The fact that AI was the talk of the town at Web Summit 2023—one of the world’s top tech conferences where policymakers, heads of state, technology companies and fast-growing startups talk about what’s next—came to no one’s surprise. The actual takeover of the event by this emerging technology, though, was impressive. While in 2022 it was the metaverse, the real thing this year was AI, which you could tell by looking at the summit’s schedule of about 80% AI-focused speeches and panels.
The main question that I tried to answer during my four days in Lisbon was, are we really taking a technological and cultural leap? So many things that once seemed like they were just futuristic concepts, from Bluetooth to laptops to the iPhone, have become our everyday tools. But with AI, to what extent are we recognizing that tomorrow will be markedly different from today? In the spirit of recognition, here are some things I thought (and spoke) extensively about at Web Summit.
First up, the environment. To paint a rather dystopian picture, we’ve consumed enough film and literary content to envision a future where man and machine battle for domination, with one possibly wiping the other off of the face of the Earth. However, Web Summit allowed me to see a more utopian view: AI is an ally in our mission to safeguard our planet—and the tech will only grow in this ability. Melanie Nagasawa, Microsoft’s Chief Sustainability Officer, explained that AI will help us significantly reduce water and energy waste in electrical networks, as the tools enable us to produce assets more efficiently. Another astounding example is that AI can help revolutionize global food production systems, with AI-powered indoor farms offering safer, climate-resilient and thus more reliable food production.
Second, marketing. One of the talks that truly stuck with me was by Joana Vasconcelos, an incredible Portuguese visual artist. In her speech on the role of art in the “new world,” she reiterated that AI will not replace us, at least not in the fun things such as creative thinking, and any other aspect where the human touch remains indispensable—and I fully agree. That said, there’s no doubt that AI, along with virtual experiences, have firmly established their roles in the digital realm. From powerful tools for campaign creation, management and amplification to the development of premium content (think of AI lip-syncing, audio production and video adaptation), AI is taking a leading role.
However, amidst the chaos of hundreds of martech startup pitches, one blue logo—coming directly from my friend’s bedroom in 1995—lit up my day: SEGA. The Japanese company’s COO Shuji Utsumi talked about transmedia; how an entertainment product like Sonic transmediated, adopting different shapes based on the channel, intended use and target audience, from video game hero to TV star to influencer. If you ask me, the concept of transmedia is what should be at the center of tomorrow’s digital marketing development. We should increasingly be thinking about campaigns, content, culture and communicative products in a way that, to quote Radiohead, “Everything’s in its right place.”
As for entertainment, the operative word is gamification. Some thought it had gotten lost a long time ago when we interacted by clicking on the keyboards of our cell phones, but no. Gamification has returned to set new and higher standards with exceptional quality, supercomputing power and a humanized flow. Transforming advertising into advergames is a trend that I believe we should rediscover because AI now allows us to offer seamless experiences (I’m reminded of gamification’s old issues with convoluted mechanics and endless lags) that are completely tailored to users—and we know how important personalization is when it comes to effective communication.
From the perspective of our company, it’s only right to say: we are now. In moving from speech to startup pitch to panel, I realized how the DNA, capabilities and values of our organization are fully on track with the direction the digital landscape is heading in. Our eagerness to come up with and provide creative and technological solutions today prepares us to address the challenges of tomorrow. And so, I couldn’t help but feel excited about these shifts and our task to support brands in navigating them.
All in all, this year’s Web Summit recognized the rise of AI as a paradigm shift—not only is the tech transforming industries, but it’s also offering solutions that help us tackle environmental challenges, shape marketing strategies, revolutionize entertainment and drive innovation in the digital world.
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