Web Summit, the world’s largest tech conference, attracted more than 59,000 innovators and investors from 170 countries to Lisbon this year, including many of the world’s most inspiring speakers, hottest startups and top influencers. This four-day celebration of entrepreneurship presented 25 independent conferences under one roof, with attendees taking the party to city’s restaurants and hotspots each night.
At a Summit bookended by stirring speeches from Stephen Hawking and Al Gore, it was perhaps not surprising that a key topic of keynotes and casual conversations this year was how we can harness tech development to benefit society.
While sounding a warning about the potential risks of artificial intelligence (AI) to life on planet Earth, the charismatic Professor Hawking was ultimately optimistic. His assertion that AI can work in harmony with us for the good of the world if only we prepare for its consequences set the tone on opening night. Four days later, Al Gore closed the conference with an inspiring call to action for technologists to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. He told us that we are in the early stages of a tech-driven sustainability revolution being led by people choosing to be involved in businesses that are successful by doing good.
Other highlights of the Summit this year for me included:
- The on-stage debate between Sophia, Chief Humanoid at Hong Kong’s Hanson Robotics and the world’s first robot citizen, and her fellow robot Professor Einstein. Sophia also announced SingularityNET, a decentralized blockchain-based open market for AI.
- The possibility that we may soon get that sci-fi favourite, the flying car, with Volocopter’s pilotless flying taxis already seen above Dubai city; Aeromobil’s racers set to go from road to air by 2020; and Uber’s new partnership with NASA to develop air traffic management systems for its uberAIR flying taxi service.
- The potential for the initial coin offering (ICO) – a type of utility token launch – to take off worldwide as a way for innovators to raise funds without incurring debt or giving away equity, despite China’s outlawing it.
- Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, who believes that natural interfaces – like voice – will be the key to unlocking digital systems for vast global population who are not digital natives.
- The likelihood that the onus will increasingly be on content consumers themselves to recognize fake news – even if platforms like Facebook and Google, as aggregators of content, take more responsibility for identifying and removing fraudulent content.
- The amazing high flyers at Growth Summit, which celebrated companies disrupting industries and staying on track in the midst of incredibly fast growth.
- Medtech innovator Lifeina’s triumph in beating out 200 startups from around the world to take the PITCH 2017 crown after three days of intense live competition.
- As well as: the story of how MoBike raised a billion dollars by showing investors that its bike-sharing model worked on streets of China; Lego’s social media strategy; the exciting foray into eSports of FC Schalke 04, one of Germany’s biggest football clubs; Google’s urging entrepreneurs and developers to think big and plan to serve the world’s billions; and Reddit’s huge redesign to offer a more visually appealing “front page of the internet.”
With Web Summit 2017 over, I can’t wait to do it all again, with sister show RISE set to take over Hong Kong next year from July 8-11 and Web Summit 2018 planned for Lisbon from November 5-8.