Can you rely exclusively on digital tickets when travelling?

A photo taken from an aeroplane looking out the window. Clouds can be seen for miles and the front part of an aeroplane engine can be seen in the lower right

Late on Sunday night a few weeks ago I was sat hunched over my computer. My girlfriend and I were going to be flying out the following morning on holiday and that meant that I was knee-deep in the task of printing out the reams of tickets we would need while we were away: flight boarding passes, hotel reservations, train tickets, event bookings etc. The only useful information on them is often just a QR code or a confirmation ID, but I always worry about forgetting important information and so I tend to just send it all to the printer anyway. The whole process takes ages, wastes paper and ink and generally feels unnecessary.

Although I was already most of the way through the printing, I’d been in the same position so many times in the past that I decided that enough was enough and it was time to switch to the alternative: digital tickets. Almost all of the documents that we needed could be downloaded as a PDF, and even those stubborn ones that demanded a printer could be fooled by printing to PDF as well.

I was quite anxious about trying this out; I’ve always relied on having physical tickets so this was an entirely new experience for me. While I kept copies of the most important print-outs, I decided that I was going to see if I could avoid using them for the whole trip and instead rely wholly on the digital copies on my phone.

Fun fact: I wrote most of this blog post on the two flights back home!

The good

Less fumbling, more flow

For the most part, using digital tickets means a huge reduction in fumbling around in your pockets and bags for the right piece of paper and prevents that situation where the document you need has spontaneously disappeared from this plane of existence. As such it can make travel a lot more fluid, where you can move from your flight to your train to your hotel without needing to keep opening and closing your bags. This benefit goes doubly so for anyone travelling with just hand luggage since skipping baggage drop-off/reclaim means you don’t really need to stop for lines, so why stop to fish out your tickets?

Printer begone

One of the biggest benefits of digital tickets is that you don’t need to spend nearly as much time printing out all of your documents. I saved time, didn’t have to waste paper or ink and didn’t have to lug all of my paper tickets to and from our destination. Given that my home printer also has a bad habit of failing exactly when I need it, the less I rely on it the better.

Better security

Flight boarding passes, hotel confirmations, event tickets etc. all have important information on them that should be (but rarely is) disposed of correctly. The temptation is that when you’ve used a ticket you can just drop it in the nearest bin, but from a security perspective this is generally a bad idea. The benefit of storing all of your tickets digitally is that they’re on a password protected, encrypted device (if you don’t have a password or haven’t enabled encryption, go set them up now!). If someone gets a hold of your documents, they can read the information without any additional effort (or minor effort to scan a QR code), whereas a phone with modern encryption and even a half decent code will require a whole lot of effort before they could see any of your details (and at that point, they’d be logged into your phone so you’d have way bigger problems at hand)!

Contactless payments can sometimes replace tickets

I’ve been evolving my use of the London Underground over many visits to the city. I originally used to buy either single use or day tickets, before moving over to an Oyster card. While that was a pretty good solution, I switched over to using Android Pay on my last few trips and the improvement can’t really be overstated; rather than having to spend time at a kiosk or service desk buying a ticket or topping up your card, you can just walk to the nearest station, pull out your phone and walk through the turnstiles. This gives you all of the benefits of digital tickets without even having to download or save them.

NOTE: This point is a little bit of a cheat since contactless payments aren’t really digital tickets, but they follow the theme of replacing physical tickets with a digital solution so I decided that it was worth including.

The bad

Processing issues

One of the most consistent problems I found was with ticket processing. On the first flight out for example, their system simply couldn’t read the QR code off of the boarding pass on my phone no matter how bright we made the screen or how closely we zoomed in. Luckily we had been given a pair of printed boarding passes when we manually checked in our luggage so we were able to fall back to those, but it was an early and pretty major failure to have.

On the way back I had another issue, this time where my phone kept trying to open Google Pay when they placed it under the QR code scanner (I’m assuming because of some NFC chip in the reader). This thankfully didn’t cause too many problems since the code was scanned fast enough, but if the scanner was any slower the code would have kept disappearing before it could be read properly.

I’m sure that there are fallbacks for these kinds of situations (such as entering details manually), but considering I wanted to use digital tickets to simplify the process these issues were doing almost the opposite.

Where did I store them again?

No matter how many times I looked at our tickets, the second I needed them I couldn’t remember where they were stored. For some services there was an app that I needed to use, for others I had a copy of the e-mail saved on my phone, some were stored as PDFs in Dropbox and in a few circumstances they were saved as screenshots.

The solution to this was to do a better job of remembering where the tickets were, but considering how fragmented the storage of them was I couldn’t seem to avoid jumping between all of my apps to find what I needed.

Offline

This had to be my biggest issue with trying to rely purely on digital tickets. Due to roaming charges, it wasn’t really feasible for me to use mobile data and so I had to instead rely on Wi-Fi where I could find it. While certain apps were designed to handle being offline, a few critical ones decided that it was imperative that they had an active internet connection even for static information such as confirmation numbers or for QR codes.

This was particularly difficult when I had to scan my boarding pass to get through to security on the way back. My girlfriend’s boarding pass was still open in the app and therefore visible on-screen, but the Wi-Fi had died before I could flip back over to my pass. As such, I had the enjoyment of fumbling around trying to reconnect to whatever open Wi-Fi I could find while one of the security staff stared at me with great suspicion. Thankfully I managed to resolve the issue, but in the end I decided to take a screenshot of both of our boarding passes to make sure that I didn’t run into the problem again, therefore almost entirely defeating the concept of having an app for your tickets in the first place.

Random failures

Technology can feel arbitrarily fickle. More than a couple of times I found that an app I really needed to use simply didn’t open, even after force closing it. After five minutes or so the issue disappeared and I could get back to the information I needed, but this sort of situation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Even worse, it starts to make your tickets feel like they may or may not be there when you need them. With the Wi-Fi issues there was at least a specific reason for the failure, but when an app arbitrarily decides to not co-operate you just have to roll with it and hope it resolves itself.

Adding stress to the stressful

I’m relatively experienced with travelling overseas so I’m pretty comfortable with the whole experience, but I know that there are a lot of people who find it to be very stressful. If you’re one of those people, I’d definitely say that having your tickets stored entirely digitally can be a stressor all on its own due to all of the other points listed in this section. There’s a comfortable tangibility to paper tickets; you know that as long as you don’t lose or damage them, they should work as expected and be available when needed. If you’re already on edge about all of the other things that go into travelling, digital tickets may very well add to that feeling.

Everything else

You need a backup

There’s a famous saying: “two is one and one is none”. As much as I liked the idea of only needing my phone for the whole trip, I still recognised that I was reliant on a single device that can fail in many, many ways. It can get lost, stolen or broken, it can lose Wi-Fi or the files can be accidentally deleted etc. In the end my backup approach was to have the already printed versions of the critical documents (mostly flight and hotel details) available, but another approach would be to use a second digital device such as a tablet or a fellow passenger’s phone. The key point here is that however you decide to do it, you need a backup.

Batteries don’t last forever

As soon as you start relying on your phone for tickets and important information, you start to pay a lot more attention to your battery levels. Thankfully my phone is relatively new and I had a power bank as a backup, but since my phone also acted as my access to the internet, messaging device, camera and GPS on the trip, there is certainly concern that a dead battery means no tickets.

You need a phone or a tablet

I’ve not really specified throughout this post, but I’d almost certainly say that you need a smartphone or a tablet to try this. I wouldn’t recommend using a laptop and honestly even larger tablets would be less practical since some of the scanners are mounted to tables or are otherwise fixed in place and getting the barcode under the scanning area can require a bit too much finesse. It also undermines the practicality of just pulling your phone out of your pocket and pushes you back to the world of storing and retrieving your device from a bag all the time.

It’s mostly normalised

At least in my experience, people are now as used to scanning phone displays as they are scanning paper tickets. I’m sure that this has been the case for a while now, but it does certainly make it easier when no-one looks at you twice for holding out your phone rather than a piece of paper.

Conclusion

The short answer to the title of this post is yes, but it comes with a number of caveats. You absolutely need backups for your tickets, you need to make sure that they are all available offline and you need to be ready for some issues throughout the process. Whether you feel that it is worth doing depends on whether you dislike having to print out and handle physical tickets along with how much stress you usually feel when travelling.

If you do want to go through with using only digital tickets, I’d advise the following approach:

  • Store all of your tickets in Dropbox, OneDrive or another cloud storage solution even if there is an app available for your airline, hotel etc. This makes them easier to find and allows you to make them available offline on multiple devices quite easily.
  • Test that you can access everything you need offline by switching off Wi-Fi and mobile data and trying to access them.
  • Give yourself extra time where available. You might be lucky and not face any issues, but if you do you certainly don’t want them to make you late for anything.
Nyhavn
For making it to the end of this post, here is a picture that I took of the Nyhavn waterfront in Copenhagen!

The Power Of Naivety

A red heart shape that has been sewn onto a white piece of fabric

For Valentine’s Day this year, I wanted to go a bit fancier than my usual shop-bought present, deciding instead that I would handmake a cushion and embroider our names on the front. My grandma taught me to sew many years ago and even though I’d not really used those skills much in the intervening time, I figured that it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Oh how naive of me.

If I’m going to be honest, my original plans were probably about as detailed as:

  1. Buy cushion
  2. Embroider names on the front
  3. Success

As you might imagine, this wasn’t really sufficient planning on my part. By the time I was finished, my original plans had ballooned out to a frankly ridiculous number of individual points that I hadn’t even realised would be relevant at the start. As well as that, I began a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day, worked on it whenever I had any spare time and still only finished it late in the evening the day before. In all, it probably took me about 15-20 hours of work to go from an initial idea to a finished project (what can I say, I’m apparently incredibly slow at sewing).

The good news is that, despite all of the above, I finished it!

A white square cushion with "Matthew & Josephine" embroidered on the front in black thread along with two hearts in red

Now this blog post isn’t just an excuse to show off a sweet handmade cushion (although that is absolutely part of it), it’s also a chance to reflect on what I learned from the project.

If I had realised at the start how much effort and time it would take, I probably wouldn’t have even tried in the first place, deeming it “beyond my skills”. Yet because I was awfully naive about the whole thing, I gave it a go and figured everything out as I went along. I’ll just buy a cushion and embroider that! Ah, that’ll make it hard to sew on the front. I’ll get a big piece of fabric instead. What kind of fabric do I need? This one is good, but I need to stiffen it so that it doesn’t bunch up when I’m sewing. Wait, you can get this iron on backing that…

The point here is that being naive to the required effort was almost fundamental to me completing the project. It didn’t have to be that way though. The core of what allowed me to succeed was that I broke the task up into smaller sub-tasks and worked on them one at a time, breaking the sub-task down further if I needed to. It’s exactly the same way that I built my first website; I didn’t go in knowing everything about web development, I just pointed myself in a vaguely correct direction, figured out what I needed to know as I went along and just kept going until I was finished. One foot in front of the other.

Now it’s worth pointing out that naivety certainly isn’t the end goal here since it’s much better to go into a project with an accurate understanding of the effort involved, the resources required etc. But it does have its uses if you try to learn from it and use it to realise that what you can achieve is often more than you might have originally thought.

Separate your tasks into smaller chunks. Don’t be scared of learning as you go. Don’t get disheartened if you feel a long way from your end goal. Realise that some tasks that seem impossible are actually built out of many individual parts that are each very achievable.

And finally: remember that cushions take ages to make.

Why Should We Care About Accessibility?

Accessibility is such an important topic, but it doesn’t always get as much attention or focus as it should, often because people don’t realise how much of an impact it really has. As such, I wanted to write this post and cover at least a few of the reasons that accessibility is important and why you should care about it.

I originally wrote this with a mind towards the accessibility of digital content (such as documents, websites and software), but hopefully it proves useful to people looking at accessibility in other contexts too.

In no particular order:

Disabilities are more common than you probably realise

According to Jenny Lay-Flurrie (Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer) there are more than 1 billion people worldwide that have some form of disability. 1 billion! That’s more than three times the current population of the entire United States (approximately 328 million at the time of writing). You can’t afford not to care about accessibility; no matter the industry you work in, you almost definitely have customers or users that have some form of disability and you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t take steps to include them.

Changes made to improve accessibility often benefit many different groups

Changes made to accommodate disabilities are often changes that help more than just the targeted group. Here are some examples:

  • Adding subtitles to a video helps:
    • People with hearing difficulties
    • People who don’t speak the language fluently
    • People who want to watch the video quietly or on mute
  • Adding alternative text (alt-text) to images helps:
    • People using a screen-reader
    • People who don’t understand the content of the image
    • Web scrapers to accurately categorise your content and display it on relevant searches

Accessibility changes should be implemented even if the changes don’t benefit additional groups, but this reason is a great way to convince people who argue against the time spent or cost involved with implementing these kinds of changes.

The gains outweigh the effort

If someone is using a screen-reader to browse a website and they come across an image with no alt-text and an unhelpful filename, it may very well be useless to them. The impact might be low if it’s purely decorative, but what if it’s a critical part of the content (such as a graph)? Alt-text should only be a short description of what the picture shows and I’ve found that they usually take about 10-20 seconds to write, so when I hear the argument “it takes too long to implement accessibility” I’m doubtful; are you really unable to spend these few seconds to make a positive change even if it might be the difference between your content being useful to everyone or being useless to large groups of people?

It’s easy to start

Accessibility is not an all or nothing endeavour: minor improvements are still improvements. As such, starting on the journey towards accessibility is as simple as learning about common problem areas and how to fix them.

For example: if you’re a Microsoft Office user, there’s a great set of training videos on accessibility. What about if you build, design or otherwise help create websites? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have an excellent primer on easy things that you can check to see whether your website meets some accessibility basics.

For just about any topic, you can search “<topic> accessibility” and you’ll likely find something useful.

There are laws requiring accessibility

In many countries, there are laws requiring accessibility both in the physical world (braille on signs and wheelchair access in public places for example) as well as in digital spaces (such as websites and software). I’m not a lawyer and I couldn’t possibly list laws for every country, but you can find more information by searching for “<country/state> accessibility laws” and going from there.

It’s the right thing to do

I can’t imagine that this is a controversial point, but it’s worth making: people with disabilities deserve the same access to information, content and services as everyone else. Making things accessible shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the default. It shouldn’t be looked at as a bonus feature, but part of the minimum requirements.

Conclusion

Content that lacks accessibility is almost always a result of apathy or a lack of understanding, so it’s important that accessibility as a topic is discussed openly and widely. When more people realise that small changes can have a huge impact, we’ll hopefully start to see accessible content become the default.

Start your accessibility journey today. Learn more about why it’s important. See what you can do to make the content you produce more accessible. Talk to your friends and colleagues about it. Take that first step!

Things I’m Going to Change in 2019

On Friday night I went to the pub with some work colleagues and while we were there, I received a few words of wisdom that inspired me to think about 2019 and how I want to approach it. Self-assessment is very important to me and I felt like posting my plans as a blog post would help me come up with something more concrete, keep me accountable and make it easier for me to review my progress at the end of the year.

As such, in 2019 I want to:

Finish the things that I’ve started

As I write this blog post I currently have 19 others sitting as drafts. While the majority of them are still in their early stages, there are more than a few that are very close to being finished. I have a habit of getting excited about a new idea for a post and dropping my current drafts to work on that instead, even though the hours that I spend on a new blog post could easily be used to finish multiple current drafts (the irony of writing a new post to say this is not lost on me). This year, I’m going to try to focus more on actually completing the things that I start. I’ll finish the software that I’ve started writing, publish the blog posts I’ve already got and generally try to start new things only after I’ve finished the old.

Be less of a perfectionist

As much as calling myself a perfectionist might sound like bragging, I’ve always felt that perfectionism isn’t a positive trait. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that I produce perfect work, but that I am often unnecessarily critical of what I create and concerned about how others perceive it. A key point that I’m trying hard to learn is that avoiding perfectionism doesn’t mean not caring about quality, it’s about learning the concept of good enough.

Be happy with what I do get done

I really struggle with blaming myself for not getting more done in my spare time. This usually manifests as a feeling of guilt when I’m watching TV or playing video games, where I feel that I should be working on something more “practical” like writing some code or working on a blog post. While I do enjoy the time I spend on projects, I also want to learn to be happy with however I choose to spend my time. Feeling guilty about relaxing doesn’t make the time more practical, it just ruins the relaxation!

Be more decisive

This one is pretty simple: I’m going to spend less time getting caught up in analysis paralysis and more time actually making decisions, especially for those decisions that don’t really matter in the long term. I sometimes take more time deciding on how to approach a task than it would have taken to complete the whole thing! The biggest difficulty with this will be trying to figure out which decisions don’t really matter and therefore can be made easily, and which are still important enough to spend time on.

Learn to see failure as a learning experience

One of the great pieces of advice that I was given on Friday was that failing isn’t a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to learn. I have a habit of taking failure quite badly which can make it difficult to objectively analyse what happened and learn from it. It can also make me less willing to put myself in situations where failure is a possibility!

Conclusion

I feel like 2019 is going to be a big year for me both personally and professionally and I feel like If I can stick to the above points hopefully I can get the most of out of it. Time will tell with how successful I am!

Future Decoded 2018

Matthew Champion standing behind the Microsoft logo at Future Decoded 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the first conference I’ve ever attended: Microsoft’s Future Decoded. Hosted at ExCeL in London, it was a two day event that looked at where technology is heading and how, in some cases, the future is already here.

Topics

Although there were many different official tracks (with names such as “Empower Employees”, “Grow Culture” and “Transform Products”), the overarching theme of the conference seemed to be artificial intelligence (AI), ethics and accessibility. Curiously, although mixed reality was referenced a few times in the keynotes and talks, it didn’t seem to me like it was a major focus for the event which was odd considering the direction that Microsoft are travelling in with their work on the HoloLens (which, as a side note, I finally got to try in person!).

Matthew Champion wearing a HoloLens. He is reaching into the air with his index finger and thumb pinching in the air.

AI

Microsoft was not a company that I would have immediately associated with AI, so I was curious to see what work they were doing in the area. As it turns out the answer largely relates to Azure, where Microsoft uses it internally to power certain services (like Azure Search and Azure Cognitive Services) along with providing the architecture on which individuals can build AI solutions (such as Azure Machine Learning Service).

If I were to condense the overarching message on AI from Microsoft and the other speakers at Future Decoded, it would pretty much be “start using AI now or you’ll be left behind”. Now this sort of sentiment isn’t new and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it before for technology that is no longer in use anymore, but when it comes from a big company like Microsoft there’s certainly a bit more weight behind it.

One of the things that genuinely impressed me was how maturely the topic of AI was approached during the whole conference. I was honestly expecting the talks and keynotes to point to AI and claim that this technology was the be-all and end-all solution to all of your problems, that every project should start with AI and go from there. Instead the talks were very balanced about the topic, discussing not only the potential benefits but also pointing out the drawbacks. My favourite quote of the whole event that summed up this approach was written on a slide and attributed to Miguel Alvarez of AnalogFolk. It said:

When AI first comes up as a solution we start with a “no”, and then maybe it turns into a “maybe.” Only when we determine it is an impossible problem then do we really consider AI.

The thing that I really love about this quote is that it flips the “make everything AI” approach around to what essentially amounts to “make nothing AI unless we really need to”. I’ve aired my concerns about these black box systems being used for decision making before so it’s nice to see that even at a level where it would be beneficial to push AI as much as possible, the community is showing restraint.

There are many reasons that AI needs to be approached in a sensible way, but two stand out to me in particular. First of all there are many examples of AI acting in a biased way, one of the most recent being where an Amazon AI that used historical hiring data discriminated against women. A technology that has the potential to do good but also the potential to do harm should be handled delicately and reviewed often. The other reason is one of public perception; the general public are starting to see AI discussed more and are beginning to experience it themselves in their day to day lives. If the perception of AI changes from it being a useful piece of technology to something evil or immoral, the chance of wider adoption is slim and it means that we’d lose out on the potential gains that AI could give us in the future.

Ethics

Tim Difford speaking at the front of a room. He is pointing towards four audience members that are standing at the front of the room wearing colourful hats.

Along with the discussion of ethics relating specifically to AI, I visited a talk hosted by Tim Difford and Richard Potter with the wonderful title of “AI’s well that ends well: What Shakespeare can teach us about the effect of bias on diversity and inclusion?“. This was my favourite talk of the whole event because it managed to get across a complex and nuanced topic (the effect of bias on diversity and inclusion) in a way that was very easy to understand. You didn’t need to know anything about Shakespeare’s plays beforehand; one speaker would give you a brief synopsis of the next play while the other speaker pulled unwitting members out of the audience to join in. After a brief scene with the audience members and some wonderfully “rustic” props, Richard and Tim would then explain what kind of bias was shown in the scene; pre-existing, technical or emergent. This was then tied back into how these biases can effect us in our everyday life and what we can do to avoid them.

Accessibility

Hector Minto and Neil Milliken at the front of the stage presenting. The screen shows two sections, one that says

I’ve been interested in accessibility for a while, so I was very excited to see the talk “A practical guide to building a more accessible workplace” by Neil Milliken and Hector Minto. This talk did a great job of discussing both why accessibility should be important to everyone as well as some practical advice for how we can all start making our workplace and the content that we produce (emails, presentations, documents etc.) accessible for everyone.

The main thing that I took away from this talk was that a small amount of effort (such as adding alt-text for images) can suddenly make your document useful to huge numbers of additional people who might have struggled to access it before.

Along with general principles, I learned a couple of things that can be applied straight away. First of all, there is a tool in Office 365 (displayed prominently on the “Review” tab in the ribbon) called “Check Accessibility” that scans your document for common issues such as missing alt-text on images, low contrast text and a host of other things that you can step through and fix one at a time. I’ve already added this tool to my workflow, making sure that I check every document I create with it.

The second thing is a tool that can be used to detect age, racial or gender bias which seems fantastically useful, although I’ve been having trouble setting my system up to detect racial or age bias. Compared to “Check Accessibility” this one requires more work as it’s not just a case of going through a list of items that need fixing, you need to understand how your writing was biased and fix it. I’ve tried my best to avoid non-inclusive language in the past, but it’s incredibly useful to know that there’s a tool that can help me catch instances that I might have missed.

There was something that I really appreciated throughout the entire event and that was the very prominent live captioning for every talk and keynote. It wasn’t on a separate device, it wasn’t an app you had to download and configure, it was an inherent part of the whole experience. Although I don’t suffer from any hearing loss, I do struggle sometimes in parsing and understanding speech from people doing keynotes or talks, especially when the speech is amplified around a room. The live captioning helped me catch sections that I might have otherwise missed, which was greatly appreciated especially at a technical event where missing a few words can cause you to be lost for the rest of the talk. Combine this with live video of the speaker that could only be described as “absolutely massive” and I found it very easy to hear and see the speaker no matter where I was in the room.

I sent a tweet out to Microsoft to see if I could get some information on whether the live captioning system was auto-generated or if it was human-driven, but as I write this I haven’t had an official response. One of the keynotes briefly mentioned that there was a person “hard at work writing [the captions]”, but I saw a few instances that seemed indicative of voice processing such as a single word being split up into multiple words that sound similar to the original word when spoken together, but don’t make sense in context. Either way, whatever the specifics were, it held up well enough throughout the conference to be helpful.

Not only was accessibility found in the talks and keynotes, it was found out on the expo floor as well. I’m not a wheelchair user so I can’t comment from a position of experience, but I did notice that every stand in the expo (which were all slightly raised off the ground) had a wheelchair ramp and that every room had space specifically designated for wheelchairs, which was a positive to see.

As good as the overall accessibility story was at Future Decoded, there were a couple of issues. For example, although the live captioning was an excellent addition, I did see some issues with caption accuracy as well as captions that raced by much too fast to read as they were trying to catch up with the speaker. On the vendor side, I saw quite a few stands that used rather tall tables or had filled most of the floor space on their stand, both of which meant reduced accessibility for wheelchair users. I don’t know that I can fault Microsoft directly for this as I’m not sure whether they issued any accessibility documentation to the vendors or not, but it’s something that I noticed that could be improved or enforced better in the future.

Testing

Richard

There was one talk that I went to by Richard ‘Tricky’ Bassett called “Expo Theatre: test and learn (with humans)“. This talk doesn’t fit nicely into any of the other sections in the rest of this post, but I thought that it was worth mentioning. This talk discussed using humans to test things that didn’t exist yet; as an example, Richard told the story of a bank that wanted to see how well people would interact with a chatbot on their service. Rather than going through the effort to develop a chatbot first and then test it afterwards they had a “Wizard of Oz” type situation where a human sat in the next room on a laptop, responding in place of the chatbot. This helped the bank generate useful data without the upfront costs, as well as helping influence how the chatbot would be built to better target their needs! The idea itself is simple, but it’s a very clever one and I’ll definitely be looking to use it in the future.

Other points

The people

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention that the people at Future Decoded were wonderful. Everyone working the booths in the expo hall were very friendly, the speakers were all very accommodating when I wanted to chat with them after their talks and most importantly, I met a number of other attendees that really made the event what it was. I’ve heard advice for conferences that said to talk to as many people as you can and after my experiences at Future Decoded, I completely agree.

SchedulingLarge crowds of people at Future Decoded 2018

One of the only issues that I had with the whole event was how little time there was between the various talks and keynotes. There was a small period of time in the mornings and at the end of the first day where you could visit the expo, but if you had a full schedule (which I did as I booked in a talk for every slot) you often only between 15 and 30 minutes to get from one talk to the next as well as to get a drink, go to the bathroom etc. For the more popular talks, you also had to contend with a couple hundred people making the same journey.

Since this was my first conference it’s very possible that I might have oversubscribed to the talks or that I’m just not used to how fast-paced they are, but I’ll have to see what it’s like when I go to my next one.

Conclusion

All in all, Future Decoded was a fantastic event and I greatly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an event that is super technical and discussed implementation, this might not be for you as it is decidedly higher level. If, however, you’re looking to learn more about technology trends and to check out some cool gadgets, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.