It was the beginning of September, autumn was coming in Prague, when I attended Tech Conference Europe organized by PICANTE. The publishing website picks the latest news about technology, finance, and many other topics that resonate today.
If you asked me why to attend any tech conference, I would say – to meet interesting people and get inspired. Events like this one are an amazing opportunity to broaden your horizons and discover what’s going on in the industry.
Picante conference focused on different fields such as blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Virtual Reality (VR). When it comes to technology I’m always fascinated by how tech evolution affects human lives and potentially our future. Let’s take a look at three topics that deal with such interactions, and I find them worth sharing.
Labor in the age of AI and automation
Panel discussion on AI and its use by startups and SMEs demonstrated that AI is one of the hottest subjects across different businesses and industries. The panelists talked about the AI’s use in general. They also touched on some basic misconceptions, which often come up when the subject is discussed. For example, “AI technology is going to replace all jobs”.
There is no doubt automation has the potential to significantly change labor. However, it doesn’t mean the ultimate transfer of labor from humans to machines. As Aleksander Kijek (Chief Product Officer at Nethone) remarked, AI technology can be an opportunity for people to be happier.
Automation promises a reduction of day-to-day aspects of the work which give us more options for spending time productively. Why would we have to work five days a week? Humans are creative, AI isn’t (yet). If we leave some routine activities to AI, humans can work in smarter ways and expand their creative thinking.
Another frequently occurring misconception is that only manual workers will be replaced by AI. In fact, AI-equipped robots are replacing also highly educated and trained professionals such as lawyers. Obviously, there are aspects of every job that are less likely to be automated. For a lawyer, this could be presenting in a court, while AI could be used to scan thousands of documents. Potentially, we would have more time for “AI-irreplaceable” activities to become more competent at them.
On the other hand, a lawyer Vojtech Chloupek (Partner at Bird & Bird) raised his concerns on how we train experts if we skip simple duties. For example, in legal practice, beginners draft simple documents and they become experts step-by-step. But what will happen if we replace this kind of routine “junior tasks” by robots?
Cyborgs and revealed reality through new senses
Even a few weeks after the conference, I consider remarkable the fireside chat with Manel Muñoz who developed and installed barometric sensors in his body. This new organ allows him to feel atmospheric pressure changes through beats at different speeds in his skull (you may notice a small “device” on his nape). However, as Manel remarked, it’s his new organ and sense, not a wearable device.
“With the barometric sense, I perceive the arrival of cyclones and anticyclones via different beats transmitted through the skull.”
It’s hard to imagine what “to feel atmospheric changes” actually means. Manel played us an audio record of the sounds (noises) he can hear. A young lady from the audience compared it to what a baby hears in a mother’s belly during pregnancy.
If you know anything about cyborgs, you have probably heard about Neil Harbisson who is the first legally recognized cyborg. If you (by some miracle) haven’t, I recommend his TEDx talk “I listen to color”. In 2010, Neil co-founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organization that helps humans become cyborgs and defends their rights. In 2017, Manel co-founded an association Transpecies Society which is the latest project of the foundation.
Among other things, the association offers workshops specialized in the design and creation of new senses and organs. In contrast with the past, humans can decide what organs and senses they want to have.
There is no doubt 22 years old Manel, with an authentic style and charisma, has an exceptional story to tell. A phrase “be yourself” does not sound like a cliche in his case.
First steps into a parallel virtual reality universe
Blockchain and its growing use was one of the key topics of the conference. Several panel discussions and presentations were devoted to this phenomenon and its applications throughout various business areas.
I was most impressed by the talk of Artur Sychov (Founder and CEO at Somnium Space) who spoke about their VR platform. Somnium Space is an open, social VR world with its own economy and currency powered by blockchain.
VR is one of those technologies that are changing the way we live and socialize. You can simply change your job, appearance or gain new social experience. As Arthur said, not everyone is blessed to have a great life in the real world. That’s probably why we are so fascinated by tricking our brain and building alternative lives.
Somnium Space is a constantly changing virtual environment which can be explored by thousands of people at the same time. The key principle is virtual ownership so it’s not just “a pixel game”. For a few hundred dollars you can buy your own land parcel. Moreover, it brings an opportunity not only to build and express yourself but also to monetize everything you create. So how about building a theme park and charging it? You can also enjoy creations of other users by buying their products, properties or services (Somnium Space will take a share of every transaction).
“Live forever mode” is the cherry on the cake. For a monthly fee, everything you do and say is recorded to post-process this information in the future and recreate your behavior and personality using AI.
Let’s sum it up
Technology is an incredibly fast changing and developing area, and all of the mentioned topics are still in progress. Maybe AI and automation will give us more time to explore real world. Maybe we will extend our senses and our experience of the reality gets even much deeper. And maybe it will still not be enough and we will run to parallel virtual worlds more and more often.
Let’s see what the future holds.