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RAD welcomes over 700 visitors during major new tech conference

The digital world’s transformational effect on democracy and the rise of financial technology took centre stage in a series of debates last week at RAD during ‘New Economy, Meet New City’.

How cities across the globe are being reshaped for future generations, the evolving landscape of urban mobility, and whether machines will one day replace the human workforce dominated the two-day conference, which drew more than 700 visitors from both the local community and the global tech sector.

Leading the panel debates were renowned tech and economics experts, including former Newsnight and Channel 4 Economics editor, Paul Mason; Radio 3 and Radio 4 presenter, Anne McElvoy; and AI expert Nina Schick, who worked on the UK's 2016 EU Referendum and Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid in France.

Carl Miller, Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London, gave the opening keynote speech on how digital technology is ceding power away from political leaders and to the masses, who now have an ability to share information and organise protests almost instantly.

“The conventional system we have in place is all of a sudden very vulnerable,” he said. “What is politics and how do you make democracy work? These very basic questions haven’t been asked in a long time, and now, thanks to mass messaging, they are being asked for the first time in the UK and across the world.”

A fintech panel then took to the stage to explore what the spread of “financial technology” means for big banks.

Jason Maude, Chief Technology Advocate at Starling Bank and host of Starling Podcast, argued that digital banks are more secure than traditional banks – with the ability to upgrade technology, correct flaws, and change policy much more quickly.

Additionally, flexibility in services is preferred by the younger generations. As they grow older, the banking industry will have to “adapt, which could result in it becoming unrecognisable” in the future, he added.

Also taking part in the panel was McElvoy, who countered that big banks would “never go away”, and many elements of the current system would stay fundamentally the same, simply because there would always exist a proportion of the population who preferred dealing with people.

The audience also heard from a panel of blockchain experts, who analysed the hype behind blockchain and cryptocurrencies and if this is really set to revolutionise the economy, as has been predicted.

Lucie Munier, Sharing Economy UK Manager and GovChain Research Co-Founder, told the panel that a realistic view of the technology must be maintained, and we should be focussing on what is being achieved instead of getting overhyped.

However, David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts, said that although there had been a lot of hype behind the technology, there was still potential to be realised.

“We can’t afford to be dismissive or put it down to extremists,” he said. “I think the challenge with the blockchain space is that you have a lot of people who are evangelic about it, but aren’t able to explain it in a practical way.”

On day two, the focus of the conference shifted onto how cities are being transformed by new technologies.

One of the panels explored automation in a post-work world, with Mason and Schick joined by Jamie Susskind, tech expert and author of Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech; and Lecturer in Digital Economy at King’s College London, Nick Srnicek.

Attendees heard how machines are increasingly replacing skilled workers around the world, and how the entire labour force could disappear as a result in the future.

Schick, however, said that jobs of the future will more likely be “soft-skilled” positions that require empathy and emotion – something machines are not able to provide.

Susskind said that jobs would exist in the future, as humans preferred to work because of the “social status” they bring. “People apply value to having jobs and providing some kind of contribution to society,” he said.

Tony Juniper, Sustainability Advisor and author of What Has Nature Ever Done For Us: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, and; What Nature Does For Britain and Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth's Most Vital Frontlines, also gave a presentation exploring the future of London’s transport for a low-carbon future.

During the talk, he analysed trends including London’s expanding train and underground network, and expansion projects underway at three out of five of the city’s major airports.

“London has shown real leadership in the world when it comes to mass transit, and is on track to creating one of the most advanced and interconnected mass transit systems in the world,” he said.

During the event, an announcement was also made about two of RAD’s first new tenants, including Taiwan-based tech company Advantech, and the University of East London, which will occupy space in one of the townhouses for a student-run tech company. Both tenants will be moving into their new home in early 2020.

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