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Web Summit Dublin: “So who feels secure in their job?”

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By Stephen Phillips

I have never heard a session chair of a market research conference introduce a speaker with the words “This presentation is going to blow your f***ing mind!” but perhaps we should try this more often? Either way, the web summit in Dublin last week set out to do just that and was largely successful, at least for me.

With 30,000 people descending on Dublin, the huge summit seemed to take over the city for the week and many of the attendees seemed to want to take over the rest of the world soon after. There were a range of high profile speakers including Michael Dell, the founders of Instagram, Slack and the CTO of Facebook among others.

There were obviously a lot of different talks but the focus, at least for me, was the advent of AI and the impact this was likely to have in the coming years. The CTO of Accenture talked about the fact that AI is not new but the change is the plummeting cost of data storage coupled with the speed / capacity for data transfer. These two things have now allowed AI to take off and its implications will be profound.

Speaker after speaker told us about how AI would not take our jobs away but instead “free up” humans to be “more creative, more intuitive”. This was even echoed by a speaker from the Singularity University who talked about using AI CEO’s and entirely virtual companies and how they would then make better, more researched, strategic decisions. She suggested that this would help people make more money as the shareholders in these companies with no people and presumably give us all more time to do more important things such as interacting with our friends and family!

The CTO of IBM’s Watson then told us about a new dinosaur doll that uses machine learning (early stage AI) to help it improve its interactions with children. It will learn the types of questions they have and the best answers to them by being networked to all the other dinosaurs and learning from the reactions the toy gets from children. There was a similar story about a Barbie doll that will learn to have much more detailed and interesting conversations with kids, presumably again freeing up parents to have more time for “other intuitive activities”!

We also had the designer of the robot Pepper showing us how the robot could be a great retail sales person because it can couple the “science of customer service with the art of sales”. Another Accenture speaker talked of intuitive virtual agents that understand how stressed you are from your voice and can respond appropriately. Rana from Affectiva also bravely demonstrated on stage their ability to discern emotion from facial coding and mentioned the success they were having including this in market research projects.

So I was left with the thought that computers are already better at rational functions and increasingly appear to be able to do intuitive ones too with only the “creative” tasks being left for humans. Being Dublin I discussed this with the barman as he poured me my Guinness, he chuckled and told me that at least his job was safe, no one wants to chat to a robot in a pub, very true I thought, perhaps it is time to retrain!

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