Meet Malta’s Tech Guru: James Catania, MRO Chairman

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MRO Chairman James Catania excited to work with Gadgets

You’re the chairman of the Malta Robotics Olympiad which is in its 9th edition, what do you hope to achieve at the MRO this year?

Like every edition of the MRO our main intention is to remove abstraction from the
technology world by bringing to the masses, real-world implementation of digital
design, robotics and other high-end digital research to something tangible which
everyone can see, feel, touch and experience first-hand. Aside from this, we also
always strive to better the event every year – from increasing the variety of
technological exhibitors, expanding on the types of workshops to a continuous
exercise of bettering logistics – the event sees over 18,000 visitors over 3 days.

This year, the MRO has grown by over 300 square meters to include something
which I have been trying to do since taking over the MRO over four years ago – a
dedicated area to Digital Careers. The area will present the largest digital industry
recruitment agencies in one place under one roof. The idea behind it is to attract
more teens as well as to bridge the gap between Primary Digital Education and
Digital Recruitment. Adding to this, we are also trying to branch out into the
consumer digital world and for the first time, we are proud to give space to the
GADGETS™ Expo.

As you mentioned earlier, for the first time ever, the MRO will see the launch of the GADGETS™ Expo. What do you hope attendees will take back with them
from this collaboration?

I believe that this move was done as part of the MRO’s core aims, which as I
mentioned earlier, is to bring realism to a quite abstract industry – to show what an
education and eventual career in the digital industry can lead to. I feel that
the GADGETS™ Expo will add a consumer electronics perspective to what was
already a high-quality event which will certainly help in giving the MRO a wider
spectrum of realism for the attendees.

I am also looking forward to getting my hands on the latest consumer gear available.
Being the chairperson of the MRO doesn’t stop me from wanting to experience this
myself as a self-professed geek.

What is the MRO’s main highlight for hard-core techies?

Hard Core techies will surely enjoy the AI and NLP projects which will be on display
at the MRO as well as advanced robotics that are never more than an arms’ length
away at the MRO. We also have very advanced simulators and VR experiences
which can be enjoyed for free.

If you had to sum up the MRO in five words what would you say?

The Largest Technology Expo on the Island (well a bit more than 5 words but…)

What’s your take on the direction Malta is taking as the AI and blockchain island?

I believe that the general perspective that Malta is taking towards AI and blockchain
is an extremely proactive one. Whilst the AI industry is now a 20-year-old industry,
(albeit not very well known to the masses) the blockchain industry is still in its
infancy. It is both of strategical and socio-economic importance that Malta sets its
vision and intentions clear to the world. Whilst AI is still the playground for bigger
countries such as the U.S., China and Japan, there is nothing stopping Malta with its
concentration of digital commerce to become a European hub. This is especially so if
it goes hand in hand with fiscal benefits, a national strategy and framework.

When it comes to blockchain, Malta has an even bigger advantage as it is one of the
world’s hubs when it comes to this technology. Malta was the first country in the
world to set out a holistic legal framework so that companies in Malta can operate in
this industry and hence has brought some of the biggest names to our shores.
Having said this, it has not happened without hiccups. Issues with timelines of laws,
certifications as well as the still unresolved issues with banking in Malta have
surfaced as a result. However, when you put everything on a balance one cannot but
applaud the move and the way the country approached these processes.

What are your views on the lack of females locally in the tech and IT industry?

I believe that Malta has A LOT of space for improvement in decreasing the gender
gap in the digital industry. This does not mean that there are no active schemes
which are already in place and making a difference, however I believe that we are
doing too little, too slowly. However, this does not mean that I agree with positive
discrimination.

This is a very complicated subject with hundreds of variables to consider and that is
why it is so hard to actively solve. Whenever I argue this point, I always start by
discussing toy shops in Malta (sometimes to the dismay of other academics). Most of
the toy shops in Malta acquire their toys from very few importers, and hence toy
stores are usually equipped with mostly the same toys. Unfortunately (although not
all) most toy stores are greatly gender biased, which cannot really be blamed as
consumers are expecting to see clearly denominated and segmented sections.
However, if you do go to a toy store you will find the “princess section” which is
mostly pink and the “action section” which is the boys section. This is already
detrimental to STEM careers and education since from an early age we are
programming children that girls must be the princesses of this world whilst boys are
the “mechanical”, “adventurous heroes” of this world.

This is however just one aspect from tens if not hundreds of aspects which make up
the gender bias towards not only the digital industry, but the STEM industry as a
whole. Having said all this, it also does not help that the government is very male oriented in both parliament and outside. One of the biggest disappointments I had
this year was when I saw a picture of the AI strategy group and there was only one
female represented. I bring this example because AI’s strategy must be
representative of the whole population and nation since this
will affect each and every one of us in the future and I, for one, would like to see the
population more accurately represented.  I also find it quite disgraceful when I attend
very large conferences, one of them for the digital industry itself, with thousands of
delegates and I see women greatly misrepresented in the show itself. I cannot
believe that we are still using women as eye-candy in these types of events where
we’re supposed to be acutely aware of the gender bias and the great need for more
women in the industry.

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