When tech takes over Lisbon: 3 days at Web Summit
You know it’s Web Summit when Lisbon’s cozy streets and laid back cafes are packed: Pitches, startups, and tech-enthusiasts everywhere.
What to expect from 2019: 8 Takeaways from Web Summit 2018
This year’s Web Summit was larger than ever before: 70.000 participants from 170 countries met in Lisbon, Portugal to discuss the future of the web and the most recent trends in startups and tech. My cofounders and I were part of Web Summit’s 2018 “Alpha” program, which allowed us to introduce our AI-assistant Neo to the participants in our very own booth, and to visit the conference, including all its side-events. Conferences, investor meetings, and pitches by day – pubs, bars and “night summit” by night.
If you didn’t have the chance to visit Web Summit – or where overwhelmed by its shier size – we got you covered: We distilled 3 days of content and action from amazing and inspiring people we met into 8 key take-aways for 2019 and beyond.
Contract for the new web
When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web roughly 25 years ago, he aimed to ensure freedom and accessibility of information. Now, abuse, fake-news and disinformation have taken over. And at the same time, there are more people online than ever before: To Tim, it’s about time to hit reset – and define contract for the new web. Backed by global tech-players such as Google, he’s setting up a new “Magna Charta” for the web.
Money is a commodity
Venture Capital has taken new heights with sky-rocketing valuations and billion-dollar exits. Money is ubiquitous, which is also why Venture Capital is a founder-led market, according to Tom Stafford (DST Global), Trae Vassallo (Defy.vc), and Juliet de Baubigny (Kleiner Perkins). Just like any startup and company, Venture Capitalists have to differentiate from their competition.
Tom Stafford found a brilliant way to put it:
VC = money (a commodity) + “get out of way” + “be a resource”
It’s not an investor’s job to tell a founder how to run his company. “This is your company. VCs are here to assist“, states Trae Vassallo. With that, when seeking capital, it’s up to founders’ to identify relevant investors who can actually add value apart from money.
Innovation happens everywhere
“Speculation is not the only use-case for the blockchain” says Jalak Jobanputra (Founding partner at FuturePerfect Ventures). There’s lots of interesting movements in crypto, AI, and deep tech. And by their very nature, these startups are distributed and decentralized. Innovation happens literally everywhere, which is why it’s critical to look beyond Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, and Berlin – and into Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Deep Tech ≠ Risky Moonshots
Over the past 50 years, researched laid the foundations for what we now see in Deep Tech and specifically Artificial Intelligence. Contrary to common perception, investing in deep tech startups (or running one) isn’t about doing the “heavy-lifting”, capital-intensive, and highly uncertain research (in German we’ve got a great term for that – “Grundlagenforschung” – which translates to “Foundational research”).
If you’re looking to take deep tech into the real world and add value to customer’s lives using technology, you’ve got to “find something that’s close enough to commercialization” Sonny Vu, Founder at Alabaster. Something, that has been researched for 10 or 15 years, and is now almost ready to improve our lives. Another great way to put it:
“Data by itself is useless, you canʼt sit on it like oil. Only how you use it counts.”Markus Löffler, Allianz
Every year is the year of voice
Amazon alone sold over 2.2 million smart speakers this year. Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa are assisting us throughout our day, and kids are now growing up interacting with them on a daily basis. According to Zain Gulamali of Alexa Fund, “every year is the year of voice“. Voice and its underlying technologies will get better as usage increases. It’s only a matter of time until conversations become the default mode of software interactions – which is the underlying hypothesis with our AI-assistant for business as well.
With Assistant Investments, headed by Dialogflow/API.ai-founder Ilya Gelfenbeyn, Google too recognizes this trend. One of Web Summit’s advantages is that you get to meet leaders and investors – and Ilya paid a visit to our booth and discussed the future of assistants and further opportunities. Thanks again to Ilya for your insights!
Digital input/output at work will be (semi-)automated
ABBYY’s CEO David Yang hosted with his VP of Product Marketing, Bruce Orcutt, a workshop on delegating mundane work to AI: According to research, two-thirds of employees want to delegate paperwork to robots – and companies such as ABBYY deliver the underlying technologies.
David illustrated his approach towards automation of digital work, where Artificial Intelligence and Robot Process Automation will take over a certain percentage of our work.
Invest in yourself, both mentally and physically
Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian spoke at Web Summit about what he wishes investors would have told him when he was building Reddit. Amongst others, he made a strong point with regards to ‘hustle porn’ – “this idea that unless you are suffering, grinding working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough”. This mindset is, according to Alexis, “one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now”. One thing, he wishes VCs would have told him, is that investing in yourself and your health – both physically and mentally – is crucial to your startup’s success.
How long until General Artificial Intelligence?
Greg Brockman is CTO of Open AI, a non-profit focusing on AI research aiming to identify a path to “safe artificial general intelligence”. He discussed the issue of having a General AI, basically a human-level AI which can reason and behave at above-human intelligence, and Open AI’s efforts towards this development being safe. “Compute is the rocket fuel for AI”, and compute used for neural nets saw a 300.000-fold increase over the past 6 years. The “missing link” for general AI is even more compute. Obviously, certain challenges remain (such as reasoning), but they do have ideas on how to approach them.
To Greg, the question is: Where do you want to place your bets? That General AI does not get solved and will never be reached, or that there’s a path towards a general artificial-intelligent system? To Open AI, the answer is obvious: Their approaches and ideas in AI have worked so far, and compute is only a matter of time. They know, where they’re placing their bets.