Alexa, please organise the next festival…


As we enter 2018, we’re starting to organise the seventh edition of the annual Malvern Festival of Innovation. It comes around quickly, and in reality no sooner has one finished, we start to think about the next. In many ways, each year gets a little easier, as we have a system in place to book the venues, plan the programme, raise the sponsorship, and encourage participation. But there is still a lot of legwork which seems to take an inordinate amount of time to complete.

How long, I wonder, before we can rely on digital assistants equipped with artificial intelligence to do the majority of the organising? Which event will be the first to claim it was organised entirely by Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant or Microsoft’s Cortana? And will the event run smoothly, or will their be hiccups as it becomes clear that some of the detail was lost in translation; taxis booked instead of venues, catering ordered a week early, exhibitors given joining instructions for Malvern PA rather than Malvern UK.  Alot can go wrong!

And yet, as we enter 2018, there is plenty of talk about robots and AI taking over our jobs and replacing human labour with silicon efficiency. Over the years we’ve captured some of these trends at the Festival; autonomous vehicles, big data, Internet of Things, and smart agri-tech. And no doubt this year, as the programme crystallises, we’ll be covering more of these disrupting technologies that will change the way we live and work.

But what makes an event like the Festival appealing to us humans is more than just the organisation; it is the curated content and the friendly atmosphere which unfortunately digital assistants are probably not so good at prescribing. Maybe we’ll see a few Alexi, or her cousins, in the audience as delegates first, before they are in a position to start being the organisers. In anticipation we may bring one along to start some in-field training early: Hey Google, fancy joining us at the next festival to see what you can learn?

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder