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‘The People Building Your City’: 3 Lesson's Learnt from CogX 2019

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Last month, the streets of Kings Cross were flooded with thousands of entrepreneurs, innovators, public sector creatives, intrapreneurs, AI experts and technology fans in attendance of the 2019 CognitionX festival on emerging technology and AI. They were joined by some of the world’s largest and most influential tech companies; ambitious start ups, businesses and NGO organisations such as Siemens; Unicef Innovation; X- Moonshoot (a Google subsidiary); Accenture.

CognitionX, was started in 2015 and founded by serial entrepreneurs Charlie Muirhead and Tabitha Goldstaub. As their website states:


CognitionX’s mission is to bring clarity to, and accelerate adoption of, AI across all organisations from global enterprises to startups, and help ensure a safe and responsible transition to an AI-driven society.”


The CognitionX festival was packed with interactive stalls, keynote speeches from the likes of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Anne Boden CEO of Starling Bank and a vast array of expert panel discussions from topics such as ‘The impact of emerging technology on industry, government and society’. to ‘Earth, Winds & Oceans: AI and the Planet’.

Although I could not physically couldn't be at every panel discussion at once as the times overlapped, faced with a classic opportunity cost we had to prioritise. As AltUrban is about educating people about urban-tech, we spent our time at a panel titled ‘The People Building Your City’. It had a fantastic line up of urban tech professionals such as: Katherine Oliver of Bloomberg Associates; Ana Arino (Chief Strategy Officer, NYC); Theo Blackwell (Chief Digital Officer, GLA); Francesca Bria (Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer of Barcelona) and Janet Coyle (Director Trade & Growth, London & Partners Limited) and generally centred around a greater need for collaboration; publicity; diversification; infrastructure and democratisation regarding new urban technologies.

Although we didn't create a video blog of the event (even that wouldn’t fully capture the essence!), I will try to sum up my experiences by sharing the top 3 lessons I’ve learnt from the above panel discussion.


Lesson 1: Emulating Successes and Avoiding Mistakes

Ana Arino, Chief Strategy Officer of New York City, shared how she is helping to galvanise the entrepreneurial efforts of New York City. New York has a population of around 8.6 million people, 3 million of which are immigrants – similar to London, it is testament to it’s multicultural society. Home to around 9,000 start ups, NYC is the world’s second largest start-up ecosystem – second to Los Angele's historic Silicon Valley. Ana shared how they used to look to the likes of Silicon Valley to get inspiration and see how they can emulate it’s success. However, she told us that now they look to see how NYC can avoid the previous mistakes of Silicon Valley such as its lack of founder diversity.


Lesson 2: Citizen led Design

Francesca Bria, Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer of Barcelona revealed how when the Mayor of Barcelona employed her she gave her the exam question of discovering how the Spanish city can use data and technology to serve the citizens and to help increase citizen engagement. Uniquely Barcelona has a large infrastructure network, but lacks citizen engagement. Francesca emphasized the importance of creating solutions which are communicated to be needed, are used and (where possible) are created and managed by citizens. Ultimately such an approach helps “reshap[e] the relationship between citizens and government” (Francesca Bria) putting citizens at the centre of design.


Lesson 3: Collaboration vs Competition

Lastly, another major theme that I picked up was the benefits of collaboration. Uniquely all of the panellist were born in different countries to the ones they currently work in. Not only is this testament to the benefits of cultural collaboration – it also highlights how 21st century globalisation has allowed international labour flows to be extremely mobile. As well as international collaboration, national and even local collaboration is needed to create a diversity of thought, create efficiency savings and redistribute resources. Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer of the Greater London Authority, excitingly shared news about the launch of London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) – a 15 cross-Borough collaborative network aimed at increasing collaboration amongst London’s Boroughs with an aim to help increase the use of urban technologies. Although less than half of London’s local authorities have signed up to LOTI it is a great start in collaborating more instead of competing with each other.



Overall the Cognition X festival was interesting for two reasons. It’s amazing to see how far the Kings Cross area has come from a regeneration point of view and secondly it’s amazing to see the breadth and depth of technology companies working hard to solve global problems. It’s obvious for society that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence will become increasingly intertwined with how humans live their lives in the 21st century, it’s less obvious the ethical principles that will govern this and organisations such as CognitionX are key in starting a conversation about how to best do this.

By Chijioke Anosike

Founder of AltUrban