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January 25, 2019

What we learned at the World Web Forum 2019

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Selena Cass 5 minute read

It was our first year at the World Web Forum and we knew from the moment we arrived it was going to be an event like no other.

A world away from the predictable template for conferences it felt more like a festival of the senses than a forum. Think funky seating pods, superfood jars, giant floating eyeball drones, a rock-techno fusion of music accompanied by a flamboyant dance troupe, and that was just day one!

Located in stunning Zurich, this two-day technology and innovation extravaganza was fittingly hosted at Stage 1, the former production site of automation and robotics leader, ABB.

Master or Servant’ the bold and provocative theme for 2019, chosen by Founder, Fabian Hediger to signify the biggest challenge facing our world today. “New technology is by definition, change” explains Fabian adding that every “technology-driven paradigm shift creates winners and losers” and warning that technology offers the “perfect weapon to disrupt the established pecking order.”

Over the two days, we heard keynotes, panel discussions and talk tracks from visionary and provocative leaders from across the industry. The end of day one was marked by a spellbinding Q&A with Rolling Stones rock-legend Bill Wyman, where he shared "only by doing normal things can I appreciate the extraordinary" referring to life lessons from over thirty years disrupting the music business.

There are so many highlights we could mention, but here are our top takeaways:

We are the masters, AI is the servant

The morality of AI and its impact on the fabric of our society came into question on several occasions over the course of the two days.  Michael Chui, Partner at McKinsey helped to allay fears of AI and Machine Learning taking over the world, by explaining that “machines don’t run off and learn, we train them and so by definition they are servants of us” adding that “what they are learning is what we have trained them to do.” Therefore its critical for humans to take control over the future of AI and train machines to do great things that compliment the role of the human.  

Think mass redeployment, not unemployment

Michael warned that the “grand challenge for the next couple of decades is not going to be mass unemployment but mass redeployment.” McKinsey’s research on the future of work confirms there will still be enough work for people to do, despite many tasks and roles becoming automated.

When it comes to AI, follow the money

When wondering how and where to invest in AI for your business, Michael advises leaders to follow the money and examine where you drive value, for example is it operational effectiveness or marketing? As these are the areas AI can  create new value and help to differentiate your offering.

Nicolas Economou, CEO of H5 echoed Michael’s predictions that human creativity and uniqueness will not be easily replicated by robots adding that “AI cannot feel any of the joys and pleasures, sorrows and suffering that are so central to the human experience..the one thing AI will never be is artificial humanity.”

Anything that can be digitized will be digitized

Xapo’s President Ted Rogers kicked off the“Crypto Assets: Master or Servant?” panel discussion with a bold claim that “Bitcoin will become the financial layer of the internet” adding that “anything that can be digitized will be digitized but it will take time.”  

Fellow panel member and CEO of Coinbase, Zeeshan Feroz predicts digital currencies will continue to emerge over the next three to five years.  And at the same time, “people will start to question the value of money and that will further drive adoption of crypto currencies.”

However, in reality, these changes will take time as Andrea Maechler, Member of the Governing Board of SNB warned, when it comes to Blockchain technology going mainstream there is still a lot of progress to be made, as it needs to “prove itself” and “we all have to do our job” to promote a safe and secure Blockchain system and ensure it benefits society as a whole.

Delight your customers and your business will thrive

The forum’s future of work track focused on the continued value of teamwork and agile collaboration in an age of automation.

Atlassian’s Dominic Price advised leaders to “put the customer at the front and centre of every decision you make every day” adding if you do this right and reward your team members to uphold this value, you will “delight your customers and your business will thrive.”

As part of the same track, Adaptavist’s very own Laura Hauser and Phill Fox shared their insights on how to prepare for a more automated future and the art of injecting more zen into your agile development practices.  

Want to see disruption, don’t go to a conference

Gasps and laughter filled the main stage when Stanford Business School Professor Bill Barnett advised leaders that, contrary to popular opinion, conferences do not create innovation or disruption. Instead they “are made to achieve consensus”. He also advised leaders that when they are looking for innovation and ideas “don’t look for what’s right, look for non-consensus, that's where you will find genius.” 

To know what to do today to be successful tomorrow

When asked what success looks like at an event like this, creator Fabian Hediger advised “you have to know what you stand for, what your company stands for, why you do what you do” and the forum should help your team define those values to set your team’s foundation for success.”

We couldn’t agree more. What will be the focus for your business this year?

If you missed our talks during the World Web Forum 2019, download our report on the Future of Automation here.