Our CCO’s Top 3 Speakers from Web Summit 2023

Deep within the exclusive VIP lounge of my social sphere, my friends and family bear witness to my not-so-secret affair with crafting top lists. I've compiled rankings for everything under the sun – movies, books, people, places, colours, foods, activities; you name it, I've listed it! 

Web Summit is therefore no different. This is by far my favourite conference that I get to attend every year, (unsurprisingly since it is in my top 5 conferences list), and there is so much content to share and talk about, I thought the best place to start would be my favourite 3 speakers.

This year showcased some very inspiring, insightful and even controversial talks. That’s why determining a top list was really difficult, but here are my top 3 speakers (and coincidentally some amazing women in tech), whose sessions deeply resonated with me:

1. Rebecca Parsons

I am a huge fan of Rebecca Parsons and have been following her career over the years. She delivered an excellent talk last year about building teams and cultures which really stayed with me. I learned so much from that one talk and took those learnings back to GPMD. This year I planned ahead and attended not just one talk, but three. 

How to prioritise and incorporate sustainability into your business 

Becoming a more sustainable business has become an increasingly important topic at GPMD for both our customers and our agency itself (check out our award-winning sustainability ebook). Coming from a tech background, Rebecca shared insights around how to use innovation in order to have more sustainable goals in your business. 

She reminded us to start with a baseline, pull the data on where your business is right now and assess your efficiency. Her advice was to look at all the sources that contribute to you not being as sustainable as you can instead of what’s working. The data about these areas of inefficiency is what you can then use to make informed decisions about using technology to solve them. Even though the talk was about sustainability, she delivered wider insights that I will be thinking about in the coming months, which apply to all areas of a business.

 “The power of asking why and why not over and over again should not be underestimated.”

How can technology transform the climate crisis

On the topic of sustainability, there was another talk that I learned a lot from. This was a panel discussion and Rebecca was joined by Sita Chantramonklasri to discuss what is really needed to tackle the one thing that is threatening humankind's entire existence: climate change. 

Rebecca and Sita explored technology's transformative role in addressing the climate crisis. One fact that stood out for me is that although large corporations are the ones who can drive the most change; it’s the tech industry, responsible for 2-3% of global emissions, that can revolutionise various fields. Sita, from an ESG-focused firm, rejects the "environmentalist" label, emphasising economic opportunities in sustainability. Rebecca questioned tech's commitment, highlighted the importance of transparency and dispelling the myth that sustainability is costly. The discussion covered various challenges across sectors and how sustainable, profitable, and cost-competitive investments could be key. The conversation concluded with a focus on the need for a comprehensive understanding of the true costs of technology and the ambition for sustainability investing to become synonymous with smart investing.

The dynamic duo of software and AI

AI was one of the main content pillars at Web Summit this year, as it’s impacted our entire industry. Thus the final talk I attended was on the role that AI is playing in software from a programming and code perspective and what this might mean for the future. When asked if there was any other technology right now (other than GenAI) that she may be excited about and people should talk about more, her reply:

“I think there is going to be a radical rethinking when mixed reality is actually a thing. Because, sure in gaming, in retail, in branding, we all know what that looks like. What would it mean to apply for a mortgage in a virtual world? How would your interactions be different?”

2. Brittany Kaiser

I was at front row and centre (as you can see from my picture) because this was a lady not to be missed! Having followed Brittany Kaiser's journey since the Cambridge Analytica scandal (and watching the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack”), hearing from Brittany herself was an absolute highlight. Brittany was speaking on the following talks:

How not to regulate tech

Joined by notable US politician Mick Mulvaney,  the debate centred around trying to get regulation right and the challenges faced around that. The two discussed Biden’s recent executive order around AI which is good as a first step, but only covers a fraction of what needs to be done.  Additionally, she pointed out that if the US is not regulating and addressing topics like how personal data is used, custodianship, fiduciary responsibility, data ownership, or data transfer laws on a federal level, then how can an executive order work in regulating AI overall?

Q&A with Brittany Kaiser

This was a unique opportunity to have a close knit audience ask Brittany a range of questions, freestyle. Nothing was off the table,  she discussed her story around the Cambridge Analytica Scandal and how she found a way to stand up for what she believed in. It's truly remarkable what Brittany went through and I urge anyone who hasn't watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix to go and check it out! Protecting our data rights is a key topic for Brittany and her main message for the audience was if you are building a technology product, make it as ethical as you can and protect people’s rights while they are using it. 

Additionally she discussed data and how it's monetised. For instance, if someone takes your data and makes money off of it, do you have rights to that monetisation? She discussed the idea that all of us have the ability to monetise our data with the products that are available to us. Which means if all of us participate in the digital economy, we are able to make enough money off of our data to at least pay our grocery bill. 

For me, the truly transformational fact is that with just the data that we produce everyday as digital citizens, we would be able to protect our most basic human rights - access to food and clean water. This means that everyone with a phone would have the ability to buy groceries and water, which would be an amazing feat. 

However, all we’re currently doing is bulking up hundreds of billions of dollars of value into big tech companies who just take our data and monetize it themselves and leave the user out of the equation. For me this was some food for thought and something I’ll be further exploring for maybe months to come!

Are we moral enough for AI

 Brittany was joined by Dr. Mandeep Rai and Lexi Mills to discuss humanity’s worst crimes and how they were made possible by modern technology and the AI revolution that we’re currently in. The panellists discussed whether or not humankind is moral enough to use powerful tech for benign needs. Can we really trust ourselves and our leaders and, more importantly, will we ever create a moral AI? Here’s what she encourages the audience to do: show up as technologists to engage with legislators, who are making decisions on our behalf, to help make sure we build products that make a positive difference in the world.

3. Dr. Mandeep Rai

Sharing the stage during the "Are we moral enough for AI" session, Mandeep’s compelling arguments caught my attention. Her perspective on the ethical dimensions of AI resonated deeply. 

She pointed out that “you can’t necessarily change the world, your leader’s or other people’s behaviour, but you can change yourself. If we focus on our values as companies and as individuals, a world of difference takes place. We’ve also seen that when companies do this really well, it transforms how we feel going into work, it transforms how we look up to our leaders, and it transforms how we work - the change starts with us!” 

I’ve now added her book "The Values Compass"  to my list for my next read as I have a feeling I have a lot to learn from Mandeep. 

My Favourites in a Nutshell

Those were my top 3 speakers - their talks transcended the Web Summit, but I do want to take a moment for my honourable mentions: Global Brand Director of Lush, Annabelle Baker and Pandora’s CMO Mary Carmen Gasco-Buisson, who offered valuable insights during their session “Marketing in 2024” into innovative brand strategies, including the Lush’s departure from TikTok and Meta, Pandora’s sustainability efforts and how for both brands, their communities drive personalisation. One more for the honourable mentions is Andrew McAfee with his insights on regulating AI and call for permission-less innovation - he was one of my most highly anticipated speakers and he left us with a lot to think about.

Looking for more GPMD’s insights at Web Summit? Have a look at our CTO’s highlights and our CEO’s top 7 startups to watch out for

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