Thinking Digital conference held at The Sage

Hundreds of the region’s most innovative digital businesses have come to Tyneside for the massive Thinking Digital conference which attracts some of the brightest minds in the world.

Vincent Li from The Angiogenesis Foundation
Vincent Li from The Angiogenesis Foundation

Hundreds of the region’s most innovative digital businesses have come to Tyneside for the massive Thinking Digital conference which attracts some of the brightest minds in the world. John Hill was there.

WE SEE it so often in the papers now that it almost becomes noise. But the idea that diet can improve cancer prevention isn’t just health page blather.

Vincent Li is COO and scientific director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a non-profit organisation which investigates how the creation of blood vessels affects the spread of cancer. He believes people can really take steps to prevent cancer by picking their foods wisely, and is trying to spread the information through

He said: “It’s a paradigm shift. As a society we’re so focused on interventions and that’s normally when something happens and it’s too late. What we’re doing is thinking about disease from a prevention point of view, so you don’t have to resort to expensive medications.

“We’re looking at things we have access to in every culture. It’s about creating a framework around why something works and how it works and putting together data. Instead of using the information to synthesise a new drug, we’re looking at things everyone can do.”

Blood vessels have a significant impact on the condition of the body. For example, too few can lead to strokes while too many risks obesity, cancer and arthritis. In the case of cancer, the foundation has had encouraging results in tests that starve cancers of blood vessels, and Li notes several foods have anti-angiogenic properties, from red grapes to tomatoes. The method of preparation is important. The water in tea absorbs more catechin if it is dunked and steeped longer, and the anti-angiogenic properties of tomatoes are improved if they are cooked in olive oil.

Li said: “It’s not about removing things. We’re always being told to stop drinking or smoking. This is about what we can do to increase our quality of life. We’re working with chefs and looking to work with industry to find the best sources of food, and we’d like to deal with the Government to put numbers on foods so people can make choices. It’s not about a quick fix. It’s about doing the right thing earlier.”

Day of diverse talks at The Sage

BRAIN headsets, mind-boggling risk analysis, cancer prevention and prank calls? In one day?

Thinking Digital’s second and final day yesterday featured a range of talks that challenged how the mind works, from risk analyst Caspar Berry’s talk on how little humankind can control its future to Viadeo CEO Dan Serfaty’s explanation on accepting failure and taking more risks and Alan Cohen of Cisco’s thoughts on social networking and information overload.

Popular day two speakers included Angiogenesis Foundation CEO Vincent Li on how diet can help prevent cancer, while Emotiv’s Tan Le showcased mind-reading headsets and Tom Scott prank-called a Facebook user who wasn’t careful enough when sharing his mobile number.

Chris Hatala and Wesley Burt of Massive Black showed how they created visual effects from the Lord of the Rings franchise, while Jer Thorp demonstrated a New York Times project looking at to track how an article is spread, as well as showcasing his work on the 9/11 memorial and OpenPaths, service which allows you to plot where you’ve been from the data stored on your iPhone.

Newcastle’s own Paul Smith has just returned from a month-long trip around the edges of America, and the former Twitchhiker and app developer blogged and Tweeted updates to fans throughout his journey as he went.

His morning talk talked about a landscape in which “freedom of expression and technology are now keeping up with each other”.

He told The Journal: “I think immediacy nurtures intimacy. If you don’t have time to reflect on what happened to you, you’re more likely to show frailties and your audience will empathise with them.

“I think the landscape of publishing has changed, but it’s not disruptive at the moment. Amazon isn’t disrupting publishing. It’s only disrupting printing on paper.”

Talk about a brainwave!

PEOPLE love computers, but often hate talking to them. They take things so literally, you see, and they’ll do exactly what you tell them, whether that’s what you wanted them to do or not.

But just think if you could use a system which remembered all the subtleties of the patterns in your brain, and understood exactly what you were after without all that messy mucking around with language.

“For many decades, we’ve had this desire to understand the structure and function of the brain and eventually to control and influence your environment with your mind”, says Emotiv founder Tan Le.

Le set up Emotiv to develop brain to computer interface technology, and the firm has created a headset which allows you to control machines by letting them read and recognise your brainwaves.

At her Thinking Digital presentation, she showed how a user can put on the headset with no scalp preparation, and almost immediately make an onscreen box move or even disappear. The technology is being tested in a variety of areas, from driving a car using brainwaves on a test track in Germany to powering a wheelchair through San Francisco.

It has also been adapted for Braintone Art, a programme which allows the user to paint pictures using their moods and thought processes.

Le said: “What we want to be able to introduce is a whole new way to allow machines to understand not just what you’ve directed it to do but to understand your emotional experience.”

A consumer version of the headset is already available from

Media in the information

THERE was a time, not so long ago, when people received information from one or two trusted sources. Now information from around the world is trying to squeeze into your head like commuters on a train.

As the controller of BBC Research and Development, Matthew Postgate is part of a team developing technology that helps the broadcaster remain as a loud voice in the din, while making services more immersive and exciting.

“In the past, you had one newspaper that told you all you needed to know, and the key role was finding information and re-presenting it”, he said.

“In the information age, the role is almost reversed, and the role of the journalist is about managing abundance. One element of that is about referencing sources, and that’s the mechanism by which you maintain a trusted voice.”

News media have adapted their approach to breaking news with “live pages” with video and text updates and views from social media.

Postgate said: “Broadcasting isn’t a static medium. It’s creating topicality. There are live feeds from a big event, but there are also seasons of drama that deal with a specific topic. It’s about creating a national conversation. It’s not about dictating to people that they can’t be part of the conversation anymore if they aren’t home at 9pm on a Tuesday.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer