Cork junior coders visit the Valley

CoderDojos told the tech you see on Star Trek will be real in the next 10 or 15 years

Thought and voice-powered technology will replace smartphones and computers over the next decade, according to the co-founder of the company behind the Family Guy game.

TinyCo officially released its new game based on the Fox sitcom Family Guy last Thursday. Co-founder and chief executive Suli Ali (31) said mouse and keyboard controlled devices will soon become obsolete.

"They way I see it, everything you see in Star Trek will be real in the next 10 or 15 years. I can't wait, it's going to be incredible," he said.

The San Francisco-based iOS and Android games developer worked with Family Guy writers over the past 14 months to create Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff .

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The game invites players to rebuild the hometown of the main characters, Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Stewie and Brian – the Griffin family, after it is destroyed in an imaginary battle.

“It feels like the way we learned to use computers with mouse and keyboard, that will just go away and it will be voice or thought ultimately that is used to interact,” Ali said.

The co-founder of TinyCo raised $18m (€13m) in venture capital for his mobile games start-up in 2009.

“I think ultimately it will become something that is much more natural to use than a smartphone. And the shocking thing is that it’s not that far away,” he said.

TinyCo hosted a group of children from Cork, members of global computer programming network CoderDojo, on a tour of the company's headquarters in San Francisco last week. The group of students, aged 12 and 13, were guests of the mayor of San Francisco on a sister city mission to develop future industry links in cutting-edge technology.


'Crazy technology'
According to Ali, technology will develop in the style of Google Glass, a hands-free optical display screen that will enjoy a much wider take-up as it is commercialised over the next five years.
"I think something like Google Glass – this really new and really crazy technology – will be transformative and very quickly," he said.

“The pace of change is accelerating. The pace of change is so rapid compared to what generations have seen before us. Some things I couldn’t even imagine a couple of years ago are now becoming real.”

The CoderDojo group, Áine O'Neill, Ruth Whelan, Emily Ray, Andrew Barrett and Matthew Mallon, featured on San Francisco's news channel ABC, and received print and radio coverage locally during their stay.

At TinyCo, they received insights into pre-production and prototyping from TinyCo designers and engineers, who write gaming code and programming.

“To come out here and be with some of the best companies in technology, that already puts you guys so far ahead of where I was at your age, that’s awesome, you are very lucky,” Ali told them.


Collaboration
Mentor and trip chaperone Adrian Collins, an astrophysicist at Cork Institute of Technology's Blackrock Castle Observatory (CITBCO) said students direct the weekly coding sessions while mentors "facilitate".

“The kids are little mini-engineers who come into us every week and they want to do something and we try to make that happen, without telling them how it works. That’s the key. You can’t tell them all the answers, they have to figure it out for themselves,” he said.

“They have a dream and you are making it happen – that’s really cool,” Ali said.

The students visited the US as part of a cosmic collaboration connecting continents through education known as the Tara Project.

The CITBCO project aims to gain access to high-powered telescopes around the world to allow students study the night sky during daytime hours, developing a network of telescopes in Ireland, the US and eventually India.
The CoderDojo students shared their coding skills with peers at the Academy of Science in San Francisco while influential experts and key stakeholders in some of Silicon Valley's top technology companies looked on.

Mayor of San Francisco Edwin Lee presented the five students with certificates of honour in his office, where Áine O'Neill's grandfather, former lord mayor of Cork Dan Wallace, signed the official twinning agreement between the two cities 30 years ago previously.

“When I told him [my grandfather] about the trip he was really excited for me. He finds the whole subject of coding really interesting,” Áine (13) said.

Computer coding and programme skills are key requirements for technology companies, Conor Healy of Cork Chamber told delegates at the event.

"One of the key challenges globally in terms of the technology sector is skills development, it's around having the people to fill the roles that allow that sector to grow and what's really been inspirational is looking at the Cork CoderDojo kids coming over working with San Francisco kids and looking to a future in which they could potentially be working together," he said.

Watch ABC 7 San Francisco's coverage of Cork children's San Francisco visit at http://iti.ms/1iYVOs0
Watch Family Guy: A Quest for Stuff introductory video at http://iti.ms/1iYX7a