Creating a cognitive eco-system – day one of the Hartree Hack

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This week sees the Hartree Centre run its first hackathon event at Daresbury. A three day event which brings together developers, designers and companies from a range of sectors all with the aim of creating the next big thing in web or mobile-based applications using IBM Watson APIs.

Duncan Sime introducing the Hartree Centre at the Hartree Hack
Duncan Sime introducing the Hartree Centre at the Hartree Hack

I’m a football fan. A Manchester United supporter for 40 odd years. The football was so poor last night (although we did win 3-1, I prefer a match that lifts you out of your seat), that I ended up having the “what are you doing tomorrow?” conversation with my significant other mid-way through the first half of the match.  When I replied I was taking part in a ‘hackathon’ up went the eyebrow, followed by the response “a hacka…what?”  Our conversation for the next 20 minutes, plus half time, wasn’t our usual 4-3-3 versus playing with two up front, or whether Louis van Gaal should go, or even if Wayne Rooney’s legs ‘had gone!’.  Instead, we spoke about ‘hackathons’, ‘hackfests’, and ‘codefests’.  I explained how we were going to get around 30 developers and companies in a room for three days – give them access to the most advanced cognitive software on the planet (IBM Watson), feed and water them and ask them to develop ground-breaking applications.  Applications that might have the potential to identify diseases in plants (and help increase crop yield), help young people through their patient pathway, or improve the performance of the internal combustion engine.

The Hartree Hackers discussing ideas
The Hartree Hackers discussing ideas

As the first morning of the hackathon merges into the afternoon and buzz in the room increases as ideas, counter ideas, problems and solutions are discussed by the teams.  Ideas are being challenged, points of views discussed and processes agreed and accepted.  For us this is no ordinary hackathon, this is Hartree’s first and as such it is an important component of our strategy to develop a cognitive eco-system based around our Daresbury Hub.  We don’t know what ideas will be presented yet – the teams are presenting back this evening before a further one and a half days of honing the ideas and beginning the build but if the vibrancy is anything to go by we’ll be expecting some pretty spectacular developments… fingers crossed.  I’ll keep you informed of what happens next and which team ends up winning the £25k worth of support from Hartree to further develop their idea.

By the way, my other half couldn’t think of anything worse than spending nearly three whole days locked in a room with coders.  She teaches a class of 30 Year 1’s – I’ll take the coders any day!

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