Web Summit attendees shrugged off a week of political shocks to present an optimistic picture of the future, writes Chelsea Horncastle, senior insight and business development manager at OMD EMEA.
Last week, over 50,000 people from 166 countries made their way to Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. With 21 stages dedicated to different topics and sectors, there was never a lack of choice; however, despite the huge variety of talks, several themes repeatedly emerged.
Emerging AI technologies
At Web Summit, the narrative was less around what is currently possible and more around managing our expectations for the near future. Yes, artificial intelligence has huge possibilities, but we are still decades from having an emotional AI, said Gary Marcus, CEO at Geometric Intelligence, during the Future of the Worker panel.
Rana el Kallouby, CEO of Affectiva, echoed Marcus’ sentiment and reminded us to think of the inputs as we build AI solutions. She knows this first-hand as Affectiva, a MIT Media Lab spin-off, analyses facial expressions and emotion. Her example is if we were to only teach an AI about white male facial expressions, the technology would not necessarily be able to recognise another ethnic or gender group’s expressions. She warns that human guidance is still very much needed.
Rethinking processes and regulations
With the US election taking place during the conference, another topic that was on many people’s minds was the ‘filter bubble’, the internet’s ability to shows people information that they already agree or believe with.
The discussion was less on the consequences of the filter bubble and more focused around how we can implement ways of regulating the lack of relevance that some of our current processes have in today’s world.
Sean Rad felt like he had a social responsibility to use Tinder in a meaningful way: the company launched #SwipeTheVote to educate and engage the platform’s users by allowing them to swipe left or right on issues discussed before matching them with an appropriate candidate.
Another approach is to involve people directly with the issues. George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, shared his vision of creating a true democracy through crowd-sourcing. “I think what politicians and leaders need to always take into account is that first of all we need to have continual feedback and empower our citizens to feel that they own solutions,” he said.
Creating social experiences
Time spent as a metric has created a race for attention that doesn’t have the user in mind, explained Tristan Harris, co-founder of Time Well Spent.
Our digital experiences are becoming more real and personal. As advertisers, our job is to ensure that we are building meaningful experiences that put consumers at the centre.
“Although the future is full of uncertainty, Web Summit was inherently optimistic about what lies ahead”
Virgin Active Spin Class does this by using technology to create a competitive environment with #ThePack, dividing the class into two teams, encouraging participants to push themselves based on real-time information on how their team is performing. The field trip to Mars transforms an ordinary school bus trip into an incredible space journey through VR technology, making the once solitary VR a shared learning experience for students.
Both these examples use technology to build on the consumers’ actual surroundings immersing them into the story and acting on our desire to have shared social interactions.
Looking to the bright side
The pace of change has been relentless, which brings both education challenges as well as new opportunities. Jim Hunter from Greenwave Systems suggested that we should start viewing technology less as a tool and more as an employee, which involves trusting it and fitting it into an established environment in order to complete outlined tasks.
To take AI as an example – it is at the cusp of being able to interact with humans in a natural linguistic state, allowing technology to become even more accessible. Although the future is full of uncertainty, Web Summit was inherently optimistic about what lies ahead.