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The Next Web Conference | Event Review

The Next Web Conference | Event Review

Kagool director, Craig Johnson reveals what speakers at TNW2018 had to say about how technology can be used to benefit society and how emerging trends are set to change the future.

On May 24 & 25 Amsterdam hosted ‘The Next Web’ Conference 2018, a technology festival that brings together the international technology community for two days of business and knowledge sharing. This was the 13th time the event has been held and this year 15,000 people attended.

The line-up included talks from authoritative speakers in established organisations complemented by the next generation of innovators with emerging tech that will change the world tomorrow. It was a great networking experience and chance to meet up with potential partners from across Europe to learn how we could work together.

One thing that really made an impact was the interactive presence from of the Netherlands Police Force showing how they are using artificial intelligence to solve crimes – impressive work. It was great to see how tech is being used innovatively by the public sector for the greater good of society.

TNW 2018 Highlights

Casie Kozyrkov, Google, Chief Decision Scientist gave a great overview of machine learning. This simplified the discipline down to the concept of ‘thing labelling’. Casie explained Google’s approach which included how to identify a model or recipe for machine learning to label data. The talk included suggestions on how to conduct machine learning and explained the importance of great data and regular testing.

Kipp Bodnar, HubSpot Chief Marketing Officer presented an excellent summary of emerging trends and tried to sort hype from reality. By referencing the Gartner Hype Curve Kipp highlighted the best ways to identify truly useful innovations. He explained why it’s recommended to always to invest at the trough of disillusionment and demonstrated the that there’s always a first mover advantage in innovation, citing the first ever banner ad, which had an amazing 78% click through rate!

Kipp covered a number of emerging technologies such as narrow AI (chat bots) and revealed that not only do people prefer bots to phone and email support, but Hubspot saw an increase of 20% in new business opportunities as a result of using them for pre-sales questions. He also discussed natural language processing (e.g. Amazon Alexa) and neural networks like Facebook.
Another interesting topic covered was the hallmarks of over hyped technologies.

This segment highlighted how although they often generate a ‘wow, that would be cool’ response when first announced, they solve a problem that you don’t have and the details on the benefits can be vague.
The next speaker I’d like to mention is Kerrie Finch, CEO, Finch Factor. She looked back at technologies that didn’t work out, the first product being Google Glass. These wearables failed because they look weird and people didn’t like the idea of a mic recording everything they said. Spectacles by Snap Inc also got a mention in this talk, which not surprisingly failed as they weren’t as good as Google’s and still look bizarre.

Another fad mentioned was Segways. Needless to say these didn’t take off as a common mode of transport, as pointed out, people just aren’t really that lazy.
Heather Zynczak, Chief Marketing Officer at Pluralsight, shared a great case study of B2C2B marketing. With Pluralsight, a technology learning platform, customers are invited to take it to their boss to get individuals to sign up to Pluralsight with a personal account. Once they are an established member of the learning community members are incentivised to get their boss to upgrade to a company account.

Sashka Rothchild  Stndby, CEO and Kodi Foster, Viacom presented an interesting case study showing how AI has been used to save lives in the USA. Opiod addiction, and associated deaths from it are on the rise in the US, especially in rural locations. Some of the problems that this presents are that support is inaccessible and loneliness is an issue.

To combat this Stndby developed an app to provide a new kind of support system; a chat bot that provides an automated support service for those with drug dependency issues. The app uses messenger, a platform that many of the target audience are already familiar with to aid adoption. The developers worked hard to ensure that messaging is authentic. The app is able to provide local support based on zip code which also works in conjunction with local help centres and counselling services. Overall a great solution where the support is ‘always on’ without the need for human interaction.

Andrew Garrihy, Chief Marketing Officer, Huawei presented on how artificial intelligence will help humanity overcome some of its greatest challenges. The talk explained how Huawei taught a Mate 10 Smartphone to drive a car in 5 weeks by feeding the smart phone big data and then teaching it how to make decisions on a variety of scenarios. In the end it was making thousands of decisions in real time.

The stats around decision making were eye opening. He started by identifying how people take decision making for granted and that on average, people think they make 92 decisions per day, when in reality they make 35,000 decisions per day! Quite a substantial disparity, but 98% of the decisions we make are subconscious and amusingly many revolve around food. We think we make 7 decisions per day about food, however we actually make 221.

When a speaker has a Wikipedia entry you take notice, which was the case for author, Kevin Kelly. Kevin gave predictions on how digital technology will influence society from 2020 onwards. He went through a timeline, outlining how all computers in the world were in isolation from 1950 to 1980 and how technology has advanced through networks since the major introduction of the World Wide Web in the 1990s.

Through Google and social media all information sources connected and became more accessible to everyone. More recently technology has begun to interact with human behaviour and emotion.

From 2020 Kevin predicts that we will see the rise of a third network called The Mesh’. The world will become machine readable with all things and places being networked together, through this we will be able to experience a totally immersive world in virtual reality. Arguably this new mixed reality will present 100 new problems but a million new opportunities, what’s left to decide is who will be the gatekeeper of this network?

Conclusion

This was just a fraction of what I experienced at the event, a truly mind-blowing look in to the future. A realisation of how much digital technology has changed our daily lives and lots of great case studies showing how this has made positive changes to people’s daily lives.

Despite the talk of tech, the best exhibitor of them all was Nike. As well as showing off some of their technical innovations they provided free coffee and free charging points, two ‘must haves’.

You can watch the video from the next web conference here.

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