What a day!
We’re wrapping up the first day of Viva Tech 2018 and I have to say that it did NOT disappoint!
The morning started off with an excellent breakfast buffet at the hotel and by 8:15 we were in a taxi heading off to the venue! The doors to Viva Tech opened at 7, so by the time we arrived it was already bustling with activity.
I got a chance to walk around the expo floor before the main talks started and I was excited to see VR well-represented. There were also some great robots roaming the halls, including a cutie named ‘Pepper’ that greeted attendees at the entrance.
French President Emmanuel Macron opened the conference with a keynote welcoming everyone to a standing-room only crowd. Alternating between speaking French and English, Macron discussed the growth of France’s entrepreneurial policies, the importance of Africa in the development of new technologies and leading innovation, and how a focus on ethical responsibility is critical for today’s private and public projects.
It’s increasingly fascinating to me to contrast the themes of the talks at Viva Tech with other tech conferences – across the board, leaders of the biggest technology companies in the world emphasize the needs of tomorrow and the responsibilities that companies should take in making ethical choices in their development. While some of these conversations happen in Silicon Valley, it is often secondary to the focus on scaling and capital, at least at scale. It was inspiring and refreshing to listen to countless CEOs re-emphasize the importance of transparency in data, respect for personal privacy, and a need for new types of education away from the traditional 4 year degree.
This theme of focusing on responsibility and impact was echoed by the second speaker, IBM’s CEO and President Ginny Rometty. Rometty talked about the exponential disruption that artificial intelligence enables, and the absolute necessity that companies are transparent about how data is trained and used in decision making. A third theme that persisted throughout the event was the evolution of education, and how we need to shift our focus away from 4-year educational institutions and into specialized vocational training for emerging technology skills.
At 2pm, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke on the main stage. I was hoping to get the chance to hear his keynote – having worked at Microsoft (and in the Server / Cloud organization before he was CEO!) this was a talk I was excited about, but the lines to get into the main stage were so long (with many people getting turned away) that I decided to head over to the less-populated (but still quite full!) CEO Forum stage for the opportunity to hear some talks that highlighted the importance of developing solutions for cleaner energy and of approaching artificial reality with respectful caution. One of the key trends that I heard throughout today’s sessions was around the importance of companies to work with governments to create frameworks for ethical use of artificial intelligent software, which I found refreshing as a main tenant of such a large conference.
Later on in the afternoon, I got the chance to explore some of the innovations around autonomous vehicles – including a virtual reality experience that showed the concept of a vertical autonomous flying vehicle! I also got to sit inside an adorable autonomous taxi, and learn about the plans that NAVYA had for integrating their autonomous vehicles with local attractions.
After the autonomous vehicle tour, I headed back into the main stage for a panel on ‘Tech For Good,’ a heavy-hitting recap from the day-long forum held the day before Viva Tech kicked off with world leaders in the technology industry and government officials, led by Emmanuel Macron. On the panel were VCs and tech titans, including Tristan Harris, Mitchell Baker, and Jimmy Wales – all whom expressed optimism at the state of humanity looking ahead in the industry 10 years out, but also were (reasonably) critical about the challenges that we are facing around privacy and data.
Day 1 wrapped with a fireside chat between Maurice Levy, Chairman of the Publicis Group, and Mark Zuckerberg, a much-anticipated talk that filled up an hour in advance. In his chat, Mark discussed the issues that Facebook had been dealing with involving privacy concerns, advertising, and election interference, admitting that they had not anticipated the ways that users could manipulate their platform. It was an overall pleasant conversation with little controversy, and while I would have liked to see more discussion around why Facebook doesn’t consider innovating on alternate business models to advertising, it was a good conversation to end the day with.
Except… the day didn’t quite end there! After the talks finished for the day, I stuck around to watch the Tech Crunch Battlefield Europe finals. Five startups pitched their companies to a panel of judges, who decided on the winner: Wingly, a company that matches pilots with private planes to consumers with the goal of making private travel more accessible.
With that, we’re wrapped on day 1 – it’s been such a fun time! You can catch up with everything on Twitter here! Now, for a bit of rest… and on to day 2!