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Octopus’s Andrew Dobson discovers startup enthusiasm and apocalyptic AI at Web Summit 2017

November 21, 2017

Octopus’s Andrew Dobson discovers startup enthusiasm and apocalyptic AI at Web Summit 2017

Web Summit — known to some as “Davos for geeks” — is the largest tech conference in the world. This year, nearly 70,000 people from over 160 countries gathered in Lisbon to attend presentations by everyone from former US Vice President Al Gore to former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Among the congregation of inquisitive attendees was Octopus’s Head of Development, Andrew Dobson, who was more than happy to answer a few questions…

So Andy, which presenters did you see at Web Summit?

Lots of people — there were 1,200 speakers to choose from and many different stages. Rushing around to see them all was tricky. Brad Smith from Microsoft, Stan Chudnovsky from Facebook, and Jeff Holden from Uber stick in the memory. But there were some interesting characters on the smaller stages as well — heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko, the American wrestler Paul Levesque, musician and actor Wyclef Jean, and Leyna Bloom, the first transgender model to appear in Vogue.

What was the most outstanding presentation?

Jeff Holden’s presentation on flying cars was a real eye opener — the first trial is starting in LA in 2020.

What presentation — though maybe not the most impressive — did you feel was most significant?

[Microsoft President] Brad Smith’s statement on the threat of rogue states to cyber security, and how Microsoft would never bow down to requests from any government, felt very significant.

What ideas did you come away with that are pertinent to fintech?

If there was an overriding theme throughout the summit it was probably AI and robotics, and what effect they will have on most businesses in the very near future. It made me realise this is something that all companies should be focussing on.

Are large tech events like Web Summit important?

They may not be able to go into too much detail on one specific topic, but events like Web Summit give you a feel for where the industry is moving. And they’re good places to make contacts and build relationships.

Is there something about Web Summit that sets it apart from other such tech events?

Yes, the diversity of the people and speakers. In one afternoon, I listened to discussions on why sex robots should be banned, someone describing how he used chatterbox technology to bring his dad back to life and a discussion on whether AI will be the end of humanity. You don’t get that sort of variety in a typical tech conference.

What sort of people did you meet? Did anyone in particular stand out as unusual or impressive?

Some of the smaller startups were really interesting to talk to. The most memorable was a chap who was working from his bedroom and living off his dad’s credit card. His MVP was a website directory of dog hotels in Munich. Not a great idea, but his enthusiasm and energy was infectious.

What is your main take-away from the experience?

The enthusiasm of the start-ups really stuck with me. It was refreshing to see how excited people were about building their own tech companies.

It was also an eye opener to learn just how quickly societies are going to be affected by the onset of new technology. It raises challenging questions around job losses and whether there’s ever going to be a need for, say, a universal basic income.