Inspiring the next generation of scientists, innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs can be a daunting task, but strapping a jet pack to your body and flying over their heads is one surefire way to get their attention. Real-life Iron Man Richard Browning did just that at WIRED’s annual Next Generation event, held at London’s Tobacco Dock in partnership with Accenture. The event’s aim? To immerse 12 to 18-year-olds in the technologies of the future and introduce them to the innovators who are building it.
Browning was among a talented line-up of innovators and disruptors sharing their insights and showcasing the possibilities of emerging trends and technologies. Digital magician Tom London captivated the audience with a repurposed Alexa voice assistant who read the mind of a volunteer from the crowd. “A lot of us think that hacking is a sort-of Black Mirror-style thing where people are breaking into banks and stealing loads of money,” he said. “In truth, hacking is just taking something apart and creating something new from it, or breaking apart some code to use it for something you’re passionate about.” Polar scientist Beth Healey inspired budding explorers and scientists in the crowd with stories of researching human health in the world’s most extreme environments – and how it could be used for future space travel. “I’m really excited about what the future holds, and it’s really down to you guys whether we get to Mars at all,” she told the room.
Away from the Next Generation Keynote Stage, delegates were taught key skills for getting ahead when they leave school, as well as the steps needed to turn their ideas into a thriving business. Poppy Jamie, founder of mental wellbeing app Happy Not Perfect, spoke as part of a Qualcomm-hosted panel of female entrepreneurs who had launched successful businesses. She advised reaching out to all possible networks to get your idea heard and, more importantly, that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and not to be afraid of failure.
The teenagers were also encouraged to build their own tech, from weather sensors using Raspberry Pi computers and building interactive sound art to building their own cities or even their own robots. Reach Robotics’ MekaMon robots, which battle and upgrade in both the physical and digital worlds, inspired the crowd. The insect-like robots are controlled using a smartphone app, which creates an augmented reality to battle and explore. Then there were Franka Emika’s ‘cobots’, which can be used safely alongside humans in factories or even around the home – and even play chess. But Next Generation’s most fantastical robots came from Festo. The German company’s bionic learning machines took the shape of a butterfly and hovered around the event space, demonstrating that creativity has a big part to play when it comes to tech innovation.
For aspiring film producers in the crowd, virtual reality showcased a whole new platform in which to immerse and captivate audiences. UK-based virtual-reality meetup VRLO held a pop-up demonstration, presented by REWIND, of short films fusing new technology with creative storytelling. The films inspired discovery, play and networking and presented a 360° view of what’s possible when technology and ideas collide.
The day provided a melting pot of ideas and innovation, highlighting how design, ideas, music and art can merge with creativity and technology to explore new territory and influence the future – and, as the event’s name suggests, give the next generation of innovators a platform to change the world.