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The World Wide Web is about to turn 30 years old and to connect more than half the population of the earth. The Executive School visited this year’s Web Summit, the major conference about all things tech. Be it start ups, entrepreneurship, ethics, robotics or big data, the Web Summit covers it all. Participants come from all around the globe to enjoy it. The Web Summit sports a proud 44% woman quote among its attendees and presenters, and they mean to improve this further.
Portugal, the land of the sea explorers who connected countries in the past has since 2016 been the host for the connecting Web conference and will continue to do so for the next ten years. This year the conference started with key speeches from the inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee whose recent save the web initiative has been signed by Google, the government of France and numerous other partners. The burning themes of privacy, openness vs. censorship, control and freedom vs. hate speech where covered in his fascinating excursion about the development of the web. The wild west times are over, the web needs a minimum on coordination and a code of conduct to curb its dangers and maximize its potential.
From this general view of the web as a whole, the Web Summit starting speeches then moved to the changes incurred by the power of technology as a whole. The core thesis of all presenters was that you can do good and be successful at the same time. Lisa Jackson from Apple, for example, covered the false assumption that business people have to make the fake decision between having a thriving business OR working in accordance with environmental needs.
A few snapshots
The following days at the Web Summit featured for example “deep tech” panels, displaying upcoming technologies and their uses. One of the most impressive moments came from the current developments in DNA storage as a medium for future data management. The idea has been around for a while, presenter Hyunjun Park mentioned that in 40 years we won’t be able to mine enough silicon to produce the chips needed to store all the data we generate currently, given conventional data storage methods. DNA storage on the other hand will enable data storage miniaturization to extreme levels, with whole servers being contained in small cards. The machines capable of creating these are still as big as few cars put together and therefore not feasible for the average person, yet now a viable solution for data centers around the world. Among the less virtual, cyberspace based discussion we had panels about future materials and modes of production. Among the materials there was the talk of super-thin winter “t-shirts”, developed out of technology used for the Discovery in Mars. OROS CEO Michael Markesbery sprayed a participant wearing a jacket of said material with liquid nitrogen live to show its power in quite a funny circus moment for the conference.
The discussions and panels still targeted ethical questions throughout the other days of the conference. Focusing on the business aspects of doing the right thing and standing for respect for clients, privacy and the environment, the talk was that it is on companies own self-enlightened interest to see that they do not lose their customers, by being part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Companies which ignore such issues are bound to be left behind and exchanged by their customers for other providers with higher standards.
Discussion got more heated when politics appeared in the scene. Ann Mettler, from the European Commission, spoke about the importance of companies working together with governments to battle the fake news phenomena and especially “… the upcoming Deep Fakes, where reality gets distorted at an audio visual level…”. There is a fundamental need to enable trust at minimal levels when dealing with information and its spread. That trust needs to be restored.
During the last day we focused on discovering the many start ups that populated the whole conference. Although we did visit quite a few during the former days, now we took time to see the whole spectrum of new opportunities and business ideas flowing around. Against some hype expectation there was not that much blockchain and cryptocurrency stands to be seen. On the other hand, platform based innovations, and data research and application innovations where everywhere. One but wonders how many of them will still exist next year, given the fierce business environment in the tech sector. As Karenann “Kat” Terrell von GlaxoSmithKline, stated, new ideas usually need their creators to “ (…) find the right front door to the right people” and thrive because occasionally “big tech can stop small tech”. We look forward to coming back to Lissabon next year and verify all that for ourselves!
The Web Summit was an incredible experience and displayed quite clearly the myriad of themes that surround modern business. We at the Executive School believe it is important to be on the pulse of such developments so as to help create programmes and offerings which support managers in navigating through all that and being capable of recognizing what is important and relevant for one’s own business.