What’s your favourite…
Technology you can’t live without?
My Maslow’s hierarchy includes WiFi - not just because I can’t live without Internet. It’s a big part of my job - with WiFi we can analyse visitor behaviour in museums through mobile signals. And, fun fact, the underlying tech was conceived by a 1940’s screen siren named Hedy Lammar.
Underrated or old technology?
I have a love hate affair with the clicker counter. Invented around 150 years ago, you can find them on display in the numismatics collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC – and still in use on the front door. They’re still a common ‘technology’ for recording visitation in museums, so they’re symbolic of the traditional management of museums that Dexibit is disrupting. I keep one on my desk to remind me of the starting point for our big data analytics mission in the museum world.
New Zealand tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?
Te Papa’s Mahuki incubator programme, led by Melissa Firth and Tui Te Hau, is hosting its second cohort of ‘musetech’ startups. Mahuki is greatly admired by many top notch museums from around the globe – something to be very proud of.
Global tech company or individual in that space that’s doing seriously cool things?
Sydney innovator Seb Chan, considered one of the leaders of the museum technology scene, because he’s always thinking light years ahead. Over at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, he built an innovation lab and reinvented the digitally immersive visitor experience with an interactive pen that you tap and draw your way through the museum with. Seb has since returned home to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
Tech project or product you’ve had a hand in?
Dexibit - helping take the museum industry from gut feel to data driven decisions with analytics.
Tech project or product that isn’t yours, but you’re envious of?
Jeffrey Inscho leads an innovation studio across Carnegie’s four museums in Pittsburgh. Their dawn chorus alarm clock app of the museum’s bird sounds is a cool way to wake up and they’re developing a bot for visitors to chat with the museum. The Studio is very user centric in design and publish their work open source.
What first drew you to this industry?
I inherited a love for museums from my mother and my father was a tech entrepreneur. I was learning to walk when we first had a computer at home, unheard of in the early 80’s. One day my father helped me dial up to the Internet for the first time. He told me it would change our lives and I was hooked.
What do you enjoy the most about working in tech?
Seeding an idea for a product and seeing how others build on it - the buzz when a member of our team or one of our museums comes up with an idea for Dexibit that never would have crossed my mind, and it’s a hit.
How would you describe New Zealand’s tech culture?
New Zealand is great at the art of the niche play – agritech, movietech, musetech – global domination in select verticals is a great recipe for success.
Where does inspiration come from for you?
I have a thing for dinosaurs – I like standing in front of something from millions of years ago and thinking about the future. On a more serious note, I’m constantly inspired by the museums we work with that bravely tell difficult stories about genocide, or slavery, or war – it’s a reminder of how important museums are and why it's imperative we empower them.
How has tech impacted on your work? How will it impact on it in the future?
So much of success in tech is down to timing the dependencies. For us it’s the ubiquity of cloud, pervasive WiFi networks and machine learning - none of these things were common when I started out in my career. It’s exciting to think about what might be on its way, but it’s challenging to pick the exact time to capitalise on it.
What’s been the most concerning change that technology has made to human behaviour, in your experience?
Technology has changed what childhood is like. It’s done wonders for what humanity can achieve, but there’s surely a cost in innocence, playfulness and emotional relationships for younger generations. I wonder how it will impact society as they grow older.
How would you describe your relationship with technology? Do you think you’re addicted to any form of it?
Live and breathe it, utterly addicted and not ashamed in the slightest.
Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?
A blessing. The world is a better place for the fact we all have a keyboard, camera and megaphone in our pockets – particularly so in today’s social climate in the US. It’s also changing the curatorial dynamic in the cultural sector – from a top down pyramid, to more of a crowd sourced model.
Do you think technology needs more laws surrounding it, or a form of resource consent regulation?
Tech is always going to be two steps ahead of the regulators - I’m more a fan of awareness and education, being a responsibility of the industry leading change. For us at Dexibit, that’s making sure we’re actively facilitating conversations around things like privacy in the museum.
What needs to be done to tackle the diversity issue in tech?
‘Leave the ladder down’ captures it for me - I’ve been fortunate enough to have the support of incredible role models who have been so generous with their time. I hope I’ve been able to do the same for a few more.
What worries you the most about technology?
That coding is not a compulsory school subject.
What’s your scariest prediction for the future? Will the robots kill us all?
I’m firmly on Mark’s side of the fence rather than Musk’s. We should spend our energy upskilling the workforce against robots stealing jobs, not worrying about them taking over. Rising unemployment if our skilled economy doesn’t keep up is a far more frightening future than the Terminator.
What will New Zealand look like as a country in 2037?
So much can happen in that amount of time! If I think back 20 years ago, I was a teenager when we saw our first female Prime Minister. Steve Jobs got his job back and I thought car phones were cool. You could buy a decent house in Auckland with less than $300k and base WiFi was released. With technology moving exponentially faster, in another 20 years – the only thing I know for sure is the way we communicate and the structure of our economy will be very different. I hope we’re doing everything we can today to equip our people and support our businesses for that future, positioning New Zealand to succeed. The kiwi tech entrepreneurs of 2037 are probably in nappies right now - one day, they’ll be reminiscing in Idealog about life in 2017.