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23 May 2017

The Next Web from The Next Atlantis?

Written by: Justin Westcott, Managing Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Progress is a constant, and when you work in technology, standing still is worse than death. So attending The Next Web in Amsterdam reminded me of the energy, and at the same time the pace, of change.

A fitting place to hold such discussions, is Amsterdam. A liberal city in Europe and a hot-bed for creativity, design and technology. But a city that needs technology to find answers. With much of the land at, or below, sea-level it will be hoping that technology can solve the melting of the polar ice caps before it becomes a future day Atlantis.

Some 12,500 people from across the world (lots of US and Germans this year) convened for the two-day conference where topics focused on Innovation, Media & Creativity, and entrepreneurship. It was an upbeat affair, compared to some of the recent events like Web Summit and SXSW where recent political upheavals and dystopian AI futures were very much the focus of the conversations.

Here are My 10 Key Takeouts from the event this year:

  • We will be by 2030 able to travel anywhere in Europe, at any time, in 45mins from a press of a button due to Hyperloop technologies. We heard from the CEO of Hardt, who’d recently won the Elon Musk prize for Hyperloop design and who is now building out test facilities in Amsterdam.
  • AR through the camera lens is now very good indeed, and only going to get better. We heard from the COO of Blippar who demonstrated live use of its app, with the AI recognising faces, items and environment. A company now, I’m sure, is feeling the pressure from Google as it launched a similar product Lens this week.
  • The tech industry needs to take an ethical stance on addiction. The data shows when someone is using a service for too long but the companies currently choose to ignore this and some even look to target these individuals (gaming).
  • A growing sense that the dominance of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) will have to be broken up, and that – if we can see past the current nationalist agenda – EU and US regulation will begin to step in.
  • Snapchat has a highly-engaged audience, the average user spends 30 minutes on the platform a day and over 60% of the users create content every day. It’s low single digits for most other platforms.
  • Chase Jarvis reminded us that technology is always taking jobs but also creating new opportunities. He spoke of his own experience of digital photography first taking away his livelihood, until the tech reached a point where it was no longer a differentiation and then the true value (creativity) prevailed.
  • We will all need a side hustle soon. Where our parents might have had one job for life, we’re likely to have five, but our children are likely to have 5 at one time.
  • Reminded by futurist Ben Hammersley, the technology that seems pointless today will be great tomorrow, and dismissing anything in technology today because of what it looks like/can do is naïve (look at Kodak who famously overlooked digital in the 80’s as it was deemed “not good enough” when compared to film). He argued this is where we are with AI, so imagine the future.
  • IBM stated that in five years’ time all decisions that matter to you, to business, to society will be aided by AI. This is their use case for AI; augmenting our intelligence.
  • Self-driving cars all have wing mirrors, even though they don’t need them. This is due to regulation that insists any car must have them to be on the road. It shows a willingness for tech to keep on side of regulation whilst regulation keeps up.

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