Tales from Web Summit 2022

The MetaVerse, AI, Future of Work and more

Andy O'Sullivan
6 min readDec 12, 2022

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Like Croke Park on a match day in September

I recently attended Web Summit, the huge tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal, for the first time since before Covid. With over 70k attendees, 1k speakers, countless startups and more, trying to review everything there would be like trying to review everything on Netflix in one article — impossible — so instead I’ll try give you a flavour of some of the things that caught my attention over the 3 days.

The MetaVerse

Simply the coolest MetaVerse related item I saw at Web Summit was BMW showcasing its M sports car where the driver wears a VR headset while they are driving the car! Yes, actually driving the car, while the headset shows them a virtual race track in a virtual world. Esports streamer Cailee spoke about trying it out: “The most insane experience I’ve ever had”.

From everything else MetaVerse related, here’s some interesting nuggets I came across:

  • VR is where driverless car companies are chalking up miles as part of their training that wouldn’t be possible in the real world. Here’s an article I found afterwards to learn more.
  • The ‘Industrial MetaVerse’ —e.g. better VR representations of factories to aid in training, safety, onboarding etc. Not a new concept, but easier with the improved VR tech.
  • One speaker mentioned a nice approach — learn by doing: scan a factory so it can be represented virtually, then figure out what you can use it for.
  • Scanning large amounts of physical locations / objects will lead to ever increasing amounts of data to deal with, leading to the need for better data compression.
  • ‘Verch’ AKA virtual merch! No need to give people pens and t-shirts anymore!
  • A quote I liked “who better to design the MetaVerse than architects” as in actual building architects (not high-brow software engineers!).
  • MetaVerse via web-browsers will be important to its adoption i.e. if folks can access virtual content via phones or laptops and not just VR headsets it will spread much quicker.
  • Plenty of mentions of Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft basically being MetaVerses already — millions of people playing, creating together etc.
  • Marie Huwe (Dolby) pointed out “When all the tools are different it makes it hard” — i.e. there’s no one, or even two main platforms or tools to build for the MetaVerse.
  • Todd Greene (CEO, PubNub) with some words of wisdom “there’s going to be lots of apps that suck … apps that don’t suck will emerge”.

There were a lot of MetaVerse startups, and a few speakers, who were promoting crypto-related MetaVerse products or concepts. I regard nearly all of these are fools’ gold so won’t waste anyone’s time talking about them! Check out my Objective Guide to the MetaVerse though here:

Artificial Intelligence

Pretty much every new project I encounter in work involves some level of AI / Machine Learning so it was no surprise of course to see lots of AI content.

One interview that stood out was with Ciarán O’Mara (Protex AI) who gave a refreshingly honest talk about using AI in enterprises, with plenty of pragmatic points:

  • AI is the technology behind the product, but the focus needs to be on the user.
  • Trust is key — business partners need to understand that 100% accuracy isn’t possible, and the real world changes a lot continuously e.g. a computer vision system may need to cater for daytime, nighttime, different seasons of the year etc.
  • Understand what the real problem is — there could be non-AI solutions.
  • Production AI is very different to research AI.
  • AI is difficult to explain — “explaining an AWS backend is easier”
  • Is the business ready for AI — are there resources available in the process for validation?
  • “How to legislate something there’s very hard to understand?”

All in all, just great to hear someone whose business is AI talking about all the caveats to its usage.

Future of Work

I managed to fit in a few talks about the future of work, a topic so many of us are pondering currently. TL;DR — nobody really knows what’s going to happen or what’s best — remote, office, hybrid etc.

Some points I liked however:

  • “The most important skill is knowing how to get things done in your company” — from Dan Shapero (LinkedIn COO) — making the point that keeping people in your company who actually know how to get things done is very important. That may sound like just common sense, but as someone who works in a large enterprise, the folks who know things like how to comply with the internal AWS security rules etc are worth their weight in gold.
  • “You can work remotely when you know what you’re doing” Dennis Schmoltzi talking about what sort of work suits or doesn’t suit remote. I liked this one — it’s definitely easier to work on something you know how to do, but what about new starters to a company who need help?
  • “Everyone is a leader in a remote environment” — from Vanessa Stock (Pitch). I thought this one really interesting — when everyone is working at home, people are essentially their own leaders so need to be trained as such. They need to know how to motivate themselves, schedule their work and more — things which may be done for them by a manager if they were in an office.
  • Companies need to be very intentional about communication and documentation — if folks at home need to know something, there better be a good way of telling them.

Other notes

Web Summit is like a massive festival where you can see and hear lots of different things. Here’s a few other notes on things that caught my eye over the 3 days:

  • Driverless cars — folks are a lot less enthusiastic about the potential as they were a few years ago, with some car companies pulling back from previously stated goals.
  • A more likely immediate future is certain aspects of driverless technology being used in certain use-cases i.e. a more organic growth of the tech as oppose to a massive big bang changeover.
  • One, potentially controversial, opinion was that the safety goals of driverless cars should be more realistic i.e. better than existing cars, not perfect.
  • The founder of Ring, Jamie Siminoff, told a great story of how he invented Ring (smart doorbell with camera) for himself to know who was at the door when he was in his garage. It was only when his wife told him that the device made her feel safer at home that he realised he had something he could turn into a business. This is probably a story he’s told before but I loved it!
  • He also told of how investors thought it was a bad idea, as the market for doorbells was so small i.e. how many people buy new doorbells each year?
  • I saw a good talk on a robot system for warehouses where the robots can climb the shelves to reduce the need for larger warehouses as they can be higher with smaller ground space — resulting in warehouses closer to cities etc. Not sure if the thought of robots that can climb is comforting or not!
  • Fidelidade, one of Portugal’s largest insurance companies, talked about their approach to innovation and their home services product, FIXO, where customers can pay a fixed price for tradesmen to do certain tasks.
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) stand had info on very small satellites (Cube-sats) being used to help detect wildfire.

Final thoughts

Web Summit is a great conference — with enough scale and scope to offer enough items of interest to make the trip worthwhile. Some talks are the usual boring conference fodder but there’s plenty of diamonds amongst the rough. And of course Lisbon itself is as beautiful as ever and a joy to visit — thanks to my employer Liberty IT for sending me, and yes, we’re hiring!

Please let me know what you think below, or you can reach me or you can get me at Twitter or LinkedIn.

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