“Our world is now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution, that has the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution, but the speed of the digital revolution.” – Al Gore, Web Summit, 2017.
Earlier this year we were given the opportunity to attend Web Summit, the world’s biggest tech conference which takes place each November in Lisbon, as representatives of women in tech. Of course, when the email invitation came through, we bit their virtual hands off, and on 5 November, Fiona and I set our alarms at 4am to catch our early morning flight to the summit. And what an amazing week it was, with literally thousands of inspirational speakers, sharing their experiences and inspirations for a better, more sustainable future.
The conference spanned four days, and the entire city was alive with events as it welcomed 60,000+ delegates from over 170 countries, and representatives from pretty much every tech company on the planet. Taking place in Lisbon’s Altice Arena, Web Summit is a place for the world’s most innovative and disruptive technology companies to meet, share ideas and collaborate on issues which will transform businesses and lives for the better. And that was evident through the sheer amount of issues up for discussion.
Spread across 25 stages, Web Summit addressed the future of AI; on the first day, Sophia the robot’s conversation with an android Albert Einstein was a tech-crowd pleaser. The Planet: tech stage focused on the technologies hacking the future of our planet. National Geographic’s Jon Bowermaster discussed how we can live a more sustainable lifestyle; Lego’s Tim Brooks and actor Rosario Dawson picked apart the plastic problem, and looked ahead to how we can collectively combat plastic pollution. Patagonia’s Rick Ridgeway spoke about the brand’s commitment to the circular economy; and one of the biggest questions of our generation was put to us: how can we stop killing our oceans?
NASA astronauts took to the Future Societies stage to talk about exploring future frontiers, the future of space travel, and whether it would be realistically possible for (as he has famously stated himself) Elon Musk to die on Mars. We heard about smart cities, smart living, and the future of work.
Over on the AutoTech stage, we heard Louise Haagh, the chair of Basic Income Earth Network, pitch her argument for introducing a universal basic income, against Francisco Louca, a professor at Lisbon University who was arguing against the much-discussed economic policy. Is introducing a universal basic income a progressive solution to society’s problems? Or is it a concept which will sell the world’s workforce short? This debate left us with a lot of lingering questions, and maybe even a slight change to our original stance (but then again, it’s a pretty hefty topic to debate in an allotted 25-minute time slot). We were also given our first taste of UBI: €5 – which is still sitting in the Wordscapes piggy bank – so we’ll let you know what we spend it on.
There were content stages, music stages, health stages, startup stages, and sports stages. But what it all centered around was of course, centre stage. And this is where we all gathered in anticipation of the closing keynote address from former Vice President of the United States and advocate for combatting climate change, Al Gore. The Altice Arena was packed to its 20,000 seat capacity, people were crammed in the aisles and watching on the big screen in the square outside.
Following a slightly unplanned tax reform debate, where the CEO of Trivago had misread the question and ended up arguing against something he believed in through sheer embarrassment, Al Gore took to the stage.
His address was emotive, inspiring and incredible; and the things he talked about are achievable. I would be doing it a disservice if I tried to condense it into a few sentences here, so I invite you to formulate your own opinion, and see for yourself…