Summer Heat and the Google UK Big Tent Event 2012

Firstly I must say I enjoyed this event… This is the 2nd year Google UK has run this event and it really is a place where great conversations can happen and awkward topics broached. It can also help people in the industry realise where everyday people are with tech in their lives – because that really is the information the industry seeks without assumption. The event itself was also accompanied by the Channel 4 news team and a posse of people from the Guardian newspaper that showed some interesting things later on, not to mention various journalists from a wide range of other publications.

First up Peter Barron from Google welcomed everyone as usual and kicked off the proceeding with – Porn: how do we keep our children safe online? Well this is an age old discussion, but one that is always sidelined through complete and total ignorance…  This is either because of the prudish nature of one or more of the participants, or simple discomfort.

Porn for all its sins is different in the eyes of each individual person, in cultures where people are generally covered up; the simple act of showing a bare arm can be enough to create a response, so while in western society we’re used to seeing semi naked bodies it often comes down to why should someone else’s beliefs impact you and how you should or should not dress and so on.  For this very reason there is no defined definition of what porn truly is. But the main question was raised by Daily Mail journalist Amanda Platell. Her point was that as a responsible parent wanting to make sure that her child doesn’t come across anything they should not online – what does she do? Especially as she’s not computer savvy and doesn’t know how to do things like block sites etc. She went on to say that government or the ISP’s should offer a service to make sure things are blocked. She then continued saying that the night before she’d gone to the site “” and described the sexual acts she watched being carried out… She did this in great detail. So before I finish this, on her recommendation we tried to find the said video… Nope, couldn’t find it anywhere!! Something similar, but not the one she described (so it was probably a good job I refrained from heckling “How many times did you have to watch it before you got off?”). Infact the subject covered was seriously “niche”, so we’ll leave you to your own thoughts to why she had to stand on a stage and describe all this in such detail. So, in response to what should a responsible parent who isn’t computer savvy do…. the answer is simple – LEARN!!

On to the totally awesome Dr. Aleks Krotoski  who showed off her Serendipity Engine which was interesting, insightful and frankly if the results of what could end up being a lifetime of research bear fruit – the very same system/algorithm etc will very probably prove the key to Chaos Theory.

The Minister of State for Science and Universities came on and proclaimed new things at universities yet missed the points completely. Even Eric Schmidt mentioned the UK has disregarded what made it good – leadership with flair and our skills. It almost seems to me that every country wants to have its own Silicon Valley – but they shouldn’t and can’t… We should do what we’re good at and in the global age it makes us stand out. The UK is the hands on engineering country… that’s it, pure and simple. However, we’re seriously lacking in training and education in schools, not just in Computer Science, but the far bigger and more vast areas that make up the rest that knowledgeable people talk about and the “App crowd” (there is a phrase I just invented and is now copyright TWBrit lol) don’t even know about – embarrassing stuff in front of engineers and people who build the infrastructure for the “App-Crowd” to use their toys on.

The next session was “Copyright in the Digital Age “This is one of the biggest subjects on and about the internet now. Some fascinating things were talked about here. Firstly the media industries as a whole need to re-address how they work out their losses and stop being so blinkered in their overall approach. Bottom line is that it created a rod for its own back, we’ve been recording music etc ever since it was possible to do so, whether music off the radio in the 70’s and of course hooking video machines together at home in the 80’s.

After lunch Eric Schmidt gave a fascinating talk about Globalisation and mentioned a few things like how in some schools in Africa they don’t have textbooks – they simply use Google and YouTube to teach from these. And then there was the obvious yet simple observation as to why educational and help software or information doesn’t come pre-installed on mobile phones; pointing out it’d cost very little or nothing to do so. He talked about the next billion users of Google and then got the whole thing kyboshed when some journalist kept pushing questions about stuff regarding Google and the EU Govt. which he answered that they’re waiting to hear exactly what the complaint is about so they can take a proper look at it. Yet the journo kept pushing… That’s not called great journalism – it’s called f’king everyones day up inside a tent with a room temp of around 130f (thanks moron!!) The result was that we didn’t get to hear good questions and become informed more. After all, we really wanted to hear what Eric had to so say – not listen questions on conjecture. But because of the nature of these questions Eric had to answer them clearly and properly.

Someone from the Guardian Newspaper then came on and did a bit about how they tracked the London Riots last year. They showed how little information the Police gave them, so they went to get court documents of who had been charged etc. Then they turned to Twitter and gained information of who tweeted what, the terminology used, the “#-tag” information and suddenly came up with some frankly amazing information, statistics and a mountain of other things. This simply and finally proved that our want and need for tech, apps and the latest thing – is the very thing that is creating a 100% guaranteed “Big Brother” future for all of us… remember : put any info out there – and it’s there forever!!

With the breaks becoming more and more needed due to the heat inside the main tented hall, it was refreshing to see and have a sit down with Dr Sue Black: not to be confused with the Curry Queen of Camden Town (I also just made that up). As soon as myself, Sue and this blogs editor Gabsatrucker sat down – the ladies went straight to geek mode in their phones and reminiscing of their road-trip between Little Rock and Austin, Texas a few weeks ago.  After briefly meeting Sue’s son, [hold it, I gotta add something] Sue Black has the most amazing kids, most of whom are grown up. But one has to wonder just what an amazing mom she is because every time I meet one of them – they are truly the nicest of energetic, confident and charismatic individuals. This of course doesn’t stop me yanking Sue’s chain a little, but as I’ve said before; Sue gives as good as she gets and is a straight arrow. If you ever get chance to meet Sue, your life will be better for it.

Anyway… Back into the sweat box for the final session mediated by the awesome Sarah Smith. This final session covered something that is becoming what I believe is a serious blight of the web; the true “Big Brother” issues surrounding the Web 2.0 and social media.

Ever since the dawn of the ability to write a letter, social media has grown and grown. Now that information is for sale, that information is all about you, me and everyone. Privacy is getting seriously trampled on, so in light of this two authors “Andrew Keen” and “Nick Harkaway” who have differing opinions on this subject took to the stage. In my own personal view, I feel both of them were 75% correct, but were offering no middle ground; they seemed to be at one extreme or the other.  Thankfully signed copies of their books were given out at the end of the day, so I’ll be sure to take my time and read both.

Typically I have been a little scathing at some things. While it was hot, we can’t blame Google for weather Gabsatrucker brought from the US, but in all things these were discussions. Insightful and highly educational – but simply discussions… who knows what they will amount to. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, enjoyed meeting the people I did, enjoyed Aleks Krotoski’s work and left in fear of what the surface media will make of it all.

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