The TNW Festival in Amsterdam took place in the hometown of our Head of Sales BENELUX, Roy Somaroo. So naturally, Roy went along to find out what the hottest topics in the tech scene are.
As I bounced between the nine different themes of TNW I was struck by the convergence of thoughts. Despite the variety of speakers and opinions, it seemed there were some themes that you just couldn’t avoid. For me, it all boiled down to two things: technology and experience.
AI / Machine Learning
Cassie Kozyrkov (@quaesita), Machine Learning Data Scientist at Google talked us through her approach to ML using the metaphor of microwaves. You trust a microwave, Kozyrkov argues, because it delivers you hot food quickly – the technology and the end result are separate.
If we treat machine learning in the same way, we realize the microwave technician and the chef are totally different jobs, different skill sets. The mistake is made when companies staff their kitchen with people who build microwave parts – they don’t know anything about cooking. Let’s remember this as we up-skill in ML. We should keep in mind the user experience once our algorithms have been put to work.
On the subject of algorithms, Carolyn Rodz (@Carolynrodz), Co-owner and CEO of Alice.com, reminded us to find our own biases when we’re building algorithms. “If you are building a new technology,” she argues, “test it with a diverse audience. You get output that is diverse and inclusive.” This was a great point, and one too easily forgotten as we offload more and more to machines. There’s no doubt the adtech sector has a problem with diversity, so it was inspiring to hear how we can deal with it.
Marc Teerlink (@marcteerlink), Global VP at SAP Leonardo took a utopian view of the way we can apply Artificial Intelligence. His view was that AI will make people use their brains more effectively as tasks like accounting and administration are offloaded to machines.
He demonstrated SAP’s business innovation system, and how it is used in the Volvo Ocean Race. Here, data created from biometrics could anticipate the crew’s performance by predicting fatigue or improving endurance. It’s an amazing application of technology.
One couldn’t help but think about how Koyzrkov’s warnings about skillsets applied to Teerlink’s Ocean Race example – to execute this would require not just technical knowledge, but sports science too. And of course, heeding Rodz’s argument, we need to remember to check for bias and test accordingly.
Microsoft’s James Whittaker (@docjamesw), Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft gave an inspiring talk about the way we use data. According to Whittaker, “the whole world is reduced to data,” but despite this, we’re not doing enough with it. Whittaker cited Twitter, who have vast quantities of data on users but don’t apply it effectively. Or, as he put it: “Twitter is stupid.. they collect massively data but they do nothing effectively with it.”
Given the recent debates around how our data is used, it was refreshing to hear someone talk about how data could benefit us, if applied creatively. From autonomous cars to medicine to purchasing tickets, data has the power to make experiences more fluid. Whittaker summed it up brilliantly with this statement, “Oil has no value unless you extract energy from it, data has no value unless you extract knowledge from it.”
Another inspirational story came from Ryan Leslie (@ryanleslie), a music producer who taught himself to code. The whole audience was captured by Ryan’s story – from studying at Harvard aged just 14, he went on to pursue his ambition of being a musician (to his father’s dismay!). But Leslie put that Harvard education to use and created a text messaging app which connected him to his fan base. By using data in a personal way, he manufactured his success. It’s a lesson we could all learn from, and exactly the value Whittaker was referring to.
One way data processing was being applied was in blockchain technology. Anton Mozgovoy (@mozgovoy_anton), CTO at Humaniq, focuses on making it possible for poor and undocumented people to make use of crypto-currencies. He explained that 1.5 million people don’t have an official id document, and that makes it impossible to open a bank account. But they overcome this by using biometric identification on a blockchain through mobile (a mobile app wallet), to access their own coins. Mobile tech combining with blockchain will hopefully empower people to engage with new economic models, rather than leaving them out.
As you can see, TNW was jam-packed with speakers who are using new technologies and applying them in such diverse ways. In the video and advertising sectors, we can learn a lot from the compassion and human insights that these applications demonstrate. I left inspired by both what technology is capable of, but also the ways in which people think it can improve our lived experience.
It gave me a new way of looking at our technology at vi. We have dedicated teams working hard on applying new technologies, with the ultimate goal of improving the online experience for website users. If we can keep that end goal in mind as we develop, then our products will continue to grow, and the web will continue to be a more useful, entertaining and dynamic place to spend time.
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