Our MD, Veronica Wainstein, headed to the WebSummit global conference in Lisbon. Here are her key takeaways.
Bots, Blockchain, Cognitive Computing, SexTech, Crypto, AI, Face Recognition, Mood Recognition, Digital Assistants… the list goes on and on. And no, this isn’t Science Fiction, this shit is real, it’s here and best we adapt - post-haste!
So I have been to other conferences, both local and global, and I generally come back thinking that as South Africans, we aren’t that far behind the rest of the world. Like we get it, we know our stuff, we are pretty smart peeps. Well I am gobsmacked to say, we are a long way off from the rest of the world! Unless I have just been missing something? Our local conferences really just scratch the surface of what’s out there, and while we have some seriously smart people, ain’t no one in S.A. building Sophia the Robot!
Two things really struck me the most. The first was how first world citizens’ just soak it all in. They love the tech, they embrace and welcome it and most importantly, they get seriously excited about it. They don’t see this as a Man vs Robots thing. They see it as technology improving human life - like it always has. The 20th Century was a serious turning point for innovation, even though some of it was slow to start in the beginning, at the turn of the century it started to snowball. That innovation has paved the way for some of the ‘simple’ luxuries we use today.
To give you a tangible example, a clever guy by the name of Tim Berners-Lee invented a little thing called the Internet (yip, he was at WebSummit – THE MAKER OF THE INTERNET… WTF), anyway, that little invention - which started off as a means to connect people on a broader scale - is now pretty much the centre of our universe. So, if you think of that in the context of your life, the internet has allowed artificial intelligence to tell you which routes are faster to drive in traffic – live – so it’s collecting data every second to steer you in the right direction. The internet has allowed AI to find you a ‘taxi’ that searches for your exact location to pick you up *do you get it… the bots know where you are. And the internet has allowed AI to recommend movies you should watch based on your history and genre preferences (maybe that’s why the bots fascinate me, because sci-fi rocks my world and when that actually becomes non-fiction, I feel like a giddy school girl in love) – yes, you are right Netflix, I do want to watch Stranger Things.
The point is, I feel like in South Africa we are so afraid of this Artificial Intelligence thing - when we are already using it, every day. YOUR PHONE IS A PALM BOT DUDES. YIP, YOU CARRY YOUR LITTLE BOT WITH YOU EVERYWHERE AND IT KNOWS EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
Now not to be irresponsible, I realise that machine learning does have the propensity to evolve faster than we can control and that one day I might have a bot calling me it’s bitch, but until then, I’m gonna get on board, learn as much as I can and hopefully one day have a Sophia of my very own.
The second thing that struck me was the entrepreneurial culture and the onslaught of start-ups looking for investors. It’s seriously incredible! So many people, so many business ideas, so many investors. This is a culture in business I really haven’t seen in South Africa - well not to this extent. Global citizens just want to own businesses, design products, make it to the world stage and make a ton load of money. Now I know there are still the people that do the 9 – 5. Not everyone wants to own or start a business, but it feels like a huge majority of the international workers, have day jobs and still work on the side hustle. They are prepared to work endless hours to potentially make something great. They feel less complacent with the day to day grind, they yearn for more, they explore, and they cheer each other on as they do so.
Maybe that’s just what I see in the conference bubble that was WebSummit, but the point is that it’s a culture that I think is seriously awesome. As a business owner, I encourage my staff to have a side hustle. Dreaming big and working hard to better yourself is what this life is about, and I can promise you now, the number of things I will learn from my team if they develop kick ass products or services is priceless and will likely inspire me to work on my next business venture.
So my week at WebSummit was epic. I don’t know what the future holds or where we are going, but it’s an exciting time to be alive right now. The opportunities are all around us, all the time, so dive head first into the abyss and make friends with robots.
I will be delving into more details in upcoming blogs about the different tech I learned about, but I would also encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to attend a conference like this to jump on board and go for it. There are two coming up in the new year – one called Rise in Hong Kong and another called Collision in Canada – look em up, book a ticket and go. You won’t regret it.
Beam me up Scottie.
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Penquin MD & Communication strategist