Paul Niehuis

Web Summit 2018. Al for a better world


Web Summit

In the week of 4 November, around 70,000 people congregated to discuss with both small and large players from the tech industry what the future holds for us. CEOs, bloggers, vloggers and professionals from a number of sectors came together during this large event. And we were there again this year.

Connect Holland listened, spoke and engaged in discussions non-stop during this event. But, most of all, we became inspired and gained insights into the latest developments in our sector. In this article, we will try to give you a short impression of what we experienced and what remained with us following a week of ‘summitting’ in the beautiful city of Lisbon.

Technology serves the world

The first thing that struck us during our visit was the attitude of the tech giants and the leaders of the tech world. It seems as though all major parties agree on one thing: Technology must be ethically responsible.

"People of the future will judge our actions today." Ben van Beurden (CEO of Shell)

Technology is there to serve humanity and consumers are becoming increasingly critical. Not only because of privacy concerns, but also regarding the ultimate effect your product will have on society. The message put out by the giants was therefore a unanimous one. We must and will make better efforts to do the best we can. Privacy is a serious area of concern and when applying new technologies, there will be a greater focus on the impact these technologies will have on the lives of people. Reinier Kist of NRC also observed this in his article:

Web Summit 2018: ‘Internet is broken and technology must repair it’

AI - bringing intelligence to your enterprise

Artificial intelligence, or AI, was perhaps the buzzword at the trade fair. Accenture chief executive Yves Bernaert sees a future in which companies are run by AI. A world not with the Internet of Things, but the Internet of Thinking. Thanks to technology, our physical world is becoming more intelligent. With biometric and other sensors and AI, we can measure and analyse in detail the location of a user and that user’s state of mind.

The necessary infrastructure does not yet exist, but this situation could change enormously within a couple of years. For example, smart speakers can be found in many Dutch households today, and they will certainly not be the last smart devices to invade our homes. It is not only our households that are being filled with ever more smart devices, public spaces will also undergo a similar development.

Take for example face-recognition software, heart rate measurements, social posts and your other digital footprint. Big brother is closer than ever. Microsoft president Brad Smith argued at the fair (and rightly so) for government regulation of face-recognition technology.

Microsoft showed us all the trade floor that a good smile does not always yield a positive result: AI estimates our age to be three years higher than our actual age when we laugh. Painful perhaps, but not as confrontational as an AI that displays a fatigue percentage on the screen based on our facial expression. Not only impressive, but also highly interesting when you realise that start-up Affectiva wants to use similar technology to analyse fatigue among car drivers. AI was discussed in every branch of our sector, including the creative branch.


The conclusion of various speakers was that AI could mostly play a supporting role here. A virtual assistant that can help those creative types in their creative process. The first experiments involving music composition or video editing have already been performed. A striking comment from the BBC in this regard was that an AI created virtually the same edit as professional video editors.

In summary, all parties agree that AI is going to be part of day-to-day life (in the workplace). Under the guise of “prevention is better than cure”, we as an industry are obliged bear in mind the various possible complications using AI will bring about.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

How are we as a tech agency to deal with these new technologies and with users who are viewing our products with an increasingly critical eye. It all begins with the mindset of your employees and your corporate culture. We must be prepared to challenge ourselves in this changing world and create a culture in which we are not fearful of new technologies, but embrace them and recognise opportunities where necessary.

That is why we must not forget that in 2018, it is more important than ever to critically assess whether the products we make actually add value to the lives of our users and whether our products are also ethically responsible.

Full of inspiration, we look back to a successful first visit to Web Summit and we are happy that, like the industry, we are also taking our first AI steps (read more about this here). We are ready to assist customers implement new tools like AI, voice interfaces and machine learning in their efforts to improve their businesses or processes.

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