Is the buzz all about Cannes? While the global creative elite gathered on the Croisette, a significant 7,500 participants from Europe’s tech and startup ecosystem converged in Amsterdam for The Next Web Conference on June 20 and 21. The central theme? The dual focus on AI and its responsible application.

The conference explored pivotal questions: What transformations will AI introduce across various sectors? What does sensible AI regulation look like? How can we combat the spread of disinformation and harmful content on major social platforms? What strategies can brands employ to rebuild consumer trust? What’s on the horizon beyond mobile web, and is geospatial computing the future?

The dialogue evolved from innovation to its ethical implications, reflecting a consensus at The Next Web Conference: embracing technology’s transformative potential responsibly is paramount.

Artificial Intelligence and Automation

The initial discussions emphasized efficiency. In a fireside chat with Murad Ahmed, FT’s Technology News Editor, Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com, shared insights on AI’s future role in travel planning and customer service. The goal is for AI to alleviate customer service capacity issues at Booking.com, enhancing trip planning and organization for consumers. The envisioned “Connected Trip” aims to render traditional travel agencies and multiple contacts with hotels, airlines, and car rental companies obsolete, with AI managing all aspects, including handling delays.

Gaining Trust Through Responsible Data Protection

In the beauty sector, AI’s importance is escalating, especially in product personalization. Jane Lauder, Estée Lauder’s granddaughter and Chief Data Officer at Estée Lauder Companies, stressed the importance of trust and privacy. Protecting customer data and ensuring privacy are crucial for maintaining consumer trust: “Trust is something you cannot fake or buy.” This trust lays the foundation for successful customer relationships and long-term loyalty. In an era dominated by data-driven personalized experiences, responsible action and stringent data security are essential.

Exploring the World of Cybercrime

Geoff White, an author and investigative journalist, unveiled the largest and fastest heist in cybercrime history. In just 1 minute and 55 seconds, the Lazarus 2022 hacker group siphoned an astonishing $625 million in cryptocurrency from the Axie Infinity blockchain game’s Ethereum network, targeting developers and employees. The stolen cryptocurrency trail led to wallets linked to North Korea, concluding at Tornado Cash, a decentralized crypto mixer designed to obscure blockchain transactions. The decentralized, open-source nature of this DAO complicates accountability for the crime.

The Human Factor in a Technology-Dominated World

Despite technology’s pervasive influence, the human element remains indispensable. CX designer Raúl Amigo highlighted that while 90% of our interactions are digital, the remaining 10% of human interaction is crucial to our overall perception. He argued that empathy, understanding, and storytelling are key to successful product/experience design, fostering deeper emotional connections than any machine could achieve.

AI artist Jeroen van der Most contended that although machines are capable of creating art, the creative spark and stories of humans are irreplaceable, bringing depth and life to the intersection of art and technology.

The Challenge of Self-Regulating Technology

The conference also spotlighted the gap between good intentions and the reality of business practices in discussions on technology’s self-regulation by major tech platforms.

Anna Koivuniemi of DeepMind emphasized that their aim is to develop AI technology to address global societal challenges, including biotechnology and weather modeling, guided by self-imposed ethical principles and independent of economic pressures. Despite criticisms regarding Google’s pace in releasing AI applications to the market, Koivuniemi maintained that Google prioritizes readiness, safety, and social responsibility.

Helle Throning-Schmidt, former Prime Minister of Denmark and Co-Chair of Meta’s Oversight Board since 2020, is committed to addressing hate speech on Meta’s platforms. The independent board oversees content moderation and platform policies, making concrete recommendations. Throning-Schmidt expressed satisfaction with Meta’s progress in implementing the Board’s recommendations, yet acknowledged the long road ahead, particularly in terms of platforms’ global influence on social discourse, such as in election contexts.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility Beyond Tech

Ethics and sustainability extend beyond AI and social media. Sadira E. Furlow of Tony’s Chocolonely showcased how provocative communications not only raise awareness of injustices in chocolate production but also inspire action for social justice. Furlow advocates for partnering with other brandts to amplify impact.

Vinted’s CEO, Thomas Plantenga, highlighted the platform’s mission to make the fast-fashion industry more sustainable by promoting the buying and selling of second-hand clothes. He criticized European regulations that hinder sustainability efforts and called for regulatory changes to foster innovation and sustainability in Europe.

Conclusion

The Next Web 2024 underscored that innovation must walk hand in hand with responsibility to pave the way for a sustainable and ethical future. Trust, sustainability, and social responsibility are not only vital for strengthening brands and building customer loyalty but also for making a positive impact on the world.

By Alex Turtschan, Innovation Director at Mediaplus Group, and Simone Jocham, Senior Innovation Consultant at Mediaplus Group

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