Flying Taxi, Needle-Free Medicine, Edward Snowden & ENGIE: what happened at the 2019 Web Summit25/11/2019
When Web Summit was first launched in Dublin in 2009, it was all about the internet’s unbridled power to change the world for the better. By far Europe’s largest tech conference, its 10th annual edition, which took place Nov. 4th to 7th in Lisbon, still featured plenty of optimism and bright ideas for the next billion-dollar, globe-changing innovation. But for this year’s Web Summit, the keynotes and conversations in the corridor made it clear that the dark side of all that digital firepower is also very much on people’s minds.
The 2019 edition housed PITCH, an eagerly anticipated startup competition, and brought together the biggest names in tech as well as an A-list lineup of the top policymakers, regulators and even whistleblowers who have something to say about the tech leaders responsibility to protect society as a whole and prepare for all the changes that innovation brings.
Let's mention that 2019 was also the first time ENGIE participated in the Web Summit wtih a booth dedicated to 5 digital platforms covering different aspects of ENGIE's businesses: smart cities, blockchain, BIM, smart buildings & Energy Management.
Seen from the scores of international journalists covering the event, here are some highlights from this year’s Web Summit:
Ideas & Investors
- Daniel Wiegand, co-founder and CEO of Munich-based Lilium Aviation, presented a futuristic, all-electric flying taxi which could be airborne in little more than five years!
- Portugal’s Exame Informática highlighted the 12 Portuguese businesses selected to compete in this year’s PITCH competition. These entrepreneurs got creative, advocating for a wide variety of ideas including Lego-style building blocks for furniture, drone management and landing stations and construction made from trash!
- The 2019 PITCH winner was Nutrix. The Basel-based company is creating a needle-free device for diabetics that will change the way patients monitor their health with at-home technology. Their products could help consumers detect crucial warning signs without waiting until their next checkup.
- Tourism, a sector where Europe continues to lead, is ripe for digital transformation. Italian daily Il Tempo reports that Web Summit featured NEST, a new public-private effort that brings together tech companies, transport operators and hospitality leaders to lead the way on what’s been dubbed Tourism 4.0.
Responsibility & Regulation
- Data protection, sustainability, and whistleblowing emerged as the conference’s major trends. Google’s Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt announced the U.S. company’s first-ever sustainability accelerator, which will provide access to resources for social impact startups who aim to solve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
- According to French innovation news website La Réclame, the word "purpose" was the red thread of Web Summit 2019, as businesses look to be “... credible and consistent, giving greater importance to the purpose of one's company and anchoring it in concrete actions over time.”
- Exiled U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking via a live link from Russia, criticized Europe’s new GDPR regulation, which is aimed at giving more control to individuals over their digital data: “The problem isn’t data protection, the problem is data collection,” Snowden said. “Regulation and protection of data presumes that the collection of data in the first place was proper, that it is appropriate, that it doesn’t represent a threat or a danger.”
- Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner for Competition, who has been a leading voice on protecting citizens and governments from the power of so-called Big Tech, discussed the pressing need for the regulation around data protection, the impact of artificial intelligence, but also the role that digital innovation can play in taking on climate change.
- There was much chatter about the WeWork post-IPO debacle and what it means for the digital sector going forward. According to Reuters Breakingviews, there is a silver lining: “The message from Lisbon was that such flops are a healthy reality check rather than a serious setback.”
- The estrellas (“stars”) of the show, according to Spanish daily Última Hora, were Sophia and Phil: not innovators, investors or whistleblowers, no — rather the two AI-powered (and extremely creepy-looking) humanoid robots. “This does not feel like a technology conference, it feels like a family reunion," said Sophia.
- This year’s Web Summit included more than 1,000 speakers, and a record of nearly 75,000 attendees. It also surpassed last year’s gender ratio, with women making up 46.3% of participants. For a summit focused on purpose and responsibility, that’s called practicing what you preach!