After 18 months of online workshops, virtual conferences and Zoom webinars, our strategy team were ready for something different. Kyan has attended The Next Web in previous years, it came along at just the right time. TNW has always felt more like a festival than a conference, known for its bombastic openings, impressive stage sets and distinguished speakers from all over the world.
Five of us travelled to Amsterdam, a little tentative about what to expect, not to mention daunted by the myriad QR codes, tests and restrictions that are necessary for international travel. But before long, we realised that the official Dutch COVID app and its implementation is actually hugely impressive. For a trip to a tech conference, we weren’t expecting to be wowed by something so ordinary before we even got there.
We’re now back on home soil, and have put some time aside to gather our thoughts. So here’s a quick lowdown of what we saw, what we enjoyed, and what ideas (and swag) we brought back to Kyan to implement into our own way of working.
Tom Marshall, Head of Technology
“Geekiness is a core value at Kyan, so we’re all a part of that. Particularly everyone on this trip. And as the ‘tech nerd’ by title, I was extremely excited to be attending TNW this year.
“We all enjoyed most of the talks, but there was one that really stood out, so it may get mentioned more than once. Christian Erfurt, CEO of Be My Eyes, was incredibly inspiring, and I initially assumed they were a charity or non-profit rather than a traditional revenue-based company.
“The obvious revenue model that we often see elsewhere would be ads or a freemium subscription, but Christian explained how they felt that would compromise the integrity of the product, as the former would add friction to the experience and the latter would limit the ultimate scope of their impact.
“Instead, they found an alternative, charging the likes of Google and Microsoft to use Be My Eyes for their customer support. “My laptop voice assistant isn’t working” is a lot easier to answer if the support assistant can see the laptop than have to ask a partially sighted person “Is there an error on the screen?“. Effectively, they’re becoming the Yellow Pages of visually impaired customer support.
“So, not the mind-blowing advancement in Blockchain/NFT/AI/deep fake that I anticipated I’d spend the train back to the hotel thinking about, but an important reminder to remember the problem you set out to solve and find creative solutions to avoid compromising on that.”
Pete White, Creative Director
“TNW 2021 was a great experience. There were so many gems and nuggets tucked away in each talk, and surprisingly, it wasn’t all about new tech, apps and software, but also about thought process and delivery. This is something that we’ve been concentrating on at Kyan lately, so we felt reassured that we are doing things the right way.
“A big highlight for me was also Christian Erfurt and Be My Eyes. It’s an app that connects blind and partially-sighted people with volunteers for visual assistance, via a video call. This could be for anything, from reading a letter to finding their way around somewhere. What was most interesting was the human element – using real people. AI couldn’t solve the problem for them and the experience wasn’t right. They could have dived deeper and tried a different kind of tech, but they took it right back to people. I can really stand behind a product that puts people first.”
Laurent Maguire, Co-founder & CEO
“It was really exciting going back to a live event. Having been to previous TNWs, it did initially feel a bit pared back. But just as we’d settled into our seats, a marching band of soca dancers appeared and took over the entire stage.
“Chris Ume (probably better known as the ‘Tom Cruise deep fake guy’) was fascinating. It was interesting to see how a deep fake is constructed, and it actually takes a lot longer than I was expecting – two months! I also found the conversation about quantum computing interesting and slightly terrifying. Jaya Baloo of Avast explained to us how advances in quantum computing—in eight years or so—will render today’s best encryption completely useless.
“We did leave on a bit of a downer, with the final few talks telling us that either AI will kill us all or we’re just going to kill ourselves. An odd way to finish. That’s not to say they weren’t good talks, but it wasn’t the uplifting ‘final thought’ we were hoping to go out on!”
Harry Ford, Head of Strategy
“TNW and Amsterdam in general were really well-organised and seamless. We were all impressed with how the app worked and how committed everyone was to using it. Not like over here.
“Mo Gawdat put the fear in all of us by explaining how AI will grow, evolve, become more intelligent than humanity and ultimately destroy us. It was really interesting to hear about his ‘three inevitables of AI’ based on the evolution of intelligence. It was all quite dystopian but absolutely no hyperbole to it. His closing message and I guess his answer to all of this is ‘to be better as people’. Which left us with at least a scrap of optimism.
“Jen Carter was great. She shared some of the work that Google.org have been doing – including a simple app that helps Indian farmers reduce bug infestations in their crops. Google.org are doing some brilliant things and I don’t think enough people know about this.
“Overall, there were some really clear and simple messages to work better with each other. Something we could all get behind and take home with us.”
Chris Cannacott, Head of Delivery
“Obviously I’m going to have to talk about Scrum and agile. This was the first conference where I truly felt like agile is becoming an intrinsic part of company culture, at least for many of the companies that were at TNW. I was really happy to see so many of the Scrum values, such as transparency, openness and respect played out at a company level. Reassuring and motivating to hear after the year we’ve all had.
“I also enjoyed seeing the Be My Eyes product, which reminded me of our work with AccessAble a few years ago. The deep fake stuff too – of course it’s terrifying in the wrong hands. But use it in a good way and it’s unbelievably creative. To echo what Harry said, the message here was about making the right decisions and using it with a good purpose.”
In terms of getting back into the swing of live events and conferences, what a place to start. TNW was fantastic, and the organisation was near-seamless. Despite the last 18 months being a difficult time for so many, it is great to see the application of technology flourish, especially when it’s enabling people and enriching lives.
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