Steven Hawking Mulls AI at Web Summit: Will It Save Us or Destroy Us?

Steven Hawking Mulls AI at Web Summit: Will It Save Us or Destroy Us?

by Dianna Dilworth

The tech community must adopt responsible AI development in order to ensure that advances in technology benefit humanity and don’t destroy it.

This theme of responsibility towards the promise of technology and awareness of the perils, echoed through the presentations during the opening night at Web Summit in Lisbon this week.

Keynote speaker Steven Hawking, who was teleconferenced in to the show, said that AI could either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity. The reknowned scientist pointed out that AI computers could surpass humans intellectually within a few decades, which means that we have to begin to establish regulatory and ethical rules today.WebSummit

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world,” he said. “That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance. Perhaps some of you listening today will already have solutions or answers to the many questions AI poses.”

Nuno Sebastião, Feedzai CEO and co-founder, who introduced Hawking said that his company is pushing the industry to adopt an AI code of ethics to build systems which “are fair, verifiable, benefit society, and do no harm,” but did not elaborate on what those look like.

Bryan Johnson, founder of Kernel, a company which is developing tools to better understand the brain in order to treat neurological diseases, called for data privacy rights. He compared the innovations coming in the next decade or so to a category 5 hurricane about to bear down. He stressed that if we prepare for the upheaval, we can make the most of the new opportunities. In the new era, in which he imagines interfaces will be able to stream thoughts and fantasies in real time, that data privacy should be a human right.

But practically speaking, will companies actually embrace rules or will they claim that regulations stifle innovation and competition? Kara Swisher, executive editor of Re/code, interviewed Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for competition at the European Commission, about her tough challenges. One of the major issues facing the Commission today is the fact that corporate taxation was invented when a company was physically present in a country. In today’s digital world, in which companies can exist in a country with only a server, the rules need to be rewritten, said Vestager.
As we saw in the revelations in the Paradise Papers this week, tech leaders like Apple can move their money to avoid taxation. The group is working on new ways to write regulations that takes into account the modern economic world, which involves more transparency in the full history of a company in order to establish fair taxation.

As a European, Vestager is confident that people want democracy more than they want technology and says that technology must work for us or it won’t work at all. She says the next issue is whether we can trust technology or not. “If we don’t relearn to trust technology then we’ll never make the most of the potential,” she warned.

Antonio Guterres, secretary general of the UN, called for the tech industry to team up with governments, academia, scientists and citizens in order to plan for the changes technology will usher in. As technology takes away jobs previously done by humans, we must prepare for the consequences. “Science and technology are not value neutral,” he said.

But Guterres warned that traditional forms of regulation can’t respond to the fast changing world we are facing with new technologies, so we must establish new forms of discussion groups to help respond to the inevitable change that tech will bring.

The opening night ended on a hopeful note. António Costa, the prime minister of Portugal and Fernando Medina, the mayor of Lisbon, presented Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit CEO, with a compass. Speaking about Portugal’s rich history of ocean exploration, they called on the technologists in the audience to set out on the next “great adventure to connect humankind.”

Web Summit Puts the Arena Rock in Tech: Inside Europe’s Biggest Web Conference

Web Summit Puts the Arena Rock in Tech: Inside Europe’s Biggest Web Conference

Dianna Dilwothby Dianna Dilworth

When you think of the Iberian Peninsula and digital conferences, one town comes to mind: Barcelona, home of the Mobile World Congress. But the government of Portugal didn’t get the memo. Lisbon is hosting the Web Summit this week for the first time (it’s previously been held in Dublin) and 53,000 plus people from 166 countries showed up.

Droves of Portuguese youth stood in lines wrapped around the FIL arena for hours on Monday night and it wasn’t to see Radiohead or Beach House. WebSummit LinesThey were lined up to hear politicians discuss economic policy and the role that technology will play in the future.
The prime minister of Portugal, the president of the United Nations and the mayor of Lisbon were among those that took to the stage to talk about the future role that technology will play in the global economy. (The live stream of the event drew one million viewers, according to conference organizer Paddy Cosgrave, founder/CEO of Web Summit).

The consensus on the stage: governments need to commit to creating the framework that opens the way for innovative technologies to succeed in all aspects of society. The Portuguese government is putting their money where their mouth is: Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa revealed a public fund of 200 million Euros designed to attract the best investors to help Portuguese start-ups become more global.

Web SummitBut tech innovation is not going to come over night in Europe where there are 28 different digital markets due to differing laws, unlike the US where there is one. Resistance to one true digital market is a problem for startups who can’t afford the cost of legal compliance issues against the big tech players, said José Manuel Barroso, Non-executive Chairman, Goldman Sachs International and former Prime Minister of Portugal and former president of the European Commission, arguing that European governments could do more to help.

To inspire European technology entrepreneurs, the conference programmers brought out the tech heavyweights and Hollywood actors. Leaders from Facebook, GE, Tinder, LINE Corporation, Reddit and even Hollywood actor/entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Director, Founder, hitRECord, took to the stage to talk about digital disruption.

Facebook- Web SimmitFacebook CTO Mike Schroepfer opened up the show with the first official keynote on Tuesday morning revealing the social network’s plans for the next 10 years. Facebook’s plans are centered around connectivity (for the 4.1 billion people on the planet that don’t currently have access to the Internet), artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Schroepfer discussed both the challenges and advances of machine learning and why robots are still a long way from being as intelligent as humans. He also showed some pretty impressive advances in virtual reality, like how Oculus and robotics combined are helping people that have lost the ability to walk, reactivate neurons that weren’t damaged so that they can walk again.
When it comes to advertising, leaders from the space discussed that while digital has disrupted transmission, storytelling is still at the core of all good messaging. Facebook CMO Gary Briggs said that while fundamentally you still have to get to the core of what the story is, the number of executions you have to build and how fast you have to build these iterations has changed. He also pointed out that today brands have the ability to target to much narrower audiences stressing the importance of knowing who you are talking to.

Maurice Levy Chairman & CEO, Publicis Groupe concurred that digital has changed the speed with which advertisers must work, and said that data is changing how advertisers understand their audiences. Still, he stressed that machines could never replace human creativity.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, spoke about the importance of privacy Facebookin an ever more connected world. While he praised the advances of technology (the group used drones and crowd sourcing to help expose human rights violations in Darfur and they have also live streamed living conditions of Syrian refugees to help raise money, he also pointed out the dangers lack of privacy presents – dictators running the show and jailed journalists to name a few.

In a debate with Shetty, technologist Robert Scoble (who went glove to glove while outfitted in VR glasses) played devil’s advocate arguing that people will be willing to give up privacy in order to benefit from the bells and whistles that VR has to offer. He says people will be willing to let devices access their LinkedIn page so that you can see who people are on their VR glasses or contacts as you walk by them at a conference or give access to your camera so that you can see guided pathways to the bathrooms with the shortest lines in the baseball stadium and so that your hotdog can be delivered to you.
Whether we’ll be wearing VR gear while riding in self-driving cars to our offices that are half staffed with robots, remains to be seen. The startups that filled the massive halls might influence the direction it goes in, or they might not. What is clear is that Lisbon wants a piece of the tech business and they rolled out the red carpet to prove it. From Web Summit check in desks at the airport and billboards plastered throughout the city to parties in the Barrio Alto (whose hills will give any San Franciscan a run for their money) and packed subways and the news radio in the taxis, one thing was clear: everyone in Lisbon was abuzz about Web Summit.

billboard
“The is not the new Silicon Valley. This is Portugal,” read a billboard outside of the FIL, boasting nationwide broadband 400million Euro for co-investments with business angels and VCs, as well as tax benefits. “We rolled up our sleeves to take businesses global since the 16th century and we’re doing it again.”