Web Summit opening night: All about humanity
Even before Web Summit officially opened, they dished up some inspiring speakers with surprisingly human perspectives. In the 1.5 hour opening event, I was expecting to hear about the limitless possibilities of future technologies, but the main theme of the evening was about meeting the challenges and responsibilities of ensuring that technology improves humanity rather than damages it.
Here’s a very quick recap of what a few of the speakers had to say:
Stephen Hawking – Theoretical physicist
Yup, you read that right! He didn’t speak in person, but he was on a live video. He put the fear of artificial intelligence (AI) into everyone in the room, in terms of its potential to go completely awry and act in ways misaligned with our intent, if not outright taking over the world. He’s been instrumental in building ethical principals for the development of AI and in pushing for global regulations.
Bryan Johnson – CEO Kernel
I didn’t know anything about Bryan before tonight, and am not easily impressed by American billionaire venture capitalists. I was ready to be judgemental, but he completely won me over. He acknowledged that the rate of change in the world today, and technology in particular, is creating the conditions for a societal level five hurricane. And that the rate of change and our technology usage has a strong link to increased mental illness. Coming from a family with addiction issues, and struggling with depression himself, he said that he still believes that monsters are real. It’s just that now he’s scared of the monsters in his head rather than the ones under his bed. When he asks innovation leaders what they would like to see changed in the world 50 years from now, he frequently hears things about AI, education for all, and holistic healthcare, but nobody is talking about the brain. Now, with his new company Kernel, he is. I’m still not convinced about (or even clear on) what he’s doing with that company, but it sounds interesting and it seems like his intentions are in the right place. Which is really good since this is a guy who seems to be able to make magic happen.
Margrethe Vestager – European Commissioner for Competition
The main takeaway for me was the idea that the lack of diversity of companies in power in any specific technology is just as problematic as lack of diversity anywhere else. And, potentially, more globally damaging. Ensuring a competitive and fair playing field needs to be bred into the national and corporate culture and enforced through regulations. There’s currently a skewed balance of power, particularly within American (ie: Silicon Valley) major tech companies.
Antonio Gutierrez – Secretary General of the United Nations
His main idea was the need to integrate the innovation of policy with the innovation of technology. He’s a firm believer of the overall benefits to the technology revolution, but recognizes two substantial areas of collateral damage: climate change and global inequality. Technology also exacerbates mental illness in global equality: when people are aware that the world is predominantly prosperous and they are not, they’re less likely to trust, more likely to to hate, and stress-related mental illnesses are more likely to occur. The good news is that science and technology already have already figured out how to live more sustainably and make profitable businesses in clean energy, and that policy models for fair globalization, in which nobody is left behind, have already been developed. The challenge will be in the execution of these visions and that depends on all of us coming together with the purpose of making sure that innovation is a force for good.
Stay tuned for my day 1 Web Summit summary tomorrow!