of the film was shot in the real world. Ben stated that when it came to making the film there was a good relationship between the real and digital world.

As well as sharing set secrets, Ben shared his top tips for those wanting to break into the business;

1. Learn about film

2. Start getting into photography

3. Always think about your composition in your work

4. Never give up!

We’re huge Star Wars fans, so to be given an exclusive insight into how the film was made digitally was amazing! We were also relieved to hear that the late Carrie Fisher’s last performance was her authentic self and she was not digitally reconstructed for any of her scenes in the film.

We left #TDC18 feeling lucky to be working in such a vibrant, fast paced industry and inspired to continue to tackle the gender imbalance in the tech industry. We can’t wait to see where the next conference will take us and who we will be inspired by next year.

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