“Overwhelming” is the word most people used to describe this year’s Web Summit. And for good reason. The event had over 53000 attendees and was running 21 conferences on different stages, most of them in parallel.
What does that mean for a regular attendee? It means you are running from a stage to another like a crazy overenthusiastic person trying to see and catch as many interesting talks as you can.
I attended as a normal Software Developer, I’m saying normal because most people were startup founders, investors, media attendees or speakers. As I came alone to the event I tried to meet more people than I would usually do. The main questions you were getting asked when you were trying to start a conversation with someone were: “Where are you from?” (skipped the “what’s your name” question because it was on the badge) “What do you do?” “What brings you to Web Summit?” After these you were ready to struck a conversation.
Day one of the summit started with a Pub Crawl for me and a few others. We were a group of 10 people in a bar where we could hear each other.That’s how I met the main people I spent most of my time outside the summit with. After a few drinks we went to Pink Street to the Night Summit where the streets were full. Curiously, in one bar we found an old man reading poetry at midnight…
Fortunately for me, Portugal has amazing coffee so waking up wasn’t such a problem. Today my focus was to try and see as many talks as I can.
One of the interesting subjects I attended was called “Robots should look and act like people” and it had the form of a debate between Ben Goertzel (Hanson Robotics) and Andra Keay (Silicon Valley Robotics). I found it really intriguing considering I just watched on the way to Lisbon the TV Series Westworld that treated a similar subject.
Ben was suggesting that we should make robots more human in order to make it easier and more natural to interact with robots in the future while Andra was pointing out there is no real use of robots mimicking human appearance and that even a smiley face can generate emotions, and that robots should look more like characters so we can distinguish them from the real world. Also, a good point she raised was the privacy issue when it comes to people designing robots to look like other persons without their approval.
Later on, Ben Goertzel got to show the crowd the creation him and his team at Hanson Robotics was working on: a human looking robot that was powered by a smart AI called Sophia. It amazed and scared me how far along they are with this technology.
Another talk that made an impression on me was “The benefits of technology are worth sacrificing our privacy for“, another debate this time between Salil Shetty (Amnesty International) and Robert Scoble (Scobleizer). It makes you think of the actual implications that technological advancements might have on one’s privacy, like will you be allowed to take potential a 3D model of someone with your hi tech glasses and do as you wish with it? Who will actually define the lines of ethics when it comes to AI and Robotics?
After many other talks, the day continued with a Women in Tech meet up where I had the luck to run into some dear work colleagues from a previous job and spent a wonderful evening at the Beer Museum.
On the third day I decided that it’s time to walk around the summit and experience the other side of it. Startups found in different stages of their application were showing off their work in order to find investors, market their product or find partnerships, so I went around, admired and got into conversations with their founders or technical staff. I also had the pleasure to meet with Aude Barral, the Co-Founder of a company that I am a big fan of: CodinGame. All in all, I admire the courage, passion and innovative thinking that the people I met put into their ideas!
After just walking around and talking, it was time to take a break and go to another cool session: “AI: One more time with feeling” held by Rana Kaliouby (Affectiva). The company she founded was created initially for the scope of helping individuals on the autism spectrum and was identifying in real time the emotions of the face the camera was pointed at. Now it can also help with many other fields, like measuring real time user emotions while they are interacting with an app.
I spent the rest of the summit day at the B1nate.i0 conference that was hosting talks about big data, then went to a Women in VR meeting, had an amazing dinner at the Time Out Food Market and went to various parties.
Last day of the summit I started my day at the FullStk Conference where I listened to talks about Open Sourcing and how it is being a female developer, continued to have chats with people around the summit and attended talks on the Main Stage.
- Woman’s bathroom line was finally shorter than the men’s line
- A robot carrying a coffee machine following the hostess around
- Delicious waffle filled with ‘pastel de nata’ cream
- NOS Augmented Reality TV – It was better than expected, I can already see myself starting a TV anywhere in the house. Also, the hololens were comfortable and light, it was so much fun!
- Virtual Reality Discovery App – This is an app that positions you in the middle of a documentary. I tried scuba diving, snowboarding and also being a part of a motorcycle race. The detachment from the real world is so big that I had to hold my hand firmly onto the desk just to make sure I don’t forget where I am.
As any major event, with a lot of joy and happiness there are moments when things don’t go as you expect. One of these things is the sad reaction of some men at the conference to me being a developer and the sad fact that if you want to just enjoy a night out you will get hit on instead of being able to be treated normally and just enjoy random or technical conversations. As isolated as these cases were compared to the vast amount of people I’ve met, it’s still a reminder of the disparity of female employees amongst tech companies.
Web Summit all in all was an amazing experience where subjects like Artificial Intelligence and Robotics were the main stars, a place where you can make connections and meet interesting people in the technological field and also enjoy the beauty of Lisbon!