Attending Web Summit 2018


Our members Ivan and Gigi got 2 free tickets for Web Summit 2018 - kindly offered by our Alumnus Jeroen to the Alumni Foundation - because of winning a social media contest and organizing a meetup in their locations. Below they share their experiences and reflections.

Ivan: For about a year I was looking at the big technical events, such as the Web Summit. The large-scale, famous speakers and the location on Europe's West Coast made me wish to be there. However, the sky price of tickets suggested me to, first, become a CEO to attend the Web Summit :D But, you know what, the EIT Digital Alumni made this trip real for me, being a regular PhD (almost) Alumnus. They let me be there!

When I came to the Web Summit, I still could not believe it. The event was so huge: 70K people. Just to reach the main Arena you need to walk for 20 minutes from the entrance, pushing through the groups of people from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, and others. To visit all the stands in just one pavilion, you need to spend one whole day (and there were 4 pavilions!). Just waiting in a queue for a test drive on an innovative BMW car - I would not reveal its name;) - you can occasionally chat with a guy and only then find out that he is a second person in a top software development company. And, of course, the most exciting for me was to personally meet Sophia the Robot and Han the Robot. Those robots seem so intelligent - you can ask them a question in a regular way and they will answer you as a normal person. Han may make you laugh with a funny joke. And Sofia may accompany her answer with a charming robotic smile - if you are gentle enough, of course. And those famous robots are not on the other side of the screen, but just on the stage a couple of meters far in front of you.

I was happy to meet many interesting people and, in particular, other EIT Digital Alumni. We had a lot of fun during that week in Lisbon. For all of this, for this unforgettable unbelievable experience, for this amazing opportunity, for turning my dream into reality I want to say a huge heartfelt thank to the Alumni Foundation!


Gigi: I went to Web Summit a while back and it was great! Once I saw on the social media that the EIT Digital Alumni were giving away two free tickets, I was immediately intrigued (they cost 1500 EUR each for God's sake...!). Traveling to Lisbon, Portugal itself was an irresistible reason. I have been thinking to visit Portugal for quite some time already and from this trip I have verified that it's a lovely travel destination that I would definitely love to go again! Below is a picture of me at Belém Tower, which is too beautiful to believe it's true.

On top of the traveling part, there were just so many add-on "perks" going to this conference.

- MEETING OTHER ALUMNI: As nice as it usually is, getting to meet or catch up with some alumni that I don't usually meet. I didn't know Ivan before and we became great buddies in this trip!

- GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE: Web Summit does gather an amazing crowd of inspiring and relatable people who are open to connect, share and learn. It's like a huge festival that draws out this openness and connection within people! I did meet some lovely people that I would love to meet again, and probably at the next Web Summit as we said!

- GREAT PARTIES: I thought this is a "learning" or "working" trip and I didn't expect the nighttime events could get that fun! The evenings started with great parties with live bands and DJs in our private venues, then extended to the signature nightlife scenes in Lisbon, the popular Pink Street and the LX factory! It was a lot of dancing those nights! Look at this crazy dance crowd we had!)

- GREAT TALKS AND SPEAKERS: To be honest, in the beginning I was a bit overwhelmed by the 24 distinct tracks of talks. They were great lineups of talks, workshops, and exhibit booths that would keep one busy for the 3 whole days and never got bored! I got so much to take away and reflect after the event and the following are only some highlights.


There were a lot of buzzwords and topics that got mentioned over and over again on several stages at Web Summit. One of them is #AI.
"Will AI take over our jobs?"
"Yes it's already happening."
"What do you think about AI doing 'X', is it ethical?"

This topic is worth the buzz because currently "AI is transforming ALL industries" (Wieland Holfelder from Google). AI is taking over a lot of tedious jobs in all different sorts of industries that used to be handled manually, and it's a good thing!

"(When doing a video cut at a job) I saw an AI cut is almost as good as an editor's first cut! (...) While letting AI does the cut-and-paste, humans instead can become more empathic" said by Susan Credle (Global Chief Creative Officer at FCB Global). This also resonated perfectly with the talk that Jens Riegelsberger (UX Director at Google) gave about "Creativity through empathy" - how they design better services at Google by bringing co-workers to empathize users following the Montessori principles:
- Learning in context
- Learning driven by peers
- Creating eureka moments (a.k.a. an "Aha! moment").

Right, the "Aha! moments" - from my personal experience as a UX practitioner, the Aha! moments have really been the biggest motivator to drive me to constantly improve my design solutions. As strange as it might sound, I really enjoy the feeling when I could prove the yesterday self wrong, through user testing. They always hype me up as each learning helps me grow. I also like how Ev Williams (Founder and CEO at Medium) put it, "I am wrong a lot. Remember we are always wrong at certain degree. We all should have the confidence to fail and fail faster than we usually do."

Back to the topic of AI, while AI is on the journey of pursuing intelligence and being more capable in performing more tasks and solving harder problems, the last milestones for them to hit are probably to be creative (with an emotion touch) and to empathize other beings. Maybe these are the things we humans could work more towards if we don't want to lose our purposes in this world?

How about ethical issues? Brad Smith (President of Microsoft) addressed it this way,
"Every ethical question that AI is facing is essentially all the ethical questions humanity have faced in its history. It's a quest for life, which can't be solved within hours."
I guess we just have to solve these questions as they come.

After hearing and seeing a number of eye-opening demonstrations and showcases of AI, augmented reality, quantum computing, etc., it's hard not to be reminded by what was quoted in one of the talks there: "The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet." - William Gibson

It is just too exciting to imagine all these sci-fi looking scenes could already happen in real life right now, and to imagine how much further we could get in the near future! I'm an optimist myself and I do believe the digital future will be hopeful and limitless as we want it to be. This circled me back to a reflection I had a while back after the Alumni Meeting 2018 and I still think it fits.

// Being a digital tech professional at this age, we can do so much with our skills, to build stuff, realize ideas, create solutions, solve problems. We are so fortunate that we are highly wanted. We are so privileged that we can be picky about what jobs we do. We have the power to choose what ideas to build, what problems to solve, what causes to support and projects that we have passion towards.

My point is, I do think that this privilege and power comes with obligations. It's totally up to us to choose a job either for a) a good living, b) projects that we find fun or interest, or c) solving real problems and making impact in this world for a better future! I'm at (b) right now and I really see it as a goal to move towards (c) in the short future. The reason behind - as straightforward as it can be - because "our planet is fucked" and so will humanity be. We must do something about it. Whatever you can name for the good of humanity, climate, energy, resources, sustainability, health, sharing network, human connections... choose your stand now! // #gigisreflection, 2018.5.19