Bagpipes. Young boys and girls dancing to the rhythm of traditional Bulgarian music. The biggest digital festival on the Balkans – Webit is opened.
The young people dancing are not talents from an art school as you and me might have thought, they are Bulgaria’s champions in maths, physics, philosophy from the National Gymnasium of Natural Sciences and Mathematics “Academician Lyubomir Chakalov”. They are the kids, we, the Webit attendees, promised to pave a bright digital future for, as kindly asked by Plamen Russev – the visionary and the engine behind Webit.
For two days, Webit provided a space where lecturers, exhibitors and attendees boldly drew maps of the digital future. The sound of the bagpipes still lingers loud in my memory, together with a one very strong concept impressed on my consciousness: the concept of ecosystems.
Ecosystems Not Egosystems
“Where are we?”, asked Igor Beuker, award-winning marketing strategist in his keynote speech: SPEED 365 – Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
His answer was straightforward: we are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution. And we really can’t afford to ignore the disruption this brings across all industries and sectors. Sharing his experience with consulting big brands like Nike, Amazon, L’Oréal and Unilever, Igor talked about the importance of cutting the sh*t talk and being honest and fair.
In a sharing economy, soul, heart and purpose, Igor stressed, were the very key to embracing change and innovation in a meaningful way. Inviting us to look at the world with an open mind, Beuker made a point: we are in the era of collaborative ecosystems (all we), not Egosystems (all me).
My top note from Igor:
The internet was just a warming up.
Imagining Out Loud with Martin Wezowski
Ecosystems were part of the talk Martin Wezowski, Chief Designer, SAP gave at Webit. Just with a different twist.
Wezowski started with pointing out that we need to imagine possible futures more often and to articulate what we see, what we think is desirable, what we believe is possible. To do that, we need to start thinking and “having deep conversations” about CHANGE, not as discrete moments in our lives (the Internet coming, the colour TV), but rather as a constant flow, a platform for us to tap into and use for whatever we want.
Change is your innovation brief.
And change comes in systems, argued Wezowski. Case in point, he chose to illustrate the accelerating force of change with the exponential growth example of the Singularity University:
“If I take 30 steps I will be somewhere behind the camera. This is easy. Everybody knows about that. You can plan for that. We can set budget, time and people to work on this. […] But if I take steps exponentially this is a whole new thing. Does anyone know how many steps I will take. […] The thing is we can’t think exponentially. How do you plan for that? How do you predict the future. I don’t think you do! You need to imagine it!”
And here, few slides later Barbie entered the backstage, to illustrate thinking in a coherent, ecosystemic way.
Wondering what Barbiе has to do with exponential growth?
Explaining the idea of thinking in ecosystems, Wezowski gave an example with a Barbie – a piece of machinery that today combines so many technological advances in one toy that can speak to its owner. Thinking in ecosystems when designing such a product would mean thinking about scenarios where the kid says: Barbie, I am hungry, or situations in which Barbie can register a stolen hamburger and call the police.
So, how do you make a coherent design, asked Wezowski? We are fusionists, he answered. We shall conduct and orchestrate all these small changes, all these advances in technology. And we need to articulate possible futures. Put it down. At the end of the day, it is human creativity that will be solving real problems, aided by machine intelligence.
My top note from Wezowski:
Eat dinners. Drink Wine. Be. Write a book. Or I can automate you!
Education and the Artificial Intelligence That Is Here To Stay
Focusing on what humans are good at was central to Conrad Wolfram, Director of Strategic and International Development at Wolfram Research talk too. In his presentation he stressed the importance of fixing education, particularly technical education, around the world.
Improving pedagogy with AI,Wolfram said, was mainly about leaving computers to focus on what they are good at. This, according to him, involves teaching humans how to connect with computers in a meaningful way.
Modern times survival skills, Wolfram pointed out, are very different: we need to teach our children “computational knowledge”, as a core human skill of the future is computational thinking: knowing how to think about the world in a computational way.
The right Math, he called it, outlining a four-step process it consists of:
- You define a question
- You translate this into an abstract notation
- You can then compute answers
- You interpret the results
Step three Conrad Wolfram argued is something computers can do fantastically better than us humans, leaving step one, two and four to students and to their creativity and unique problem-solving skills. It is the main objective of the program Computer Based Math to create and implement a curriculum with computers and computer thinking in mind.
For as Conrad Wolfram said, using Math to solve real-life problems is paramount to engaged, literate students, ready to thrive in an age where computers are here to stay and they are getting better and better at being able to replace humans for calculating.
We need to stand on the power of automation, Wolfram argued and teach humans to go further. We need not make us humans compete with computers as we will fail. The real question is: Are we ready for the computational-knowledge economy (the interaction between humans and computation)?
My favourite question from Conrad Wolfram’s presentation:
Am I normal, and more importantly “Am I normal if I use math to figure that same thing out?
Content in an Unthinkably Connected World
Thе heading is the collision of two talks, seemingly unrelated to each other: “Bluetooth 5. Go Faster. Go Further” with Martin Woolley and “Customer Journey through creative content. Engagement vs Scale” with Denise Parkinson, the Global Entertainment Director of Telegraph Media Group.
Seemingly unrelated, these two talks left me thinking for yet another time about content writing and the ever more connected world with ever more networked words, things and thoughts, we web writers live and create within. Denise Parkinson talked about the all-important 360-degree approach where content serves integrated experiences. She explained in detail (check Webit’s blog: Exclusive content is what drives the audience in the Digital age ) how The Telegraph managed to reach the digital audience by successfully connecting the legacy of their brand with new, innovative ways of engaging and keeping their audience.
Connecting, but in a very, very physical way was something Martin Woolley Technical Program Manager at Bluetooth SIG talked about too. Mr. Woolley highlighted the importance of viewing connectedness not only as the abstract, wonderful idea (admittedly, we creative people love to talk about) but also from the point of view of its physicality.
This was a sobering a talk, at least for me, in which I realized a lot of the things we talk about have their technical nitty-gritty about which we don’t talk and think a lot. It was a wonderful walk in the even more wonderful world of radio technology. For a reality check on connectedness, I wholeheartedly invite you to check the Webit Live video on Facebook (Martin Woolley’s lecture is the first one)
Epilogue: On the Importance of Building a Kids Area and Feeling Groovy at a Digital Fest
All of the above, all the business, politics and strategy talks wouldn’t matter if it weren’t for the fragments of future that we have in our lives – our kids nd the pieces of true connections and groovy moments with our friends.
Kudos to the organizers for the Kids area included in the festival’s venue. It’s true that saw only three kids, one of which mine (on the picture), but still this was yet another “inclusion”, a reminder that we are all one, as diverse as our backgrounds and context are, and the digital future we build can be entered by many paths, those of kid zones and having a cookie on the grass included.
And Before You Go …
Many of the talks from Webit 2017 are available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/webitbg/videos. The credits for the photos are for Webit Global Series (All rights reserved, Album Webit 2017)
I really hope to see you next year in Sofia for yet another journey into the digital future with all the forward-thinking people attending Webit. Consider joining the festival at Webit.bg