A weird thing has started happening… Without attending the ‘Hogwarts school of Wizardry and Witchcraft’, I’ve started to be able to perform magic. I know that, because when I do stuff, people look at me with a “how the hell did she do that?” look.
I like it. And it happens a lot; several times a day, in fact, so I must be a very accomplished witch indeed.
Just to give a couple of quick examples – I was in a coffee shop the other day with some friends, having lunch. “£28.50 please”, said the barista, looking at me strangely already because I was clearly not fishing my purse out of my bag. “Contactless?” I asked. The card machine next to me lit up with the amount and I smiled, picked up two coffees and began to head over to my friends, just as the card machine gave a satisfied bleep and “card accepted” appeared on the display.
The barista’s jaw hit the counter. “Ummmmm, excuse me, how did you do that?”, she asked.
So once again, I found myself explaining to an agog and secretly tech-hungry person that I was wearing a Kerv contactless ring. Effectively the chip from a card put inside a piece of jewellery. It could be a bracelet, a pendant, a watch, but mine happens to be in a ring. You just wave it over the machine (in my case, as I reached out for the coffee) and it works like a contactless card. One day, such things will be commonplace, but I’ve had mine for nearly a year and I’m still getting the “what kind of strange magic are you using?” looks.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Copenhagen, hosting the Big Science conference for CERN, ESA, the European Spallation Source – the new kids on the block – and many other cool ‘big science’ organisations. Because the UK was snowed in, my flight was delayed and I ended up getting back in the middle of the night. And what a night. I entered the car park and saw four or five miserable, tired people scraping several centimetres of sheet ice off their windshields, shivering in temperatures of -10C and with a wind chill you wouldn’t believe.
As I hopped straight into my nice, warm car with its clear windscreen and windows, I gave the windscreen wipers a quick flick and drove off. The half-frozen miserable scraping people looked at me with a mixture of “I hate you” and “how did you do that?!?”. The answer is that back at passport control I’d rummaged in my pocket for my phone, opened the BMW Connected app and pressed ‘Climatise’, so that all the time I was queueing and walking, my car had been de-icing and warming.
Sadly, I confess I am no witch. I’m just a muggle. But I’m a muggle who believes that tech is what we have to use precisely because there’s no such thing as magic.
And that means that I have, without doubt, the best job in the world. Everyday I work with people who are at the forefront of what they do and who have a passion to communicate it to the world. I hop from fusion to finance, from Higgs-Bosun to Silicon Valley and I meet the most amazing people doing the most magical things; inventing new technologies to transform our lives, cure our diseases and boldly go where no one has been before. These people can split the atom as easily as I can split an infinitive.
At UCL I worked with a research team who are aiming to rid the world of wheelchairs, by creating nanotechnology exoskeletons (that you wear, just like a pair of thermal long-johns) which support the body and help with walking.
At the Big Science conference I met people who are trying to find out what the ‘dark’ 96% of the universe is made of, because it turns out that everything we know about only accounts for 4% of it. I discovered a team who are getting seriously close to radical treatments for dementia and Parkinson’s disease. I met up with an organisation I already knew, who recreate the conditions of the sun so that fusion can take place and give out ten times as much electricity as you put in.
And of course I’ve worked with people who see the potential for contactless technologies, the internet of things and other little bits of magic…bits that I start to use to make my own life easier.
Most of these people don’t think that what they are doing will change the world. Or even that they are doing something remarkable at all – they talk about it in a very matter-of-fact way and are unassuming, humble, wonderfully likeable people.
When I host conferences and make programmes, I get an opportunity to draw out stories of incredible endeavour from them and help bring their idea to a wider audience. I’ll admit it – whilst some geniuses are quite at home in front of an audience, others aren’t…but over the years I’ve learned some nifty ways of guiding them around that, so that the audience gets great content without nerves dulling the delivery.
If I’m lucky, I get to work with them beforehand and help to shape the messages that will turn the audience’s awe into action so that everyone leaves knowing they’re ‘on a mission’!
Having hosted thousands of conferences and events for hundreds of organisations, I know that in each and every one of them are stories of endeavour, teams of incredible people and innovations that can make the audience’s eyes widen like an eight-year-old’s.
So, next time you’re planning a conference or event, it’s worthwhile digging that little bit deeper to find the gems and make a resolution that although other people may organise Powerpoint-fuelled talking shops, you know you have the very stuff that will allow you to create a magic show instead…