What is the future of technology? In our latest Business Leaders episode, we discuss tech, cyber security, autonomous systems and much more with Alert Logic Data Scientist and Founder and Director of Farset Labs, Andrew Bolster.
To find out more fascinating insights from industry expert Andrew, watch our full Business Leaders interview below or on YouTube. Or, you can read on for the highlights.
Andrew Bolster AKA ‘Online Superhero’
When introducing his work and expertise across both his roles at Alert Logic and Farset Labs, Andrew describes his role to be much like that of an ‘online superhero’.
“In my current role at Alert Logic we’re managing and securing tens of thousands of networks across the world, trying to keep track of the bad guys out there and be on the bleeding edge of anything that can possibly go wrong on the internet.”
Balancing between both agency and charity work, Andrew does not shy away from lending his expertise to those who need it.
“My other darker hat is as a Founding Director of Farset Labs, which is a hackerspace charity based in Belfast. Fortunately, I’m now spending time in more of a governance role and trying to do more long-term strategic planning.”
But what work does Farset Labs do? It focuses on the education of the public in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), and the provision of community accessible workspaces to facilitate STEAM outreach and learning.
“From the early days we were mucking in on everything from our Coder Dojo educational outreach programme, going out to schools and developing the original versions of the Raspberry Jam events that have now scaled up to fantastic things.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Andrew also sits on the Department of Finance Open Data Advisory Board: “In this role I am trying to get the government to be a little bit more transparent about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”
Between these vastly different roles, Andrew’s clear goal is to promote the positive use of technology across many industries.
Hackathons to Pique Interest and Promote Learning
“We were one of the first people to push ‘hackathons’ – as not just a recruitment tool or a gimmick that sometimes they are used as, but as a method for learning.
“We also use this for a professional standpoint, they might be working in a very specific field of expertise – whether it’s finance or engineering, and sometimes people just want to let their hair down and try something completely different.”
Additionally, Andrew understands the high interest for games development, yet the little to no opportunities available for people to explore it. To fill this gap, he created what he calls “a global game jam”.
“It is a games development hackathon that runs over 48 hours. It is done in tandem with about 12,000 sites across the world.
“We are the only ones with an open site in NI and we have been running it for six years. This is where people come together to try and bash out a video game, a card or a tabletop game all based around a theme. Basically it gives people the space to play and experiment.”
While Andrew focuses a lot of his efforts on making tech available to people of all ages, he says that getting young people interested and involved is always a challenge.
“There’s always work still to do. One of the most interesting yet frustrating things about software in general is that you are always late. There is always someone coming down the tracks who is deeply involved in one very specific thing, and that could enable a whole new industry.
The Future of Technology
To give an example of the power and scope of the future of technology, Andrew touched on ‘deep fakes’.
“Part of the Adobe Suite was announced at their conference, I think it was last year, and as part of the live demo they had a fairly standard piece of speech detection. They loaded in an audio file and it gave you the transcription, then the guy changed a word and the audio read out that new phrase sounding like the original speaker. It was effectively modelling the speaker’s vocal patterns and going ‘what would it sound like if this person said dog instead of cat’.”
“There’s another technology called GANs, or Generative Adversarial Networks, where one of the applications is being able to generate photorealistic images based on effectively doodles. For example shading a region of an empty square and saying ‘tree’, ‘mountain’ and stuff like that. The network would effectively go and chase down images it thinks could be used as bits of trees or mountains.”
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