A group of us Computerlovers recently got to go to sunny Lisbon to attend Web Summit, Europe’s biggest tech conference. With over 50,000 attendees and 21 stages of talks to choose from, we had plenty to get stuck into, not to mention the Night Summit evening networking event which seemed to take over the entire city!
Rather than focus on individual talks and their takeaways (which, let’s face it, would end up being a very, very long post), I’ve pulled out three clear themes that were covered across the events from various angles.
Theme 1 - Virtual Reality
According to many of the speakers at Web Summit, the future of video is most definitely virtual reality. William Sargent from Framestore explored how films will exist in formats we can’t yet imagine, referencing what they created to support the Magical Beasts movie out this month.
Our very own Computerlover and Harry Potter fan, Charlotte couldn’t wait to try out the Magical Beasts VR experience with Daydream when we got back to the office.
They’re not just limited to headsets, either. Another beautiful example William shared was Fieldtriptomars.com where they created a virtual reality experience for children to learn about life on Mars. As a specially-kitted-out bus drove around the street of Washington, the children could look out of the windows onto the planet’s landscape.
Field trip to Mars bus experience
This isn’t the only way virtual reality is doing good. Mike Schroepfer, CTO Facebook, talked about how it has been helping paralysed people in Brazil to walk again.
And virtual reality is very much on Facebook’s agenda now that they’re thinking about what the next 10 years of the social media platform might look like – soon you’ll be able to take selfies of your avatar self in VR!
Virtual reality selfies with Oculus Rift
Soon you’ll be able to take selfies of your avatar self in VRTweet this
Theme 2 - Chatbots
We found that many speakers shared our belief that chatbots are here to stay. Since opening up their Messenger platform six months ago, Facebook has seen over 34,000 bots created. The Telegraph even says that bots have overtaken apps as the primary way we communicate with our phones. One talk, from Facebook’s VP of Messaging David Marcus, looked at what bots are actually good for.
He gave examples of Absolut creating a bot to help with a cocktail giveaway that resulted in a three-fold increase in redemption rate. He gave a few other great examples too, from Burberry creating a handy bot to give personalised Christmas gift recommendations, to car manufacturers who tie in with what content users have viewed on their website to tailor the messaging experience.
Facebook has recently updated their Messenger platform to 1.3, which highlights “bots that complete a business objective better than a mobile website” as a bold first point. Another new feature from Facebook is their sponsored messages rollout and the ability to link your news feed ads to Messenger.
Chatbots lend themselves well to support with customer services in an age where customers are increasingly demanding and businesses look to cut costs. One tip we picked out was the importance of making it clear from the start that your bot is a bot, not a real person, and how you can speak to a real person if the bot can’t help you – we’ve seen the backlash that occurred with ASOS this year when angry customers thought they were dealing with a bot rather than a human...
Theme 3 - Artificial Intelligence/deep learning
Expanding on the chatbots theme, we heard A LOT about evolutions with artificial intelligence and emotion, as well as some awesome use changes where it’s genuinely making a difference in the world. Rana Kilouby from Affectiva talked about the developments around AI understanding emotion and how they’re growing the largest emotion repository in the world. Live demoing the technology, we saw how it recognised your facial expressions and then expressed them as emojis.
Live demo of Affectiva AI emotional recognition technology
The technology has been used to test emotional reactions to adverts and games before they go live (of course, there’s a similar ethos behind how and why we user test our products here at Code). It also integrates with existing software and IoT such as fridges to identify your stress levels, adapts educational content for kids as they learn, detects Parkinsons onset, and, in partnership with Google Glass, helps to give autistic children a better understanding of people’s emotions and how to respond to situations with social queues.
With Hanson Robotics we saw a real-life robot, Sophia, be interviewed on stage and even crack jokes with the audience – all a bit scarily realistic!
Hanson Robotics’ Sophia cracking jokes with the audience!
Web Summit is a whirlwind of all things tech. I’d highly recommend it, not only for the talks, but the opportunity to meet so many other people working in the industry.