Lisbon: The best talks from Web Summit Day 2
Leaders of Facebook and Microsoft, political and civil rights activists, and an AI expert – the Web Summit talks on Day 2 had something for everyone. Read about the best ones here.
Welcome to the metaverse – Chris Cox, CPO at Meta (Facebook)
We’ve heard from Frances Haugen at Web Summit 2021. We’ve heard from Nick Clegg. Whistleblowing has been one of the defining stories of the event. But another? The metaverse.
Chris introduced the metaverse platform, an immersive audio-visual reiteration of the internet, to the Web Summit audience, opening up on how the idea for it stemmed from years of conversations around improving how we connect with others. “How do we build something that’s more interesting than the “peering through a box” way we currently communicate?” he asked the Centre Stage audience, which he joined remotely.
Meta’s CPO discussed the features of the platform, admitting that it’s a work in progress. He was also at pains to emphasise the ideal use for the metaverse as being separate from real life.
“[The metaverse] should not replace real life. Nothing should. And I would not want to design something that does. But for things that it can improve upon… Take productivity, take a family who can’t be together – things that we see billions of times a day around the world – and make that a little bit better. That’s a big deal and that’s why we’re doing it.”
Me, myself and AI – Daniela Braga, founder at Defined.ai
A simple scan for the term ‘artificial intelligence’ on Google brings with it a near infinite number of reasons the tech could change our lives. Daniela thinks this is neither good nor bad, but is inevitable: “Nobody stops the development of humanity and technology, but we need to create boundaries and guidelines for us humans to deal with it.”
In her talk, Daniela noted that AI development is woefully under-regulated across the world, and that the future of AI is primarily in the hands of the world’s largest economies. “It will be a race between the US and China, and it’s a matter of resources. Both countries are putting 70 percent of the AI resources on this, with different roles and access to data … It is already a race.”
Daniela also noted her fears about the future of AI development, with her focus on the creators rather than the created: “What worries me is us. Humans. It’s how we use technology; how we take care of our planet. And how we raise our robots – the same way we raise our children.”
Siyabulela Mandela, director for Africa at Journalists for Human Rights, speaking in sessions on Future Societies and Q&A
It’s no easy task to live up to the Mandela name. But Siyabulela is doing a lot to shine the light on human rights injustices and campaign for change. On Day 2 of Web Summit, he engaged the Web Summit audience with a talk about activism and an in-depth Q&A.
In his talk, he noted that activism doesn’t go far enough to define the lengths that people need to go to to stand up for oppressed peoples and causes. He also said that social media campaigns aren’t the same as taking real action: “We can use social media to mobilise one another, but it doesn’t stop online. People need to come down into the streets for change to happen.”
In his Q&A, he brought matters closer to home, decrying a political environment on the African continent built by leaders who Siyabulela said “choose corruption over development”. He did have words of hope for the gathered attendees, though, pointing to knowledge as a powerful source of inspiration for change. “The only way we can elevate people is through education.”
Building a net-zero economy – Brad Smith, president and vice chair at Microsoft
Around the world, governments and companies – Microsoft included – have stepped forward over the last two years with important carbon reduction pledges. Do these pledges go far enough?
Brad believes that the pledges are only as good as the strategies and actions that take them through to fruition: “A path from pledges to progress – that’s what the world needs.”
In his talk, Brad discussed humanity’s ongoing battle against climate change, and the pressing need for businesses to consider short-term and long-term plans for reducing their carbon footprint. One of the key elements to lowering our impact on the planet, Brad noted, is “a new ecosystem for carbon measurement”. He also noted that redesigning whole industries to make them run more carbon-efficiently, or on renewable energy sources, is critical.
Q&A – Deborah Archer, president of the ACLU
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is now seen as one of the biggest movements in US history. But, nearly 18 months on from the worldwide protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd – protests that were largely led and spearheaded by BLM – what has changed? Deborah says: nothing much.
She said: “We’re still fighting the same inequalities that we rose up against 18 months ago.”
Her Q&A also saw her discuss the ACLU’s position on the hate speech v free speech debate currently raging on social media, saying silencing hate speech is not the answer.
“We are very strongly a first amendment organisation. We believe in its power. Some of the things we see online are awful, but silencing those people doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t make it go away.”
She said that, while censorship is not the way forward, the ACLU is uneasy about the power big tech has to decide who has access to their platform, which is essentially a digital public square.
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