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Web Summit 2016

The Web Summit is Europe’s largest technology event, with over 50,000 attendees. We knew only one thing; we wanted to be a part of it. Discovering all things technology and innovation in the beautiful city of Lisbon, we were excited to be surrounded by all of the biggest names in tech, from Amazon’s and Facebook’s CTOs, to Tinder CEO Sean Rad, and many, many more. Even a handful of globally-known celebrities showed up, including footballer Ronaldinho and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Upon arrival, the event seemed overwhelming, with multiple stages, continuous talks, panels and debates and endless activities scheduled throughout the day. Nevertheless, it was an exciting few days, filled with a bunch of interesting talks about all of the latest and most innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mobility trends, chatbots and Internet of Things. We even got to test-drive the latest BMW i3 electric car – it’s safe to say it was a successful week overall!

We got to see a number of excellent presentations that were both informative and inspiring. Some of the talks that stood out in particular are described below.

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Bots: What are they good for?

Facebook’s VP of Messaging, David Marcus, presented on one of the biggest hypes in technology right now: chatbots. With 33,000 developers for bots on Facebook Messenger, it is a growing phenomenon in the industry that had a rocky start. The art of chatbots is certainly ‘learning by doing’, just as we saw with the first websites and apps that were deployed – they were subpar to say the least. Up until recently, this was one of the main reasons why Facebook did not offer many distribution possibilities on their platform. However, David Marcus announced that brands will now be able to use the Facebook advertising platform to target their users and bring them into a conversation with a chatbot.

Now is an exciting time in the development of chatbots as we are not only beginning to experience them ourselves, but we are starting to see the emergence of some good examples, such as Burberry’s holiday shopping chatbot that was mentioned by David Marcus during his talk. Burberry created a hybrid chatbot, in which the user can also choose to interact with a human support agent instead. And, after trying this out for ourselves, we can conclude that Burberry created a solid experience, with smooth handovers between bot and human. We’re looking forward to see more brands experimenting with chatbots in the future.

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Generative design and the future of work

Autodesk’s CEO Carl Bass gave a great presentation on generative design. Generative design uses technology to mimic evolution in regards to design. This means that you can use your design goals to expand and explore all of the possible options based on your requirements.

Generative design allows you to completely turn this process upside down. Based on your requirements, you rely on algorithms to come up with thousands of designs to choose from – all of which fit your stated parameters. A great example that could be used here is the designing of a chair. How many designs can one think of to consider? Maybe three, four? Once creating these first designs, you would then go on to the calculations and considerations in an attempt to settle on the most suitable design.

You can now begin to imagine how many incredible possibilities could be discovered using this approach. And for everyone wondering whether designers will still have a job, Carl Bass ended his talk with stating: “The question isn’t if we are going to be replaced by robots. The question is how are we going to take advantage of computers to design and engineer things we never imagined before.”

A great visual example of generative design can be found by Autodesk here:


 

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Technology + elections = drama!

Donald Trump’s presidential election certainly did not go unnoticed during Web Summit, with a large chunk of Silicon Valley’s tech community present. It was a topic of discussion on many stages, but technology investor Dave McClure’s rage certainly stood out from the rest. He turned to the crowd and voiced his anger about the election results and the role of technology, and claimed that all of us are responsible for the outcome. It was certainly an unanticipated outburst, but there’s no denying that the role of Facebook, Twitter and Google in being a platform for spreading inaccurate news is one of the most trending topics in Silicon Valley right now.

It is important for us to understand the significance of social media during global events such as elections, and it comes as no surprise that the word on everyone’s lips is that dominating social media platforms, such as Facebook, need to take their responsibility a lot more seriously. Many have highlighted a real problem with the way in which Facebook’s feed filters information and shows only certain posts, linking this with the spread of one-sided political information during the US elections.

Shockingly, in a study of US adults, ⅔ of the social media users interviewed claimed that Facebook is the place they turn to for the latest news. This is problematic in itself, as top fake news posts are clearly outperforming all of the top stories from traditional news outlets. Some of these inaccurate news stories have a clear agenda which is based on complete lies, and unfortunately these lies are believed by a large proportion of social media users, clearly indicating a need for assessment. Buzzfeed analysed these ‘top stories’ and found that one of the most shared news stories on Facebook at the time of the election was that the Pope funded Trump’s campaign. You can already begin to imagine the ridiculousness of following posts and perhaps, can understand why people are so frustrated that this is happening during real, life-altering events.

So, what do you think? Do you think that social media platforms such as Facebook need to reconsider their approach when it comes to news feed content and the “filter bubble” that is now utilised?

Honest thoughts

We thoroughly enjoyed the tech community present at Web Summit and the interesting happenings. However, there were also a few downsides due to it being such an extraordinarily large event. With so many stages and talks happening at the same time, sometimes things seemed a little…rushed. With most presentations being limited to 20 minutes per session, this didn’t really give enough time for in-depth discussion surrounding the topics that were most interesting to the audience.

Another problem that has been highlighted following the event by others as well, was the lack of interactivity. Very rarely did the speakers invite the audience to ask questions, or to engage via social media platforms. It would have been a nice touch to allocate more time in the presentations for these kinds of interaction, but yet again the fast-paced format of the event was a significant drawback from this perspective.

All in all!

The 2016 Web Summit was an event filled with a whole bunch of innovative tech inspiration. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss it!