Posted Nov 20

The future of AI — Web Summit Lisbon 2019

by Joe Beedle
The future of AI — Web Summit Lisbon 2019 by Joe Beedle

In November, Lisbon played host to the annual global Web Summit, bringing together individuals and businesses from Fortune 500 companies to tech start-ups who all have a shared interest in the future of technology. Here are some key takeaways from the conference.

Europe on the increase…

A strand of technology that was a hot topic at the summit was artificial intelligence. Since 2017, AI technology has been proliferating. Moreover, it has been no secret that for the past decade Europe has trailed behind Asia and the US in AI development. However, from a talent perspective, there are now more developers working in Europe than there are in the USA – as of 2017 Europe had 5.5M professional developers, compared to 4.4M in the US, and the cost of hiring is lower. This growing talent pool is a huge pull for founders who are looking to set up new businesses.

David Kelnar, Head of Research at MMC Ventures, detailed how one in 12 newly created companies in Europe calls itself an AI start-up. This is a rapid increase from one in 50 new ventures claiming to have AI as a pivotal role in its business in 2013. Moreover, the UK is Europe’s major player in AI with nearly 500 AI start-ups, a third of Europe’s total and twice as many as any other country.

However, while the UK remains the powerhouse of European AI, its share of European AI startups, by volume, has slightly reduced. Brexit could accelerate this. In his presentation, Kelnar moreover noted that France, Germany and other countries may extend their influence in the decade ahead, spreading the benefits of entrepreneurship more evenly across Europe.

01000001 01001001 - The future of artificial intelligence

From Alexa to self-driving cars, AI is advancing rapidly and becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of modern business and day-to-day life. Increasingly the touching point between humans and AI is becoming more frequent and widespread. As machine learning technology and AI develops, the tasks that machines and programs can perform will become steadily more sophisticated.

Influential thinkers, (the late Prof Stephen Hawkins being one of them), often warn about the potential risks of advanced AI against humans. But on the flip side of the debate is whether highly intelligent and autonomous machines should inherit rights and be protected themselves. Pinning down the question is philosophically difficult.  At the summit, however, Ben Goertzel, creator of humanoid robot Sophia, says that rights will be a ‘practical requirement’ for autonomous and advanced AI. If machines’ cognitive capabilities match or exceed that of their human counterparts, who are we to deny them of the same rights we enjoy?

Some people claim that AI is still in its infancy, while others suggest that the Artificially Intelligent taking over is a fast-approaching reality. However, perhaps the actual state of AI rests somewhere in-between. Experts predict that within the next decade AI will outperform humans in relatively simple tasks such as translating languages, writing school essays, and driving trucks. More complicated tasks like writing a bestselling book or working as a surgeon, however, will take machines much more time to learn. AI is expected to master these two skills by 2049 and 2053 accordingly.

The social impact of technological growth

In an era of growing uncertainty, society often looks towards technology and its advancement as a potential solution to global issues. Ascertaining just what impact technology might have on our lives and the world around us was a key component of the discussions and talks at the event. The running message throughout the conference, however, was refreshingly optimistic. At a talk discussing the future of AI and tech

(including Alex Wright-Gladstein, Co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer at Ayar Labs, Marc Mengler, Co-founder & CEO at, Mitchell Baker, Co-founder & Chairwoman at Mozilla, Peter O’Malley, Co-founder & CEO at Advisable and Robin Pagnamenta, Head of Technology at The Telegraph)

panelists discussed the benefits of future technologies from autonomous vehicles helping to improve road safety, to the potential and efficacy of quantum computing.

Climate change was another issue that was given much thought. In modern media, we are often faced with cynicism in the face of discussing climate change. However, across this small panel of tech heads radiated and incisive optimism and faith in the potential solutions technology could offer. Rather, the pessimism was directed towards politics. While technology might help us maintain a good quality of life and tackle climate change altogether, politics needs to change first for us to mobilize technological solutions and development.

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