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Web Summit 2018, a bit more than technology

Pedro Pontes
Passionate about people and clean code, also loves to travel with his Rains backpack.
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Web Summit 2018, a bit more than technology
From the 6th to the 8th of November, the eyes of the tech industry were looking at Portugal and to the latest edition of Web Summit. Now that the dust has settled let’s try to understand what the fuss is all about.

Web Summit claims to be the largest tech event of technology and this year’s edition counted with more than 70 000 participants. For the engineers reading this, I fool you not, this is not a developer’s conference where the best coding patterns and practices are analysed. Web Summit is a gathering for all the players of the technology industry, from engineers and content creators to big corporate executives, who are brought together to showcase their products and discuss future trends.
 
The big elephant in the room: the impact of technology on society
 
There was a big elephant in the tech industry that everyone seemed to be avoiding in the past: technology has been changing our environment, our society and our day-to-day lives increasingly in the past few years. Inevitably, and after a turbulent couple of years regarding this matter, the industry could no longer look to the other side and in this year’s edition of the summit, the topic was patent throughout the conference.
 
The discussion on the subject started with the opening talk of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the internet) "A Contract for the web”, being a call for action and a code of conduct for the way internet is evolving. Immediately followed by an intervention about big corporation environmental policies in the talk "Apple: Business doing well by doing good” by Lisa Jackson.

On the following days, the way technology is changing our collective future remained definitely one of the hottest topics of the event. There were talks such as "Digital peace in the age of cyber threats” by Microsoft’s president Brad Smith, and the powerful testimony of Cambridge Analytic whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, in the talk "Your privacy is compromised, what are you going to do about it?” - definitely a must see.

Finally, even in the startups’ battlefield, the trend remained present until the final of the PITCH contest, where Dhruv Ghulati presented his startup, Factmata, focused on improving the way fake news are detected.

The classics and a new kid on the block: Artificial intelligence, Machine Learning and Quantum computing
 
It was not all about the impact of technology in society, after all, whoever has followed the technology industry in the past couple of years has got used to hearing about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as the big buzzwords that will trigger the next breakthrough in the business. 

This year’s edition was no exception, and the big tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, amongst others kept showcasing their latest products in this field in a competitive race to take the biggest slice in the artificial intelligence ecosystem.  Moreover, the usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning for autonomous driving solutions was in fact in 2 out of the 3 finalists of startup PITCH contest.
 
Despite all the excitement around artificial intelligence and machine learning, there is a new kid on the block, Quantum Computing, that seems to be emerging as one of the strongest trends for the next years of this industry, with a set of talks dedicated to the topic as the one by Talia Gershon (IBM): Quantum Computing. For now, most of the applications of this technology seem to very closely related to the academic field in order to solve complex optimisation problems,  but perhaps we can expect an increase in the usage of this technology by the industry in the near future.


 
Farfetch stand at Web Summit.

It’s not only about bits and bytes:
great products create great experiences

Last but not least, and because great experiences go beyond great software and are more about great content, products and creators, following the past years tradition, this year’s edition presented us with a handful of talks on how great products and companies were created such as the talk "Sharing the world's greatest stories through technology” by Greg Peters (Netflix) and a "Fashion: A user experience” by Alexander Wang.

In conclusion, although this year’s edition of Web Summit may not have been a deep learning experience from the technical point of view of a Software Engineer, it surely contributed to wider our perspective about technology, understand the latest trends and make us think about what kind of role do we wanna play in improving the technology ecosystem.
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