HIGH TIME TO GET CREATIVE
Fewer suits... a hipper vibe... the buzz of creativity... people dressed in shorts... it's been a day with a difference at the International Business Festival.
Creative Industries Day was always going to attract a younger crowd with a different way of thinking. Way back before the programme was even developed, designer Wayne Hemingway said he wanted to "introduce some of the spirit of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle district" through his company's designs for the Festival floor.
And that was very much in evidence as speakers, delegates and exhibitors representing the creative tech world mixed on a Festival floor already brightened by the African-print clothes worn by many of delegates of the SheTrades Global conference also taking place at Exhibition Centre Liverpool.
There were representatives from music, IT, theatre, TV & film, journalism and design among others but Mr Hemingway summed up the disparate group by saying: “Creative minds can see opportunity and change and that is what today is about."
He pointed to the demise of retailers such as Maplin, BHS and Woolworths, and the woes of House of Fraser, and asked: "Creative thinking is not crying over spilt milk. Is it really sad... or is it an opportunity?"
Artificial intelligence has never been far from the agenda throughout the Festival. And the extent of its potential was one of the first topics raised by the Futures Stage audience via the Slido app. But BBC North and Children's director Alice Webb told them: "There are three things that machines can't do; be creative, be empathetic and be accountable."
During a panel discussion on Culture As Soft Power she referred to the BBC's reach both domestically and via the World Service as it approaches its centenary. "It's extraordinary that an organisation that has been around so long is, I believe, still at the forefront of creativity and culture in the UK."
While she was speaking, demonstrators from the corporation's Blue Room tech project were showing off some of its experimental content on the BBC Taster website, which allows users to leave feedback on Alexa Skills, VR experiences, 360-degree videos or quizzes.
Delegates were asked to get creative by colouring CBeebies character Nora and watching her come to life in AR, or to take a spacewalk via the BBC Home VR app.
Paul Silcock from Bristol BlueGreen, which develops voltage management systems to reduce energy bills, was impressed. "It's really good," he said. "It's very realistic. You're there, floating in a space suit and there are a few moments when things don't go well and you do feel your stomach turning."
Mr Silcock said the technology could be adapted for use in his world of electronic design but added: "The BBC could well be a customer of ours in the future."
There was plenty of AR on show in the UK Innovation Hub, where Liverpool's Draw and Code were showing off their SwapBots - robots built from interchangeable blocks that come to life on a tablet. Digital marketing executive Ben McWilliams said: "The morning session was very busy with small business owners coming to talk to us. It's been a good day."
Next to them, a Sanbot robot was drawing visitors towards the RPPTV intelligent media stand. Director William Buchanan explained that the company was exploring its use as a "virtual conversational agent" with ability to examine facial muscle movements to assess an elderly person's emotional wellbeing, to address the government's 'Grand Challenge' of healthy ageing
"We've been using 'scene and object detection qualities' to see if a person has fallen," he said. "So it could trundle off to see what's happening and a human could see through the robot's camera."
The presence of fashion firm Hype In the #NextGenFest youth zone drew a big crowd keen to hear the founders' remarkable story of turning a student business set up with £600 into a global brand.
"It was a no-brainer for us to come here and give back to young people in the community because a lot of people gave us chances when we were starting out," said director Bav Samani. "It's been great to hear from so many of them keen to open their own business and do their own thing,"
Creative director Liam Green added: "A lot of people had ideas and it's a case of giving them a push to go for it by saying 'what's the worst that can happen?' It's been really good fun."
"It's been a really good experience. Very motivational," said Jade Masri, who runs Liverpool web agency Key Project.
"It's really great to be able to meet company owners. One of the main things I picked up was that you can build a successful business without stressing too much about strategy or following the formalities."
Back on the Futures Stage, there was no escaping Brexit, with Cat Lewis of Nine Lives Media telling a panel debate on "Creative Destruction" that her industry had been lobbying government to allow a degree of freedom of movement for the creative industries once the UK withdraws from the EU.
Asked by Wayne Hemingway how business could "disrupt Brexit", she replied: "I think a 'soft' Brexit is the best we can hope for." The host wasn't content with that answer, until one audience member pointed out: "The Brexit vote was the disruption."
There were discussions about the workplaces of the future, a Knowledge Hub session examining funding for creative projects, from the Creative Industries Federation, and another from the Eden Project explaining why creative professionals "need to- get outside more" to become inspired by nature.
The keynote was delivered by Simon Segars, chief executive of the UK's biggest tech success story ARM Holdings, which makes the microprocessors found in almost every smartphone.
And he sounded a reassuring note as he got his session under way.
"We are so far away from full AI that it's nothing you should worry about," he said, adding that what human could do with the energy contained a cheese sandwich was "amazing", when you consider the power required to operate computers.
But he went further, discussing the power of microchips to do good by saying work to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals could be aided by using technology such as sensors to help offer clean water or improve agriculture. ARM Holdings has developed a 2030 Vision to work towards these very aims.
And he pointed out the business opportunities involved: "There's real money to be made while doing good for the world at the same time."
There was plenty of human creativity on show after the keynote, not least from property investor Marc Stokes-Denson, who had a sign pinned to his jacket asking people to say hello. "It's just to pique interest," he said. "Everyone goes around looking the same so I thought this would make people stop."
And two people who know all about grabbing people's attention - Hollywood director Timur Bekmambetov and TV drama director Betsan Morris Evans - took part in the day's final Futures Stage session.
Plans were recently unveiled for a £35m production studio in Liverpool and Ms Morris Evans praised the city region as a "game-change" for film-making. "Liverpool has always been brilliant for locations. You can do America here, all of London... I've just shot Surrey in Cheshire."
She said every producer wanted to film in the city but that the proximity of the new studios - in the former Littlewoods Pools building - to the town centre would make it more convenient than London.
"I honestly feel it will be the main place to film in Britain," she says, and adding that she expects Netflix to want to film here.
Mr Bekmambetov said he really liked the "look and cinematic vibe" of Liverpool but said it shouldn't just provide streets but should be a film production centre.
After film, fashion and fun, there was music to round off a bustling Creative Industries day, with Liverpool's Sound City provided artists, including Katie Mac (pictured), for a drinks reception in the government-backed UK Innovation Hub.
This really was a day with a festival feeling. Tomorrow, Sport, Culture & Travel Day will bring the 2018 International Business Festival to a close. Have you got your ticket yet?