Need to know
13 : 11 : 17

13.11.2017 Technology : Mobility : Finance

Web Summit Lisbon 2017: Uber and Waymo show the future of mobility, Joseph Lubin on the power of cryptocurrency, catering for African consumers, and other stories.

1. Waymo breaks new ground, Uber looks skywards

uberAIR at Web Summit, Lisbon

John Krafcik, CEO of Google-spin-off Waymo, used this year’s Web Summit to announce the launch of the world’s first fleet of fully self-driving cars using public roads without anyone in the driving seat. Based initially in Phoenix, the cars will be available to participants in the brand’s early rider programme in the next few months.

As exciting as Krafcik’s revelation was, however, it was overshadowed by Uber chief product officer Jeff Holden, who revealed that the mobility brand was working in partnership with NASA to create a new air-traffic control system to manage low-flying, autonomous vehicles. Holden also announced that Los Angeles would be the third test city for the Uber Elevate project’s first services, scheduled for 2020. And the cost? ‘We’ll be able to offer you an Uber air flight for the cost of an Uber X trip on the ground,’ claimed Holden. ‘Of course, for that price you’ll be moving at 150–200mph.’

2. Summit heralds a brave new Bitcoin world

Vessel by Magnús Ingvar Ágústsson, Eindhoven Vessel by Magnús Ingvar Ágústsson, Eindhoven

With the value of Bitcoin soaring and state-owned consortiums and private financial institutions developing token-based systems and services powered by blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies were central to many of the debates at this year’s summit.

Joseph Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum, believes that cryptocurrencies will radically transform governments and economies. ‘If you take all of the foundational elements of our society – money, identity, reputation, agreements, government certificates – and make them natively digital on blockchains you can shrink those transactions into the moment of the transaction and create a virtually friction-free economy.’

For venture capital investor Tim Draper, cryptocurrencies could prove ‘a bigger deal than the internet’. Draper believes that the technology will force governments to rethink their size and scope. The People’s Bank of China has branded the blockchain community’s crowdfunding system initial coin offerings (IOCs) illegal and highly damaging to existing economic and financial systems.

3. AI for social good and a new mind cloud solution

Sophia by Ben Goertzel at Web Summit, Lisbon Sophia by Ben Goertzel at Web Summit, Lisbon

This year’s summit was opened by professor Stephen Hawking, who implored attendees to help ensure that artificial intelligence was being developed for social good, not merely for profit. ‘Our AI systems must do what we want them to do, for the benefit of humanity,’ he said. ‘We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion on how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be.’

But who should do the planning? Max Tegmark, MIT professor and author of Life 3.0, believes ‘politicians are still asleep at the wheel when it comes to the big issues that AI poses for us’. Governments, he says, aren’t educating themselves about the technology, specifically when it comes to its effect on income inequality.

Ben Goertzel, chief scientist at Hanson Robotics and creator of Sophia, the robot recently granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia, proposed a solution that went beyond political intervention. Later this month Goertzel will launch the SingularityNET, ‘a decentralised open market for artificial intelligence’ that will allow AI systems to share skills. This ‘AI mind cloud’ would not be owned or operated by one group, democratising a technology many now fear will be defined by only a handful of major organisations.

4. Big tech still doesn’t know how to stop fake news

The programming for much of this year’s event owed much to the current discordant geopolitical climate and technology’s role in fuelling it. Google’s Jigsaw CEO Jared Cohen argued that, today ‘revolutions are easier to start but a lot harder to finish’. He was particularly concerned with social media’s ability to ‘raise expectations’, which means people are more likely to ‘rally round the lowest common denominator’.

Many of the discussions in this area inevitably returned to the theme of fake news. Joseph Kahn, managing editor of The New York Times, believes the public need to understand the true definition of the term, not just as incorrect information, ‘but as fraudulent content specifically designed to go viral on the internet’.

What can be done about it was less clear. Ann Mettler, head of The European Commission’s European Political Strategy Centre, said that although she recognised the threat that fake news posed, it couldn’t be regulated via some sort of Ministry of Truth. Kahn’s response was that technology brands such as Facebook and Google have to stop denying they are types of media company, and should behave – and potentially be regulated – accordingly.

Daily Paywall by Paolo Cirio at How Much of This is Fiction, Liverpool Daily Paywall by Paolo Cirio at How Much of This is Fiction, Liverpool

5. Kernel explores a toolkit to teach the brain new skills

Bryan Johnson founded Kernel, a start-up researching the future of cognition, to explore what it would ‘mean if my consciousness was 1,000 times bigger’. Johnson announced his plans to create a ‘sufficiently robust set of tools’ for the brain, similar to those used in fields such as genetic engineering. Once established, Johnson claims that the tools will enable humans to seamlessly ‘interact with artificial intelligence (AI), delete memories, have perfect recall and use brain-to-brain communication’.

6. Thought-starter: Why brands in Africa work harder to gain trust

At the Web Summit we sat down with Jeremy Hodara, CEO of African-e-commerce brand Jumia, to discuss the challenges of building consumer trust.

‘When African consumers go online for the first time, they will never give their bank details. After a few times, yes, but not the first time. This means we need to allow them to pay cash on delivery. You don’t ask people to trust you in that first instance; you prove to them that they should. So you bring them the product, they check it and then they give the delivery driver the cash.

‘Because it’s Africa people often imagine that consumers are also more lenient on the levels of customer service they receive, but the precise opposite is true because it is hard to establish that trust. If you or I bought something on Amazon today and didn’t receive it on the right date, we’d be annoyed, but we’d assume it would arrive the next day. For Jumia, if we don’t deliver then people really freak out, so the bar is much higher.’

Look out for the forthcoming full interview in our Behaviours section.