Every so often, we have the opportunity to attend conferences as attendees – a chance to learn, listen and absorb. The 2019 Web Summit was one of those chances – Europe’s largest Tech Event – completely sold out, with over 70,000 attendees from all across the world; this event deserves its place among the top ten technology events in the world.
Web Summit kicked off opening night with a packed auditorium at the Altice Arena on the waterfront in Portugal’s capital city. Famed and controversial whistle blower Edward Snowden appeared live on video stream from Russia. Snowden carefully considered data privacy legislation and specifically GDPR.
He stated that the problem is not data protection, its data collection. GDPR and other legislation allows data to be collected as long as it never leaks – but eventually everything leaks! Going on to tackle questions on governance Snowden concluded; “What do you do when the most powerful institutions in the world become least accountable to society? That’s the question our generation is here to answer.”
I quickly realised that it would be impossible to see everything and hear everything I wanted to at an event of this size. I had to think carefully about the schedule and select the most interesting session to attend. Data privacy and the associated governance and legislation was a central theme in many of the conference sessions that I attended.
Microsoft’s Chairman Brad Smith took to centre stage to discuss the technological evolution expected in the coming years;
- Digital computing evolving to quantum computing
- More cloud storage leading to more data innovations
- 5G moving to 6G and ambient computing
- Artificial Intelligence
“We need a new wave of data privacy legislation…..Nowadays, when people want to share a message they send a text, they send an email, they post a blog. It shows how fundamentally important it is to protect privacy, a fundamental human right, in an era where everything has gone digital.”
US Representative from California, Ro Khanna, and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair attracted a capacity audience for their discussion on how policy and regulation can keep pace with the technological revolution. “There is a lack of understanding of technology in government.,” said Blair, “We need people who are up to the challenge of putting in place thoughtful legislation to regulate technological progress.” The duo discussed the need for governments to step up and ensure, unlike in previous industrial revolutions, that regulators keep pace with technological advancements.
Reviewing the content prior to the event, I was keen to see how broad and deep the theme of sustainable technology would run through the conference content. I was delighted that it was either central to, or included in almost every conference session I attended. From centre stage to the ‘Panda Conf’ marketing stage to the robotics and AI event stage climate change, environmental conscientiousness and the circular economy was featured. The first day even hosted a specific ‘Planet Tech’ conference stream with its own stage.
My highlight from those addressing the green agenda came from Ronan Dunne, of Verizon, who outlined the communication company’s commitment to contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Along with many of his peers, Dunne considers 5G implementation to be the 4th Industrial Revolution. On climate change, he said “We need to innovate our way out of this problem. I believe that the fourth industrial revolution could halt, or even reverse, the damage done by the previous three.”
Held over 3 ½ days, Web Summit delivers on its promise to bring together the people and companies that are redefining the global tech industry. With over 1200 speakers discussing data protection, sustainability and emerging technologies this is a very worthwhile event.