June 14, 2018

Creative Realities at Techweek 2018



On the 24th of May, I went along to Creative Realities – the headline event of Techweek 2018 - with Sam, Mahera, Zac and Marianne from Newlands Intermediate. The event is all about the creative side of tech, and our very own MiniDevs were presenting.

Keynotes, panels and creative experiences

The day opened (and ended) with a performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Joe ‘Digl’ Dixon, a Wellington based digital artist.  It involved a combination of classical brass, strings and the shaking of an iPad:

Artstech at Creative Realities Creative Realities

The event was hosted by Josh Thompson – who you may know from The Project or 7 Days. It was all about creativity – and how people around the world, and in New Zealand in particular, are using technology to harness and inspire it.

The first keynote was by Denise Chapman Weston, a self-described “7-year-old in a lady suit”. Nowadays she’s working with Weta Workshop, but over the course of her career she developed life-size gaming experiences, attractions at theme parks, toys and more – holding over 120 patents. I didn’t know full size fantasy roleplaying games with magic tech-wands existed, but it turns out they do and that she made them. The organisers of Creative Realities would have been hard pressed to find a more playful and fun opening speaker.

Following a talk on how creativity works by neuroscientist Cathy Stinear (it turns out a group of ‘not-so-creative’ individuals tends to be just as if not more creative than a group of ‘more-so-creative’ individuals), the morning continued with a vibrant panel of experts in various areas discussing how creativity and tech merge in their different fields. Academy Award winner Dan Lemmon of Weta Digital gave a particularly brilliant showcase of the active motion capture technology used to simulate everything from bones and muscles to skin and hair in the new Planet of the Apes movies.

Denise Chapman Weston, Jessica Manins (Mixt), Adele Gautier (The Breast Cancer Foundation NZ), Mario Wynands (Pikpok), Dan Lemmon, Wared Seger (Parrot Analytics)

Lunch featured a bunch of tech stands showcasing local talent in areas like AI, blockchain and VR/AR, one of which was hosted by Ryan Sumner who is currently working with us on our Theta MIX platform.

MiniDevs speak at their first national tech event

The afternoon sessions are what we were really waiting for – Mahera and Zac, who attended/attend Newlands Intermediate school, presented their experiences with tech-related school programs.

Mahera at Creative Realities

The confidence these students showed talking about their projects was inspiring. Mahera talked about the MiniDevs, what interests her about software development, what career she might want to get into – after the event she even pitched an idea to the final keynote speaker and asked about internships. She said that joining the MiniDevs gave her the confidence to run for her high school form class rep (and win).

It was great to see that our program with Newlands Intermediate School has had such a positive effect on these students, and to know that we are doing our part in encouraging and inspiring the next generation of software developers, designers and entrepreneurs.

What’s next? Soul Machines Keynote

The day ended with a talk of a slightly different tone – the impressive and somewhat disturbing Auckland-based Soul Machines.  Soul Machines is an artificial intelligence company that builds human-like assistants, with personal assistants already rolled out to companies like Autodesk.  Shona Grundy, pictured above, talked about their use of ‘digital DNA’ and ‘virtual nervous systems’, and demonstrated (live) how one of their digital humans can recognize and respond to emotions.

This is a field that will only grow in the future – website assistants and chatbots are becoming more and more widespread, and things like personal (virtual) drivers and medical assistants are perhaps not too far in the future.    

Whatever the future holds for artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, big data and everything else discussed at Creative Realities, it’s definitely an exciting time to be involved.

Tim King is part of Theta’s Innovation Lab, working on new and emerging technologies like the internet of things and mixed reality, as well as being involved with product development.