This year was my first time at the Web Summit, the largest tech conference in the world. With nearly 70,000 attendees from 159 countries, over 1,200 speakers delivering talks and debating on panel across 24 stages, it almost felt like going to Tomorrowland for the first time. (Yes, now you know that I am not only a tech geek, but also an electronic music lover!)
This experience has been very productive and has taught me a lot about the future of tech and some of the upcoming trends in this area. Moreover, it made me realize that tech today is not necessarily what we think it is. So here are the five biggest myths about tech debunked:
1. “Tech = Big companies”
Ignore the hype over big tech. Tech is not just about the GAFA (“Google Apple Facebook Amazon”) and this year’s Summit really proved it. Startups have proven to be the real innovators. In fact, this year’s edition included 1,800+ startups, a startup program, mentor hours and a startups pitch competition where some of the most innovative startups took the stage to share their ideas, approaches and plans for their companies. Their solutions covered all aspects of life and business, from fintech to medtech or even sextech! From e-commerce and retail to AI and machine learning. To cite a few examples: InTouch, a Russian startup, developed a wearable electronic technology for tracking human emotions based on heart rate; Habitus Posture, an Irish company, introduced the first ever clinician-led posture monitor and Virtual Retail, a Germany startup, launched a true-to-size 3D body model to be used by various online retailers.
2. “Tech is a male thing”
44.5% of attendees this year were women, but it is more than that! The Web Summit has been committed to changing the gender ratio at their events, and empowering women across the globe through fostering networking opportunities and mentorship programmes.
Booking.com sponsored a “women in tech” lounge, providing all femaleattendees with a meeting spot, a networking hub and a workspace. Similarly, IBM hosted a thinkLeaders panel & lunch.
Additionally, the summit included many insightful senior women panellists, such as Michelle Peluso, CMO at IBM, Lisa Jackson, Vice-President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple, European Commissioners Vera Jourova and Margrethe Vestager, Gillian Tans, CEO at Booking.com, or Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer at World Wrestling Entertainment.
3. “Tech is mostly a battle between the United States and China”
China’s push to dominate the tech industry globally with the objective of becoming a real competitor to the United States is well-known. Everyone calls it a techno trade war over 5G technologies, cybersecurity, AI and robotics. However, one thing that impressed me at the Web Summit was seeing how many countries, beyond the United States and China, were represented. European stands were probably the most numerous, with Sweden, France and The Netherlands leading the charge. High-tech startups from the Middle East, were also very much represented: the startup ecosystem over there is booming, and the region is becoming a hub for tech companies.
4. “Tech kills art and culture”
Is technology killing creativity and culture? This is probably one of the most debated questions nowadays, specifically in Europe where the debate over the EU copyright reform raged over the summer between creative industries and technology companies. It is a challenging context and it is certainly not easy to give a straight answer to this question, but it was interesting to see that creative industries and tech companies often support each other. Overall artistic creation has a central place in innovation these days. I had the opportunity to see how many innovators are coming up with better solutions to increase access to culture for consumers, while better protecting artists and creators. For example, Sam Yam, Co-founder & President at Patreon highlighted how his platform enables creators to be fairly remunerated for their art and have direct contact with their fans via a crowdfunding model. The TV and film streaming giant Netflix also talked about the success of their European content across the globe – including in the US market – and announced they will produce two new original series from Norway and Spain in 2019.
5. “It is all about AI”
Actually, this is not a myth! AI and machine learning were a common thread at this year’s summit. Speakers and exhibitors highlighted how these technologies affect all sectors and products and how this will transform not only the way we do our business, but also people’s lives. From enterprise software solutions to e-commerce and retail services passing by online dating apps, it is all about AI! A revolution is happening and all companies, not just tech ones, will need to look closely at what this means for businesses and users alike, specifically regarding data access and use, security and privacy. And don’t worry if you do not know how strong you like your coffee, an AI app can always help you!