Connected Nation - Interview: Shini Somara, BBC

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Shini Somara is a factual-entertainment presenter for BBC One UK, having reported on pioneering technology and innovation for a variety of networks including BBC World News, BBC America, Sky and Discovery.

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Shini Somara, BBC

My name's Dr Shini Somara and I was facilitating the plenary debate on the Connected Nation, and looking at issues on how we can strive and thrive in a digital world. I think for me the main points were really the importance of collaboration between industry and academia. Having a connected nation is such, it provokes so much of a gigantic debate; you know, what are the risks? What are the opportunities? How are we going to cope with them? How are we going to foresee them, and be prepared for them? And also, what are the dangers, because it sounds fantastic being more connected than we are today, but what does that mean in terms of securing our future?

For me the most powerful message was just how important it is for industry and academia to work together. You know, academia has this enthusiasm for really progressing and taking technology to levels that are, you know, exciting and pioneering, and ground-breaking; but how do we apply all of that knowledge in the industry so that we're actually serving society and the economy in an effective way? Well something that came out of this conference is that there is such a broad range of research going on, and that's really exciting, but how do you contain that? After being at this event today it seems to be still a question that we aren’t yet equipped to answer

I think we're very much in the excited stage of just what we can do, and getting to grips with the opportunities that exist. It’s nice to be in that kind of cloud nine stage of a connected world, but yeah there's much work to be done and so much more to be understood. Certainly as a mechanical engineer that typically deals with nuts and bolts, it’s really interesting to be kind of catapulted into this digital world, because it's opened up all these realms of possibility that, as an engineer, I've never really thought of.

So now, after being at the event, the term ‘connected nation’ means so much more than it did the beginning. It's really, you know, it comes under three main categories, which is the Internet of Things, Big Data capabilities and Security, and so now for me a Connected Nation is very much about those three main subjects. I'm really interested to know how that's going to affect the ordinary person on the street. It's very exciting to think that all of our things can be connected wirelessly; from your curtains in the morning because of a sensor detecting when the sun's rising, to controlling your light switches and heating before you get home using your smartphone.

So the possibilities seem endless, and I think one of the most urgent things is to really make sure that we all understand what the future holds in terms of the digital world, because I think some people are still not aware of it. I probably am extremely biased when it comes to research because I spent four and a half years doing a doctorate that was funded by the EPSRC, and it was some of the best years of my life. So in terms of research I would encourage anyone that has a curiosity about something, particularly in STEM to pursue it; because when you engage in research it's something that when you go through the process and complete it, it’s a set of skills that no-one can ever take away from you. And you’re contributing to the body of knowledge which is such an important thing to do I think.

Research as a whole is really exciting. I mean, it is cutting edge; it's what makes Britain ahead of the game. More research needs to be done, particularly in STEM subjects so I would encourage anyone to get involved in research, participate in research and just keep Britain on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge; because it’s in our history and it should be our future.