The day I didn’t go to a learning conference

Last week I decided to go to a very different kind of event. I registered to head over to CogX in London. CogX is an expo event where they talk about AI and the future of tech. It was seriously impressive stuff.

First of all, the event was held at Kings Cross. Not a conferencing venue in Kings Cross, but the whole site. I loved that. It was a proper Expo. Different zones, marquees all over the place, volunteers everywhere, and very well thought through user / delegate experience.

As with most big events like this there was a mix of free sessions and conference paid for sessions. I only signed up for the free sessions, and I’ll write about those separately.

What I enjoyed the most, was the genuine exploration and explanation of certain use cases of AI and of Tech.

In the case of AI the speakers were discussing financial crime. I didn’t realise the scale of financial crime globally (estimated at $2 trillion). How does AI fit into this world? By helping banking and financial institutions handle data at scale. If you have 1 evil person wanting to create a false account in a bank, there are checks and balances to highlight if that person is evil or not. If you have a coordinated group doing this at 2000 different banks, the vast majority of those false applications will get through the system without problem. An AI system can strengthen the checks and balances across multiple banks to identify if there’s a coordinated effort taking place which through human efforts may go completely unrecognised.

Interestingly, AI can also more acutely help with personal identity and verifying if the proof of ID you’re submitting is genuine or not.

In a very different space, I attended a session where the speaker was describing how tech can enable people who are limbless, or have physical conditions which dramatically complicate their muscle movement – ALS / cerebral palsy as examples, and use a VR environment to facilitate an actual limb being moved. This was genuinely fascinating.

The speaker was careful to make the distinction he wasn’t talking about brain science but of motor neuron signals. And he made this distinction because when studying signals to muscles it is possible to detect when that happens at the point of the muscle. What’s incredibly difficult is to know which part of the brain is sending the signal. So his company is not interested in localising the part of the brain controlling muscle movement, but the point at which a muscle receives the signal to move.

Based on that signal, they can create a 3D image on a screen of a limb and imitate the movement you want to make just by sending signals to the muscles of the arm. A transmitter on the arm reads the signal and interprets it accordingly.

It was genuinely fascinating from a tech and human development perspective where the tech is being used to enable people who do not have limbs / cannot control their limbs to potentially experience those things in a virtual environment.

The nature of CogX is for it to be an Expo. That is fundamentally different to a conference and exhibition event. What I was left with was that the exhibition format is seriously tired. The Expo had proper prototypes for people to try stuff. Not hear a case study about how the vendor’s approach to a business problem achieved success. That’s just not interesting. A live simulation of what can be experienced? That’s powerful stuff. In a traditional exhibition event, you’re being sold to. The human connection, the balance of big banners and posters and smart screen stuff is difficult to weigh against just not doing it and opting for something radically different.

I’m glad I purposefully stepped out from the normal L&D/OD big event stuff and experienced something fundamentally different.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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