Data-Driven Innovation & Inspiration at DataSummit19

by Lorna Crawford,
Business Development Manager, Eyecademy

This year, The Data Lab ran Scotland’s first ever two-week festival of Data Innovation, which was held from the 11th to the 22nd March 2019. Comprised of over 60 different events, including DataTalent and their newest conference DataTech, this year’s DataFest saw over 4,000 participants attend, filling 53 venues over the fortnight. At the end of a successful year’s festival, DataFest concluded with a two-day international ‘DataSummit’ conference, boasting a star-studded line-up of compelling stories on data-driven innovation, filled with keynotes, panel discussions, and lots of inspiration.

Gillian Docherty, CEO of the Data Lab kicked off the event and introduced Maggie Philbin, OBE and CEO of Teen Tech, as our host for the 2-day conference. Some of us middle-aged folk will fondly remember Maggie as one of the ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and ‘Multi-coloured Swap Shop’ hosts, and former wife of the late Keith Chegwin. Tomorrow’s World showed innovations such as Laser Eye Surgery (1965), Home Computer Terminal (1967) and the Mobile Phone (1979), but sadly not all the innovations which were predicted to take off on the BBC TV Series were all as successful.

Following Maggie’s introduction to the day’s speakers, the first session I attended was from the infamous whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie.

Day 1, Session 1: Society and Data

Christopher Wylie – ‘ The Spark That Lit The Great Privacy Awakening’

It has been one year since Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica, and raised worldwide doubt about the legality of the Trump presidential campaign.  Christopher set the scene on how this happened:

Imagine days gone by, when National Security would provide physical protection – Armies would identify a physical target and have a missile payload.  Nowadays, modern security threats are online, and information can be used to cause harm.

Years ago, Christopher was recruited into a British MOD military contractor, SCL, to profile threats. He was identifying, tracking and predicting extremist behaviour by harvesting information from Facebook. With this information, he was able to spot people with backgrounds, experience or circumstances that would make them vulnerable and easy to target for extremist groups.

Now fast forward to the renaming of SCL to ‘Cambridge Analytica’. CA accessed and extracted as many as 87 million Facebook Profiles (including more than 1 million British ones) from Russia.  CA then applied ‘Military Skills’ not for the protection of the country, but to build insurgency and manipulate voters in a sequence of well planned and executed steps; Infiltrate Culture, Establish a Voice on the Shared Platform, Share Propaganda, Manipulate Thinking and finally Watch Changes in Voting Behaviour. These tactics were used on multiple political campaigns, including the Trump campaign and the Brexit ‘Vote Leave’ campaign.

What happened next was that Christopher, who did not support what was happening, left Cambridge Analytica and exposed the truth. Initially no one would believe him, however eventually the Guardian published Chris’s findings, with the story picked up momentum shortly after. Facebook, who had denied that harvesting of its profiles had happened, finally owned up.

Discussing what we could learn from his experience, Christopher said it is time for social platforms to be regulated. In his opinion, this responsibility should be devolved from Governments, to organisations with technical understanding of data privacy, in the same way that Aeroplane safety is governed. 

In his keynote, Christopher highlighted the growing power that large organisations have due to the volume of personal data that they store, and just how import our own information is and can be. Data can be insightful and world-changing, driving cutting-edge innovation, however if not properly regulated, it can also become a new weapon in the arsenal of those who store and harvest the most data, whether that be in or outside of the law.

Dr Sue Black, Professor of Computer Science – ‘Saving Bletchley Park’

Following Christopher Wylie’s keynote was Dr Sue Black, who shared her incredible story of using Social Media to save and preserve the home of WWII codebreakers, Bletchley Park.   

Over the last 20 years, Dr Sue has built up a massive following on Twitter, using social media to promote her cause. Through the network, she was able to access popular personalities, including Stephen Fry, to raise awareness and publicise a JustGiving page to receive donations to her fund. 

Her activity on social media was also paramount in creating an amazing future for the Bletchley Visitor and Education Centre, looking to inspire the next generation of technologists.  

Alan Turing, Inventor of the Turing Artificial Intelligence Test, and his team of codebreakers cracked Germany’s Enigma Code in Bletchley Park, shortening the Second World War by over 2 years.  Bletchley Park, now fully restored to its former glory thanks to Dr Sue Black, is where you will find Turing’s intellectual legacy in the form of his papers.

Day 1, Session 2: Innovation Showcase

Cancer Innovation Challenge Panel

At midday on Day 1, a Panel was held on the Cancer Innovation Challenge, with panelists including Anne Bruinvels (Founder, Px Healthcare), Dr Gregor Smith (Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Scotland), Ken Sutherland (President, Canon Medical Research Europe) and Tim Williams (Co-Founder & CEO, My Clinical Outcomes).

The Cancer Innovation Challenge is a £1M project funded by the Scottish Funding Council & the Scottish Government, and is a collaboration between 3 of Scotland’s Innovation Centres, who’s aims are to encourage technical innovation in Scotland. The Challenge looks to both identify innovative cancer data science solution, and develop new tools for cancer patient reported outcomes and experience measures.

From a total of 48 applications, 3 organisations were selected to participate in the Challenge:

  • Px Healthcare developed a mobile platform to help improve the diagnosis and treatment experience of breast cancer patients, and worked with Lothian NHS and Maggie’s centres. The solution helps reduce fear from the initial diagnosis, and gives patient and NHS staff a to-do list and questions to ask about the patient and their response to the treatment.
    The minimum viable product and the project has been a success and they are now looking to roll this out globally.
  • My Clinical Outcomes is a web-based platform that automates the collection and analysis of Patient Reported Outcome Measures.  Data is collected throughout the patient journey from diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment follow up.
    The Cancer Innovation Challenge was a game changer for their solution, as it brought the right people to the discussion (e.g. NHS Ayrshire and Arran plus the Beatson) and opened doors for a fast-track to delivering care immediately
  • Canon Medical Research Europe are using Artificial Intelligence to assist analysis of all available data in the fight against cancer. Scotland has the highest world incidence of mesothelioma which in 80% of cases is due to exposure to Asbestos – a legacy of shipbuilding and heavy industries but also found in our homes and schools. Canon are collaborating across NHS and other organisation across Scotland and are taking their findings and products out from Scotland to Japan and then on to more than 140 countries via their existing innovation pipeline.

Other DataSummit Sessions

‘Safer Communities Through Data Derived Insights’ – Lawrie Elder, SaS

Lawrie showed us how Intelligence-led policing is using analytics to help enhance the information the police have, however while advanced, the technology will not be replacing humans any time soon. The challenge Lawrie described with modern policing is the paperwork associated that occurs with each incident. One ‘event’ could lead to multiple criminal charges, or multiple Government and Police departments becoming involved, which all require additional processes and paperwork.

Integrating Smart Data-Led Policing will help improve the effectiveness of the Police force, with intelligence reports able to highlight problem areas. Typically, in most serious incidents the police have already had some dealings with the individual throughout their past, and Smart Policing will be able to use Data Analysis to identify high-riskpeople to assist policing.


‘Fake News: How to Spot the Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’ – Liberty Vittert, Harvard Data Science Review

Liberty opened with a reminder of the OJ Simpson trial for the murder of his wife.  His lawyer’s lack of understanding of statistics made him think that he had a watertight case by quoting the number of actual murders by violent husbands.  What he failed to realise was that he was quoting a number based on women who had not yet been murdered.  When you take into account hat OJ’s wife was already dead, the statistics quoted actually showed more than 90% probability that OJ murdered her!

She used a number of examples around drinking wine, eating chocolate and using ‘dentist recommended’ toothpaste to encourage us to think more about the seemingly true statistics we are presented with, along with some advice on how to get a proper understanding of the ‘facts’.

  • Firstly, make sure the survey results relate to numbers out of 100 so you can very quickly do a % comparison.
  • Identify who paid for the survey before you decide if there is any unfair bias
  • Finally, make sure you get the full story in context

Recently, Scotland started providing Baby boxes based on the drop in Finland’s mortality rate dropped with baby boxes. However, digging deeper revealed the real reason behind the success was because Finish mothers attended mandatory education sessions in order to receive their boxes.


‘Biometrics Paradox: Protecting Your Identity While Losing Your Freedom’ – Stephanie Hare, Researcher and Broadcaster 

Stephanie’s talk made us all think hard about what parts of our biometrics can be harvested without our authority.  If you are sitting on a train in China now, you can use a mobile phone app to see if the person sitting next to you on the train who didn’t pay their tax. Then, if you choose so, you can share your geographic position so they can be arrested! Biometric data harvesting could potentially be the most difficult data to protect, and Stephanie’s talk proves that it will only become a bigger issue as technology advances.

The Power of a Crazy Dream’ – Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, MBE

Dr Maggie, BBC’s ‘The Face of Space’ took us on a space adventure!  It is wonderful how much imagination children have when they are little and their ability to really dream big!

All it took was some small puppets in outer space (the Clangers) and a communications officer based on Star Trek Enterprise (Uhurah) to think ‘Out of this World’ to inspire her to embark on a career in Space Science.  Her passion and energy for the subject is contagious, and with the images she shared from space telescopes in her presentation, we can understand why!

Her key takeaway for the audience was to ensure diversity in the workplace and to get that by encouraging the next generation into STEM subjects to bridge the Gap of % in Computing and Engineering subjects. She left us with an apt quote, “It’s only by aiming high that we can reach higher goals and fulfil our true potential”

Final Thoughts

In 2 days there were over 19 sessions, and it was fantastic to have such a diverse group of excellent speakers to give us better insights into how data is shaping our future. 

At the end of the day it all comes down to trust.  Machines are not trustworthy – trust is between people.  Only humans can be responsible!  So let’s take that responsibility back to our own place of work and make it a bright future for the next generation.


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