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Nick Kirby speaks at Estates Gazette's first Tech Live event for 2019

Posted on 25 March 2019

People-centric cities was the theme of Estates Gazette's first event in their 2019 Tech Live series on 5th March 2019. Nick Kirby joined a panel to consider the technology that is changing our world. 

Debating the issues alongside Miranda Sharp, Director of Innovation for Ordnance Survey and Duncan Walker, Managing Director of Skyports, the group was tasked with considering the "shiny new technologies" that are revolutionising the quality of life for future urban citizens in the UK and beyond. 

Nick Kirby's opening remark dismissed the terminology used and suggested  that "It's not about shiny new tech things but about using what you have more efficiently."  He went on to say that "consumers are driving change" and "want real estate and legal services delivered in the same way they can get their banking services". 

The introduction of drones received considerable interest from the audience, with Duncan Walker of Skyports sharing news of the forthcoming trials that his company will be undertaking for the transportation of medicines. The group went on to consider those cities that were leading the way in terms of tech integration in infrastructure, with Helsinki gaining much praise from the panel.

To watch the full EG Tech Live panel discussions and presentations, please see above.

Mishcon Academy
Nick Kirby Speaks At Estate Gazette’s First Tech Live Event for 2019

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

So thank you all so much for being here today, anybody that came to the event in this location around this time last year will remember it was a bit more sort of sparsely populated not because of the content because there was a blizzard and a cold snap and snow and so bright sunshine today which is fantastic.  I am Emily Wright,Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects at EG.  So good morning and welcome to our first Tech Live of 2019.  It marks a big year for us at EG and a big year for tech and real estate so what better way to kick off our Tech events than with this absolute killer of a morning today.  So I mean at least half of our speakers including both of our keynotes have appeared already on our Tech Talk radio podcast, which I'm sure everybody here listens to and that really is exactly how it should be from podcast to live event, then into print.  It's a sign of the times as much as it is a sign of and is appropriate for tech and we use all of our channels available to speak to the people and to catch up on the trends that we then put out to you our audience. Speaking of print though you might have notice that today we launched the fourth EG Tech magazine.  This publication has gone from strength to strength in a market where, I don’t know if you know much about that market as it is at the moment, but launching a new print magazine is tricky and it's also quite rare but it has really plugged a gap in the market and some of the biggest names in tech and real estate are really keen to be involved and in our issues and you'll see that this one stands out in particular.  If you look at the cover, so down doctor of former Deputy Mayor of New York and President of Bloomberg now Founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs which is the urban innovation arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet.  Probably one of the best known people in the sector at the moment, certainly one of the most intriguing.  His plans to build cities from the internet up starting with a test site in Toronto hit the headlines in 2017.  We have been chasing him down for an interview pretty much ever since so after effectively turning his office in New York in November at Tech Week last year, he agreed to give us an interview.  So do you make sure you grab a copy when you leave and read all about his plans.  Also in that issue you'll find such delights as ‘Are you being hacked by your kettle?’, apparently it's much more common than I first thought and ‘The rise of the Baltic tech scene’ and there's a standout piece on female founders attracting investment by our new EG Editor, Sam McCleary who's also here today.  Speaking of today, let's get back to today and we have some incredible speakers lined up for you from all around the world including keynotes from Vanessa Li boots, an EG rising star, and Miguel Gamino who is former CTO of New York, now Executive VP for Global Cities for MasterCard and he has flown in from the States to be here.  So we're talking today about connected cities and what makes a truly connected city in a world where technology is increasingly powerful and all-encompassing it would be so easy to assume that connectivity starts with the statistics and the data and the digital transformation especially at an event like this but there is an even more important element to consider first.  An element that each and every city across the globe is built on, thrives off and would collapse without and that of course is people.  At its most basic level it is us that makes cities connected, the people who live in them and work in them and visit them, play in them and there can be no denying the fact that the most successful cities of the future will be the ones that evolve and take on digital transformation to make room for digital advances from the way we live and work and the way we travel but for these places to really prosper the first thought has to be whether they are delivering what the people need and want- and that's what this today's event is all about.  So there will be opportunities to ask questions via slido and I think there will be details going up on that behind me in a minute but it would be hashtag -  nope.  We have slido?  Yes.  #EGTechLive, so please do put the questions up there and I shall keep an eye on them.  Also, as always I like to try and keep these things as relaxed as possible so if people do have a question they want to ask in real time please put your hand up and I can ask it.  So anyway moving on to the first Panel – Tech that's changing our world.   So let me introduce our first speakers -  joining us we have Miranda Sharp, Director of Innovation for Ordnance Survey, Duncan Walker, Managing Director of Sky Ports and Nick Kirby, Managing Associate Mishcon de Reya.  Thank you all so much for joining us today.  So as I just said in the introduction there, cities, so important that there is that connection to people but we're talking of course about digital transformation and technology so let's start with that and when it comes to new technologies in the way that they are impacting our cities and changing our cities is there now an increasingly wider acceptance that change isn't just coming, change is here and we are well and truly in the midst of what is a real and crucial need for innovation.  So let's start with Duncan.

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Thanks. Yeah it is interesting as to whether it's coming and whether we need to proactively accept it. I think in large cases nowadays if we aren't proactive about it and enabling it it's going to happen to us and we've seen that with Uber in London ongoing court case still, there is a chance or there was a chance to be strategic about how you implement some of these technologies whether it's Uber, whether it’s to do with data migration or personal data or whether it's to do with urban air mobility there is a chance to be strategic about it, there is a challenge because those that need to be strategic about it are people in Government at various levels and they are some of the least strategic, some of the least proactive and some of the least quick moving people that exist on the planet. So-

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Anyone here from- (laughter)- feel free to people your hand up.

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
-there is a real challenge there and what I found in my business over the last 18 months is dictatorships are fantastic. They are a brilliant way to enable tech and okay there's plenty of things that aren't so great about many dictatorships but what they can do is push change through very, very quickly and be at the leading edge of some really innovative stuff so we do air taxi’s and urban infrastructure for moving people around by drone and the best enablers in the world at the moment are Dubai and Singapore and they just make stuff happen. They are really proactive about it, they want to be at the forefront of emerging technology, they work things out by doing stuff in a safe and well managed way but they do it, they test it, they see if it works and then they change it and they do that very quickly.  That brings huge capital and huge human capital to those environments and actually leaves London and other Western cities behind.  There is a balance, you know we've got a much stronger face of the populace which in a way is good, in a way it creates some challenges.  So it is difficult for Western cities which have a strong public voice and a fairly slow and multifaceted Government to be at the leading edge of these things.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

And sorry, just, just staying on you Duncan for a minute, do you think that there's a chance that cities like London are getting, for want of a better word, a little bit, I hate to use this word in relation to the city which we are in and which I live but a little bit arrogant in terms of how far ahead we actually are compared to other cities?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Absolutely yes.  I think there is general willingness, there is a lack of proactivity.  I was sitting actually in this room six months ago and there was another one of these conferences and on urban air mobility and there was a panel sitting up front including Government ministers saying we are going to be at the front of urban air mobility and then started talking about sandboxes and test environments and doing these things in, in, on the computer rather than in real life and I put my hand up I made the point we are already five years behind the rest of the world and there is I think one introspective approach from some of our leadership in the country and it is partly bred by arrogance, perhaps it's bred by too many committees, too many people doing things,  but those that do will succeed in these emerging technologies and they will succeed in making them work how they want them to work rather than these things just happening to them.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  And Miranda, Director of Innovation so that's you know looking ahead and thinking about fresh ideas, that's basically everything that you do. So sort of a similar question really around has, has the time come for people to really accept the fact that now the time to change is here and also it would be great if you could pick up on the second part of that question around how London sits compared to other cities around the world?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
So I think a couple of points really.  The answer is always technology but remind me what the question was.  There's always new technology and for a company that's been around for two hundred years we've embraced the wrong technologies through several iterations so we've got evidence, we've got evidence of that and technology tends to mature a bit like fish whereas the data it produces is often the fine wine which will mature nicely and through which we can then go through.  Now at the risk of sounding like something like the Government which I would have absolutely hate to do, I would choose to defend a Theo Blackwell, London's Chief Digital Officer.  We don't sadly live in a benign dictatorship but we do live in a city that has thirty three independent boroughs and who willingly assert their independence and then therefore doing anything on a cross London basis is very difficult but I isn't all in London you know, there's, there's great things happening in Scotland where they've learned to collaborate in a much more efficient way and so there is, what there is now with the ability with all this new technology and all these new census producing enormous more, more amounts of data, there is the ability to make decisions in a more holistic way and measure the impacts more, over a longer time and I know over cross-sector activity so we can plan new pieces of infrastructure and see the impact on things like land value and the need for social infrastructure so if you put in a new bus lane you can design it so that people are inclined to use it, to use the public transport because you've got the right social care at the ends and you've built it in a way that doesn't compromise our access to green space.  So there is there is absolutely new opportunity there and there is really exciting new technology,  please don't think I'm not thrilled by, by drones and what they could all they can do for us and across many use cases but it's now getting people to engage with and have the business models to understand the data and make decisions based on it over the right time period and span of control.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

There are so many points that we'll come back to, especially around in to getting people to engage with the data but Nick I'm sure you won't mind me saying that not unlike real estate the legal profession hasn't been necessarily known to be at the forefront always of embracing new technology. That's changing from what we can see. So similar sort of same first question to you really because I think you'll come at it from a slightly different perspective as is there this increasingly wider acceptance not just among the general public and hopefully increasingly Government but across sectors as well and industries that change is here and needed?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah I think that's definitely right, lawyers have been slow to adopt change and new technology for a long time and I definitely think that's changing and it's changing I think partly because of consumers. So, the question you're sort of asking is, is there a need for change and I think there's definitely a need for change certainly in cities because they're becoming more popular, the populations are growing which is putting an increasing demand on services, much like law firms, there's an increasing demand on services and I think if you think about smart cities and, and, and what they are, they are really data-driven cities which are able to dynamically respond to what their customers, their citizens want and if smart cities are able to basically provide new services because they can provide new dynamic sort of bus routes that are provided by companies that are collaborating with the local council, they are able to provide services more efficiently because you can use less utilities than you would do otherwise and I think all of that comes down to what the consumer is expecting now and consumers are expecting services to be delivered better, faster, more efficiently than they were in the past and that's because of all the technology that's available to them now you know, if you think about what you can do now in comparison to even five years ago; you can open a bank account as a consumer without even going into the branch and by literally just taking a photo of your passport so if you think about the changing landscape for consumers they are now wanting services to be provided in a much more different way which I think is then driving industry change.  So you know we're having to change the way we deliver services because the consumers that we are dealing with want services delivered in a different way.  They want their legal services to be delivered in the same way that they can get an Uber or the same way in which they can open a bank account and, and if we don't change then they'll get disappointed and move to someone who is able to provide services in that way and I think cities are probably quite similar- we'll be, we are competing with other cities the better we are providing our services more efficiently the more popular we will be which will drive growth in our city.  I think you know, just touching on the other point I think in terms of the data that we're talking about I think for a long time people were just experimenting with collecting data but now there are lots and lots of tools that are available to them that weren't previously available to them or which we didn't really understand so there's been huge growths in machine learning, natural language processing which is allowing us to analyse data in different ways and to really do interesting things with it- to dynamically respond to what our citizens want so.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

I suppose there's a bit of an interesting balance really to, to, to kind of achieve in that people do want  all of that, they want more efficiency and we do live in the you know, the Uber society where things are very immediate but at the same time there's a lot of nervousnessness – nervousnessness? = nervousness still around what being truly connected and a true smart city and the next panel will really go into what makes a smart city and what that entails and we've seen in terms of privacy and that kind of thing so Duncan, coming back to you I just sort of really want to get under the skin of how should new technologies be pitched to the people.  Now Sky Ports is a really interesting example and if anyone in here isn't aware of what Sky Ports does, maybe it would be great if you could give a very quick overview but it's such a, such a fantastic innovative concept and one that makes sort of sense to those in the know but it's still quite alien I think to the general public.  So how can they be reassured?  Is it an issue of change management on the biggest scale that we've ever come across and how are you approaching it?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Thanks I'll try and answer that long question in less than ten minutes.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

It’s about five questions in one.

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Right Sky Ports does two things, we do infrastructure for urban air mobility which is effectively heliports for passenger and cargo carrying drones. We also have a business that does drone deliveries so next week we're flying ecommerce deliveries in Finland which will be the first urban e-commerce delivery by drone in the world which is really exciting. Working with the NHS here in the UK and many other health authorities around the world and ecommerce providers to move stuff around by autonomous drone within the not-too-distant future.  People will be moved around by drone as well urban air taxis take a few more years before it's autonomous but it's real, it's coming, it's happening this year. It will be coming to London within the next three to four years. So that's a little bit about what Sky Ports does. It's an emerging sector, it's sort of new is scary, new is scary and everything.  Is it the biggest change management we've ever seen?  In a way I think you know what the Internet has done is, is, is extraordinary for the way people operate their lives. I think the answer as to how we educate the populace and bring it into common parlance and make it make it an unscary reality is to do it in real life on a managed basis and there is no better substitute you know, I can do as many press articles as I want, I can do as many speeches as I want and tell you that you are going to be getting in a autonomously driven air taxi that is going to fly you from Heathrow to the West End in fifteen minutes and it's going to cost you no more than an Uber and that all sounds great and a little bit scary and, and it's very hard to conceive because it's new and there are no points of reference.  What we spend a lot of time doing and we'll be flying in Singapore air taxis in Singapore later this year, hopefully be flying in London as a demonstrator in the first quarter of next year is to bring these things along, touch them, feel them, understand them, see them in the air because that's the way we start to understand things and see the benefit of things.  You know particularly a question I always get asked about air taxis is are they like helicopters, are they going to be super noisy and the answer is they are not going  to be super noisy but if I say they are going to be forty decibels or they are going to be one seventh of the noise of a helicopter, it's an impossible point of reference you have no idea, I have no idea what that means.  I can't, I can't replicate what that's supposed to feel like in my mind so the best way to do it and what we're spending a lot of time doing is working with vehicle manufacturers and bringing these vehicles so that people can get in them, touch them, feel them, understand them and, and then really see the benefit of them and you know that stuff like this doesn't happen that you get five hundred air taxis in the city on a Tuesday and by Wednesday are flying all over the place- it's point-to-point, there's defined routes, it builds up slowly, you build those data points as those points of reference, the safety cases and then it emerges actually very, very rapidly if you look at the emergence of text, it's hugely quick but it is sequential and proven and most importantly certified by European Air Safety Agency, Civil Aviation Authority, Federal Aviation Authority.  So it's got that underwrite of credibility as well.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

What, but when it comes to sort of pitching it to people, it's that, I mean you touched on a couple of issues there around the noise and the fact that it would be an incremental increase rather than just suddenly overnight we live in a completely different world.  But what about physically getting into one of them and being one of the first flights?  How is that going to work and how do you think people will feel the first time they get into it and actually it's, I know a show of hands tends to make people cringe but how many people here will be happy to get into an air taxi drone?  Quite… how many wouldn't necessarily be happy?  Okay… what reasons would you not feel comfortable?

 

Audience member
I would be worried about the pollution issue.  I am worried about the mess and the idea that they have used drones for delivering, Amazon drones for delivering.  It worries me a lot and the experience of that in a city like this you’d have to have wider streets.  It’s just, it’s just horrible.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

So I think we've touched on an issue live which is that when it comes to change in new technologies there are hurdles to overcome in terms of accepting it, whether it's a new normal or a direction that some people don't want to go in.  So Miranda let's, let's come on to you now.  How, how as a society and how does cities around the world deal with that because this whole event is about how we put people at the centre of our technologies and that has to be stuff that the people feel is delivering a benefit to them so when you get a situation where not everybody feels that way how do we handle that?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
So another example would be driverless vehicles, you know, the technology exists.  There is no reason why any of us shouldn't be connected and partially autonomous vehicle already.  The issue is that we have legacy infrastructure in terms of the fleet that already we're already driving around and the legislation behind it, particularly in drones as well you know, at the moment the mechanisms for flying drones it is very limited.  We use them a lot at Ordnance Survey and we, and we'd love to use them more but the laws don't allow us to yet and we are part of the process for changing the laws and another thing around sort of connecting autonomous vehicle story is that we risk by just rushing headlong into sort of driver replacement technology that we miss out on the big societal benefit because if we managed with the autonomous vehicle fleet both as a flock or as a swarm rather than individual bees, we can absolutely turn roads, turn road on and turn roads off to improve air quality, to manage congestion, to letting emergency vehicles through and unless we think about the data in a holistic way and the technology in a holistic way and the city as a place rather than individual consumers connected by need you know, we will have lost the opportunity that the Smart City bandwagon has offered us.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much. You mentioned a few times there legislation and legal issues so it makes sense then Nick onto you.  What are the legal issues around or rather some of the legal issues surrounding new innovation and indeed rolling these innovations out across whole cities and we've got Miguel Gamino who will be here later and he was former CTO of New York and San Francisco and he'll have some experience in that but that's, that's quite a feat isn't it?  It's new, it's in some cases not entirely untested but untested in the way the stuff that we've known for ages has been and it's to be rolled out across entire cities?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah I think you know the primary purpose of laws and regulations in cities is obviously to achieve some balance between freedom and control so you know I think we've talked a bit about how Governments are slow to react but primarily I think we're actually quite good at this in London at achieving that balance.  I think we, we're pretty open when it comes to new technologies, we've got a great structure in place at the moment in terms of tech investment so we've got the best tech investment in the whole of Europe, the top amount of money raised and that's provided a great environment for technology companies to innovate in London to provide new services and so whilst I think there are lots of issues you know, planning issues and regulatory issues with drones at the moment, I don't think you could fly drones over London, autonomous drones over London. It is going to need to be regulatory change or regulatory approvals in order for that to happen, I think personally that the balance that we're achieving at the moment broadly speaking, is, is generally pretty good for the people that are in our cities.  You know that's what we're focusing on is the people in the cities that are important. I think we could definitely do more to engage with those people.  I think you know, I think there are sort of three general camps of people that you can think about in cities; you've got the sort of I think they're called smart citizens.  I like to think of them a tech enabled citizens.  They are the people that actually use all this technology that we're talking about.  You've got activists who are not people lying in the roads with their smartphones demanding these services but people that are being really creative about finding solutions to problems and then there's the sort of forgotten bunch of people actually aren't going to use any of the services at all and I think you know, that's where we need to do more to achieve balance using laws and regulation to help those people that aren't actually going to be using the services.  But overall I think we've got a pretty good balance in London, in terms of laws and regulation.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Miranda would you agree with that, there's a good balance in London? 

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
Oh, umm…

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

You can say no.

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
Umm…err…so, yes, I would agree that it's all about the balance and the thing I would add to your people at the bottom is those people will still use other services and they will be enthusiastic consumers perhaps of social services which will be an entirely honour overlapping circle from people who are using the drone taxis and, and you know, the challenge of legislation and Government is that you've got to serve all of those populations and I think, I think London does not do a bad job at for itself and also as a, as a, as a, as a showcase for the whole of Great Britain because often when international people come and look at Great Britain they only really want to look at London and could they could they not, could they avoid the trip up the train to go and see what's happening in Manchester or Edinburgh where really exciting stuff is happening and I think that is the challenge is to, is to try things in, in different places because people rather hate being a test bed you know they like the idea of having the new technology but they don't like the idea that somebody is going to get it much better after they've tried the duff version on them and so and London of course has its own peculiar problems and, and beneficiaries so if some would say that the thing that has enabled London to lord itself as a smart city is the is the Government intervention of creating TFL so that mobility is relatively frictionless in London whereas if you're trying to use Citymapper or move it in Liverpool or Burnley or somewhere you're going to have a much harder time because the data and the technology isn't there to enable that kind of experience. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

This is a question for everybody.  I know Duncan at the start you mentioned Singapore and Dubai as cities to, or areas and states to look at in terms of innovation but we've been talking a lot about London. Obviously that's where we are today but the world is a much bigger place than London and I just wanted to open that question up to everybody.  What cities do you think, have you seen that are really excelling and leading the way when it comes to not only introducing new innovations but doing it in a way that balances that need for the people to feel like they are getting what they want and need and also progress the city?  So err…  Nick, do you want to start with that one?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
So London actually comes really high up in the list and I think then there's some Asian cities, so Seoul, Singapore, Helsinki does really well as well and so and obviously Toronto's got sidewalk labs which you  mentioned at the beginning.  I personally think that's a really exciting proposition so this is the idea of building effectively a test bed on the waterfront in Toronto and really collaborating with businesses and start-ups that are local and international to help come up with new ideas for how a smart city could work and I think that's really key I think this idea of being open to using local businesses, local start-ups because those are full of people that are a) really dynamic but also b) users of all of the services that smart cities will provide and so I think for me that concept of basically building a smart city incubator within a space and starting to come up with ideas with lots of different people to utilise space more efficiently, to basically be able to have massing in spaces that are important but also big wide-open spaces, less roads, they are completely rethinking the way mobility works so that they have less roads, more open space, new services that will effectively enable people to be directed in the way that they need to go and new utility services to help reduce how much you know, water and electricity people using.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

And as I said pick up the issue of EG Tech and it's an interesting one you know, Dan Doctoroff, one of the most interesting things that he said, it was very honest, was that despite all the stuff that he's done as President of Bloomberg and the things that he did his Deputy Mayor of New York, this - what he's trying to do now - is by far the hardest thing he's ever attempted and that actually he totally underestimated what he'd taken on.   So it's exciting but it's not easy and that's why we're here today to discuss these issues.  Duncan I know that you mentioned Dubai and Singapore, are there either any other places that you'd mention or could you go into more detail about why those places are the ones that you've sort of brought up as being very tech savvy and enabled?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Yeah I'm going to pick another one which Nick just mentioned, Helsinki.  Helsinki is an extraordinary example.  They actually have very few problems they need to solve but I have some of the best talent solving other people's problems and they made a smart decision.  So Helsinki’s got less six million people, doesn't really have congestion, doesn't have sort of the urban challenges that we have in London or other Western cities around the world but what they decided to do a number of years ago was be an innovator and a hub for human capital and they did that by making a very open environment and by permitting stuff to happen on a managed basis but enabling it both through provision of Governmental capital, so they are paying for the work we are doing in Helsinki in the next couple of weeks but in the first deliveries of ecommerce in the urban environment and what that has manifested is an extraordinary talent pool and, and they have now got  hugely exportable products, whether that's in in my sector or whether it's in energy innovation.  They've got a huge program of energy innovation and you know in the drone world- Google have put their drone business there. Tens of hundreds of millions of pounds of capital gone to Helsinki.  Why has it gone there?  Because the Government have enabled it and allowed them to do stuff and they, they were very clear in the outset of every program they do, it is how do we improve the quality of life for our population and other populations around the world?  So every bit of their tech is about the applicability to the real world.  So for us it is about removing congestion and electrification of transportation.  They've got a big program called Smart and Clean which is how they create energy on a sustainable basis so that's driven huge public acceptance and what they do is create the program, deliver the program in real life and then consult with those affected by it um and then feed that back and reiterate and reiterate and it is extraordinary methodology you know, it's slightly easier to do than London because the cities are less complicated, there's much more open space but it's been hugely beneficial for them and they've really created an innovation hub.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much. There is also a piece on Helsinki in EG Tech as well so have a read of it- we're clearly on trend at the moment. And Miranda same question to you, any cities or countries that you would hail as you know, tech leaders particularly?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
So yeah there's a lot of great stuff going on and I would certainly agree with you two on that.  I would also recommend the Arcadis report which came out last year looking at the investability of British cities and it took a really balanced and data-centric view and took into account what these different cities had in terms of legacies and particular problems and, and it would it resisted the temptation to rank them and put London at the top which is often what is so tempting to do. It ranked them across several different dimensions and so it's a dead easy read - have a look at that and you will see how different cities are responding in different ways.  I would like to finish really with the thoughts of the Mayor of Barcelona, which is often also cited as a as a smart city, he said that the city is a very sensible size for a decision-making unit and as it happens Barcelona predates Spain and with all that is going on the moment I wouldn't bet against it outliving it as well.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  Let's have a look at some of the slido questions, I apologise in advance it does mean I have to turn my back on you but I will come back.  So there's a question at the top there, so this is for Duncan. You made a good point about the Government as an obstacle to technological innovation in real estate and related industries.  What about the property industry itself?  It largely, um… it largely consists of Chartered Surveyors who act as middlemen for transactions, where is the incentive to innovate?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
I think there is a massive disincentive to innovate in real estate whether that's the legal sector, whether that's the construction sector. It's, it's one of the most archaic industries and it's my industry, I'm twenty years in commercial real estate, I'm a surveyor – it feels like being at Alcoholics Anonymous - and it's an industry I love but it's slow, it’s archaic, it is close-minded and it's jobs for the boys and it's been you know it's one of the, one of the most historic, it’s been around forever and it will be around forever but I think it's due a shake up and if people don't innovate there will come a time and it's actually probably taken longer than most people think, there will come a time where it gets shaken up around people.  I said to Nick earlier before he's been mandated by Mishcon to be their Tech Lead and to implement a load of new tech into, into the firm.  He will soon be the most hated man in Mishcon de Reya because he will work 50% of their lawyers out of a job and some very smart alec said to me, if you can explain what your job is within five minutes, a computer will be doing it within ten years. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Wow I bet everyone is secretly going through their heads thinking how long will it take them to describe their jobs (laugher) I am. Err... so will cities with H assets and infrastructure always be behind others and can retro-fitting tech have the impact consumers want?  Miranda first and then Nick - that question.

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
No.  Look at what Oxford and Cambridge are doing.  Two of the most ancient cities in the UK and embracing new technology because they flippin' have to. So Oxford will be the first to ban cars in the UK probably but I'll be wrong now.  So, but you've got to find your point of acute need and therefore your unique ability to solve it most quickly.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you.  Nick?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah so I agree with that.  I think the primary thing you need to do is work out what the problem is so you need to treat you know, retro-fitting technology or smart cities like you would product.  You've got to iterate, you've got to understand what your users really want to get out of their city and a lot of it is not necessarily about really shiny new toys, it's about using things more efficiently, about really understanding when your services are used and pushing your consumers in the direction that they might not understand they need to go. So I think you know, really understanding your user base, it is a really important thing to do and I think there's loads of stuff that cities can do even if they have got legacy technology.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much. Are there any real-life questions? Its fine you can ask another one.  If you could say I'm just who you are that would be great.

 

Audience member
My name is Simon Lovegrove of company called M Health and we are working in the Far East in Asean where we are, there are probably twenty, I know of twenty new cities that are being built at the moment or have to be built. It's a really good research ground but today for example, this morning I nearly didn't come because I saw on the news this morning that G20 Health Partnerships Sustainable Goals Three is saying that developed countries are not keeping up with health care. So health care is now becoming central to new cities and how cities should be. I don't hear it from anybody and the technology that you talk about tends to work against that to some extent because what you need to do is get walkability, you need to get parks.  You did talk about parks, you did talk about open spaces but we need to have much greater quality of life and in the cities that I'm working in, I am actually lecturing in Singapore next at the beginning of next month but Singapore is an isolated place. I work in Vietnam which is a string with cities in between and large areas in that don't connect so all of these connectivity’s and things like that make for a very much more dynamic reason that we have to find different solutions and I’m just interested to understand how you think about new solutions in new, in new contexts rather than the existing context?

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  Who would like to take that question?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
Can I go oh contraire Blackadder. So my challenge often when I'm talking to Telcos, who is all about 5G and it is going to be amazing this new technology that we have and we tend, at the moment we tend to think of it in a narrow lens you know, free Wi-Fi in the centre of London is never going to be an issue, people are going to be competing for it but that will not justify the investment in delivering it.  The thing that will justify the investment in a more advanced connectivity is instrumented home particularly with the elderly that enables people to administer healthcare in their home and even preventative measures in their home and that's an example of using technologies in ways beyond the commercial that take into account whole life and societal benefits and taking decisions you know, on a placed level that haven't been possible or even welcomed until now.

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
Can I make one addition to that? I completely agree with you by the way and I think the, the challenge is how you utilise technology to create time. In the reality, time is the only scarce resource. I mean people in this room you may think you need more money, you don't need more money, you need more time and if you can use technology to create that time to use the parks, go for a ride, spend time with the family, do whatever - that is increasingly the scarcest resource we have and I think a lot of these enabling technologies are actually if you use them right, should be creating that.  The challenge that you know, the urban air mobility challenges the start of every sort of big conference it's always how do we save a billion people an hour a day and, and that really does make a difference and you know over all of these technologies, it might be terrifying for a computer to take your job within ten years but if it maintains your standard of living and it enables you to work half the time, that's a real game-changer for everybody.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  Any other questions?  Yep that's one over there please.

 

Audience member
Hello it's Nigel Walley from Chimney. So we're dealing with residential connectivity.  I have to say I'm pretty shocked to be sitting here at a conference on future cities to be talking about flying taxis and autonomous cars.  To me this is the discredited vision of the future that we saw with Fritz Lang or Blade Runner.  Not one of you said the phrase public transport which I find pretty shocking.  I posit that that Crossrail will have far more impact on London than flying cars ever will.  Intelligent public transport, reinvesting in new tech is where the future is.  Somebody said that the best definition of a 21st century city is one where the rich use public transport.  I don't want to lock myself away in a flying car, I want to sit in a public transport with a beautiful train rushing through a city with Wi-Fi and be part of the city.  I just don't see this, this focus on autonomous vehicles.  It’s bizarre to be sitting here listen to it.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Err…Duncan?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
By the way, in sitting in that train you will be on an autonomous vehicle.  I don't disagree with you, you know it's part of the solution, it's part of the solution and in 1935 if I told you, you were going to get on a tin chute and fly across the Atlantic, you'd probably be pretty scared by that as well. It is part of connectivity, it is part of the solution, it is going to be entirely connected with everything else,  there'll be package deliveries, there'll be blood deliveries, there'll be pathology sample deliveries, there might be ecommerce deliveries but it is part of the solution and it's also your choice. If you want to get on the train great, the trains brilliant. I love the trains they work really well, Crossrail will transport more people than flying cars forever more for sure but it is part of the solution, it is part of your choice.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

And any other questions, I've this oh, right so two there and then I've got one to finish up and then we must wrap up.

 

Audience member
Hi, Aikido from Mason.  I have a quick question for the whole panel.  So you guys have been talking about how these dictatorships have,  they take on innovation because they're benevolent dictatorships but then how you justify that all these innovations come from Western cities and there's not really any innovation hub in any of these cities that, that even though they have this hub for it, they don't generate innovation they take it on?

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

That was to the whole panel.  Okay who would like to say that question?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Well you mentioned the dictatorship…

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
I’ll do it again, I don’t mind at all.  And again I agree and when I mentioned dictatorship…

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

I’ve never heard the phrase, well you're the one that mentioned dictatorships on a panel before (laughter).

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
And I did mention the caveat though there are a bunch of things that are not great about Dictatorships and, and I totally agree. 

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Or that.

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
They are enablers of making stuff happen but maybe they're not the great, the greatest sort of factories for innovation and you know maybe that's changed number two and we need to try to implement. I don't know how to solve that.  In a way it's great that they do adopt quickly because that creates industry, it creates jobs, it creates an open society, it creates tourism, it creates inward investment, but he's right they are not the greatest innovators but they are good adopters.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  There are two other questions or just one maybe and we'll make sure that Nick and/or Miranda answers the next one.  Give Duncan a break

 

Audience member
A lot of the safeguards with technology don't seem to be thought about when the technology has been invented and a lot of technologies they are supporting terrorists, they're supporting fraudsters, they're supporting drug dealers and to the person with the drones they can also deliver bombs. So why aren’t the bad side thought about when they are being invented because you can foresee that these things can be used for bad things as well as good?

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

And that naturally is another question for Duncan but Miranda and then Nick?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
So I think to Duncan's point then, that is why it all takes so long.  So I was at a Hackathon last week where a very nice man was only a first name from CPNI, who are the spooks, said not everybody is like you and believes that the technology will be used universally for good.  You have to design in the way and have the standards and the laws over there that make sure that society is safeguarded. So um… so, so part of that is absolutely going on and part of the necessary slowness of seeing technology adopted.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you and Nick do you want have a go that one too?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah I think it's definitely, that's why we've got this sort of balance, the control and maybe in some places will need extra controls for some of these new technologies that can be used for bad but I think also just not focusing on them or not using them isn't going to stop them being created or used for bad things. So I think we need to be part of how these things are created, we need to be part of the conversation so we can really understand how they can be used, how they might be used by other people so that we can hope to implement some controls and put the right controls in place for those new technologies in the future.

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
I just want to add that I am very grateful that we're seeing a maturing conversation about the value of personal data. So you know Cambridge analyst can may yet to be a very positive example which has woken people up to the value of their data so that instead of giving it away people are starting to trade their data and use it more judiciously so that we as a society have become, become richer through it.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  I am aware there's plenty more questions on Slido and I'm sure and I am sure there’s questions out there too which is fantastic but all of our panellists will be available afterwards for a chat if you want to catch up with them.  So just, just to finish off then and I'll start with you Miranda, just one more question from me and I feel bad asking this as the Tech Editor, I feel like I shouldn't be asking it but is any of this pie-in-the-sky?  Any element of it at all? Or should we be embracing, entirely embracing the anything is possible approach to future proofing our cities?

 

Miranda Sharp
Director, Innovation for Ordnance Survey
No, of course- um well some of it is bonkers.  I remember being interviewed by Rory Cellan-Jones, who is BBC political editor who just came away from somebody and said, I've never met anybody so bat shit crazy in my whole life, but you've got to listen to those people because you ask the question, what problem are you trying to solve and you know where is the kernel of truth underneath all of this. So no, listen to all loons and see what it’s actually telling you.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you very much.  Duncan?

 

Duncan Walker
Managing Director, Sky Ports
For sure some of it is pie in the sky and you can only really work that out by doing it and failing and the Americans are really good at it. They celebrate success and they celebrate failure just as much. They fail fast and they tend to fail big but they do it quick and they move on to the next thing. For sure some of it is pie in the sky. I think trying to predict the downsides and the benefits without doing it is hugely difficult and I think you know one technology spawns another and manifests in a way that nobody thinks about so yeah it is, I am not sure what it is what is but time will tell.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you and Nick?

 

Nick Kirby
Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya
Yeah, so I definitely think it is being open to new ideas.  I think that part of what we need to do is make sure we engage with our population more than we do at the moment.  We need to make sure they're all open to change as well and it's about having innovation hubs where these new ideas can be tested out, where new ideas can be put forward by the population because that's where we'll get some of our best ideas are from these sort of activist smart citizens that are looking to really change the way things work and change the way things are done.

 

Emily Wright
Tech Editor and Head of Special Projects, EG

Thank you so much, could everybody join me in thanking our first panellists this morning.

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