Can you tell me about your overall experience at TEDxOdense last year?
I found it really intellectually invigorating to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, especially behind the scenes. All the speakers engaged really well with each other, I made some good contacts after the event, and going on stage was really enjoyable. I think I even went over time, I was enjoying myself that much! I also got some really useful feedback. It’s different to what I usually do -- in academia you usually follow a powerpoint presentation, and you have the freedom to go off in different directions.. Here I really enjoyed having a completely set message I could deliver to the audience
James at the TEDxOdense 2019 event
What do you remember best about the day of the event?
Oh! I remember a mix between some Vikings running at me and me petting a snake, I think at one point! Simon [Høegmark, TEDxOdense 2019 speaker] had a lot of animals with him in a box, so those things stood out to me on the day, which I would say is a very unique TEDx experience. Of course, I also remember my talk in itself, I remember thinking for a brief moment that I had forgotten my next line, but it went seamlessly, which was a relief!
What do you hope that the audience learned from your talk and took home with them?
I think the message was quite clear, though I think it worried some people. I did a radio interview not long after where I was described as a ‘disturbing fellow’ due to the knowledge on drones I was putting out into the world. But this is the point; trying to raise awareness to some of the threats that are out there -- it’s been well watched on Youtube which is always good for that. And hopefully it’s a bit of an eye-opener for people.
Can you tell us a little bit about what’s happened since we saw you at TEDxOdense?
I’ve been a fellow at Yale University and then at Stanford University in the United States, working on a number of issues to do with the proliferation of drones, specifically the spread of drones globally to non-state actors and terrorists. I spent some time in the Middle East, analysing the spread of drones to Houthi insurgents and terrorists and some of the damages and threats that come from that. And I spent some time this summer in the Sahel, analysing how, as ISIS is defeated, the know-how, the people, the technologies are moving to other affiliated terror groups in that region both in the Sahel and broader West Africa as well. It’s been a very eventful year and a really interesting one! When I was talking about this at TEDxOdense, it was an important topic, especially after Gatwick’s closing due to a rogue drone sighting then. It really has, excuse the pun, taken off since then. This is something that is likely to remain a threat both now and increase in the near future, and it’s something which is really changing the character of conflicts around the world as well.
What’s up next for you and your projects?
We’ve got some funding bids in. The big question is how you counter drone systems. So a lot of my work is going to be working on that and working with NATO, governments, militaries in order to try and counter this threat in some way, shape, or form. One way is through new high-tech systems, or evolving our strategy and tactic of deployment, and looking at the risks we’re willing to take for our armed forces. When they’re now deployed in the world, we no longer have air superiority – command of the air above us between five hundred and five thousand feet – that’s new, that’s something we haven’t seen before, and it’s something we have to work on and try to understand. So in regards to drones, that’s what I’m doing in the coming time.
This year’s theme is Breaking Down, Breaking Through, and I wondered if you could tell any personal stories about your personal breakthrough or breakdown moments in life?
I think it’s been quite an intellectually breaking down and breaking through year for me! Breaking down intellectual boundaries, where a lot of the research I’ve done in the field has really helped me answer some of these questions that I presented at TEDxOdense. It has helped me see just how important this topic is and just how potent the threat is. More so than I even believed before. And the archival research has helped me see that this isn’t a new problem either. It’s a problem of weapon technologies going to actors we don’t want to have them, and how we try and stop or counter that. We can go back to wars of the 18th century to learn lessons from this. So for me intellectually, it’s been a bit of a breakthrough year!
Final question; do you have any advice for the speakers this year?
Practice, practice, practice. And enjoy it! When it comes to it on the day, there’s not much more that you can do, so enjoy the surroundings, engage as much as you can, and really just make the most of it because it’s quite a special experience.
Watch James’s TEDxOdense 2019 talk here