International Business Festival 2018




Stephanie Power, for The Business Tribune
09 May 2018

The Futures Stage is our version of Glastonbury's Pyramid - the place to find the biggest names, the most exciting ideas and those showstopping Festival moments. So what can delegates expect from it?

It’s ‘newsageddon’ every day at the moment.

So says a good friend of mine who works as a producer and output editor for BBC Radio 4 news programmes.

She’s right. How often do you think ‘oh no, what now?’ when a breaking news alert pings on your phone? I’ve worked in news for years and I love it, but sometimes it can all be a bit much. It’s enough to make you want to take on a ten-year project watching birdlife in the Orkneys. 

But there’s a danger that news fatigue brought on by this slew of grim headlines could lead us to take an overly-pessimistic view of the future. Should we be embracing the numerous exciting changes happening in the world? Indeed, is that exactly what the current generation of rising entrepreneurial stars are already doing?

This is where the International Business Festival’s Futures Stage comes in. Its speakers will step back from the day-to-day to cast an eye over the bigger issues your business needs to consider if it’s to thrive into the future.Mock-up of International Business Festival auditorium

For example, when you’re not hearing about the state of Brexit negotiations or the latest Trump tweets, you’ll probably be trying to get your head round artificial intelligence. Researchers have been working in this area since the 1950s, and the wider world has finally begun taking it seriously. These days, major players in industries as varied as manufacturing, insurance and travel are investing in the technology.

While demand for ever-more advanced tech consumes more and more power, our energy industry is transforming. Renewables are on the rise - last year, the UK powered itself for a day without coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution – and becoming increasingly viable thanks to technological advances.

There’s so much to be excited about, as I’ve found while putting together the programme for the Futures Stage. I’ve lined up speakers and panels to discuss not only the most exciting new ideas but, at times, counter-intuitive ones.

As an example, the rapid expansion of cities – and how best to cope with ever-increasing population density – will dominate much of the discussion on Urbanisation & Cities Day.

However, when we focus on Global Logistics and Shipping the following week, Julio Gil from UPS will talk about how technology could reverse that trend, drawing people away from cities. In fact, while the focus of his work is on drone technology, the pace of change is so fast that we agreed not to agree on exactly what he would talk about at the Festival, because it might not have been invented yet.Generic image depicting a driverless car

Philippa Oldham from the Advanced Propulsion Centre will discuss how driverless futures might not only transform business, but people’s lives.

Being blind, for example, will no longer be a barrier to taking your family out for a day trip in the car. We will ask if Hyperloop is for real – imagine meeting a friend for lunch in Edinburgh because it only takes half an hour by Tube.

In designing the Futures Stage, we are reflecting each day’s sector-theme. But we’re also making sure the content appeals to a wider audience.

Think of the stage as the Festival’s nerve centre of ideas, whatever your industry.

We will have a special focus on the Future World of Work. This is where AI comes in again. But instead of panicking about job losses, we will ask what skills we’ll need in the future to ‘add value’ to anything human-level artificial intelligence can offer. We will examine whether we need workplace rights in the age of Uber and the gig economy. Might a Universal Basic Income become widespread, and will that release untapped creative potential in us all?

We are living longer, so what place does work have in our potentially 100-year lives? Why does work define who we are so much? And, on diversity, consultant Aaqil Ahmed will argue that it’s not a ‘nice to have’ but essential for good business.

We will examine the UK’s relationship with growing super-economies, China and India.

But we still have some gnarly industry problems to look at too. We will discuss Britain’s productivity puzzle with Tony Danker, examine how businesses can plug the skills gap, and, of course, Brexit.

What you’ll hear from the Futures Stage will be a world away from the usual industry conference fare. This is, after all, a festival of ideas and we aim to inspire.

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