Turing Festival 2012

Feature by Alex Cole | 31 Aug 2012

“iPhone and server backend,” he said, after gamely agreeing to sign my Android phone amongst a slew of i-devices in the hands of the massive queue behind me. I’d asked Steve Wozniak what the teens and twenty-somethings of today should be playing with to get the same kind of progress on a new venture, application or idea that he and another famous Steve once had in a garage in in California. From a man who once set up a Dial-a-Joke line just to have a fun little business all his own, the answer well reflected his approach towards innovation: take advantage of an existing widespread platform, add a backend to handle the complex needs of numerous users at once, and most of all, take something big and complicated that only big business or governments can afford, break it apart, and put it back together so that everyone can have it on the cheap.

Steve Wozniak’s keynote address at the Edinburgh Playhouse last month kicked off the second annual Turing Festival, the brainchild of the Open Innovation Project, which aims to bring together academics, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, industry experts and curious newcomers, all in a three day series of lectures, exhibitions and parties. As if Edinburgh didn’t already have enough going on at this time of year, the Festival is intended to showcase Scotland’s own talent in the digital landscape, as well and bring some of the best in the world to our doorstep.

The event this year featured a little bit of everything, from a gaming workshop highlighting the best ways to build, structure and pitch games (along with Rob Fahey’s passionate plea for games to be more than adolescent misogynists shooting terrorists), to National Geographic discussing how to bring science to the masses, to discussions on security, internet freedom, and 24-hour music hacks at the newly refurbished Summerhall building. Interactive Scotland put on a show at Dynamic Earth about the metric ton of data lying around just waiting to be used, and the whole thing capped off with a DJed party that was equal parts networking and nerds trying to remember how to dance socially.

While more of an industry insider conference than a festival open to anyone who wants to wander by, the event did put some of Scotland’s successes like Skyscanner and Fanduel in the limelight, and the long list of Scotland’s digital talent that comes out of the universities here was stacked up against the best of the south. A running dialogue on Twitter sent several hashtags to the top of the UK’s trending list, and several Fringe shows certainly got a decent boost on attendance.

Ultimately the aims and results of the Festival are not unlike those of the Fringe itself – hopefully a boost to Scotland’s profile, some extra business and cash flowing through, and a few more souvenir Highland cow toys being spread around. While London’s Silicon Roundabout has been getting all the press for tech in the past few years, with Amazon and other big companies getting a foothold alongside one of the best start-up and spin-out communities in the UK, Scotland is starting to code its way onto the world stage.