Wednesday 21 August 2019

Nicola Anderson at Web Summit: Virtual life jostles with 'real' life

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton with volunteer Netta Huttunen from Finland at the Web Summit in the RDS
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton with volunteer Netta Huttunen from Finland at the Web Summit in the RDS
Sean Rad
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Sean Rad, the founder of Tinder, the infamous dating app, was holding forth on the problems of meeting a real life person in, well, real life.

"It's hard to meet someone. There are so many layers," he outlined. "You've got to walk over and say 'hello''s not a fun process."

There were queues for a virtual travel facility that allowed you to 'visit' the Grand Canyon.

Double Robotics founder, David Cann, though in real life in his office in California - in the middle of the night - was roaming virtually through the crowds via a mobile robot and a Skype-type connection.

"It's a very natural interaction, unlike being on a wall in a conference room," he insisted.

"Now you can be just another person in a meeting and talk to people in the hallway or by the water cooler," he claimed.

Well, sort of. His robot seemed to get a bit helplessly snarled up in the crowd at one point. Maybe he needs to make it a bit taller next time. And burlier.

Or else he could just bark at people to get out of the way. Unless he happened to bump into a cyberbully, which could be messy.

Rather queasily, there was also an idea floating for a vibrator controlled by phone called 'Mystery Vibe' - though, presumably, the user would know the identity of the person at the other end of the bluetooth connection.

Although, there was rather a lot of 'virtual' living on display at the Web Summit. Too much, you might say, with every second person glued to the blue light of their phone screens, even while sitting in the audience for one of the hotter discussions - like Sean Rad.

Strolling through it is a bit like taking apart your laptop and discovering that all the components are actually alive.

There's a major background hum going on. Everybody is shouting animatedly and it's very busy and quite confusing.

"It's a glorified trade fair," snorted one industry observer.

And to be sure, there seemed to be a certain amount of snake oil being sold.

With just a day to drum up some cash from likely investors, the Start Up hub was both the heartbeat and the black vortex of the whole event, with so many voices vying for notice.

Raw and trying to get off the blocks, scarcely any will still be around in 18 months time, another industry observer revealed.

This gave all the frenzy a certain poignancy.

One of them even left a note to the "dear lovely Web Summit attendees", saying he was at a meeting but to please leave a note or a business card.

"I will send gifts to all who leave their business card here," he gushed in hope.

But for those who knew their stuff, it was like a giant summer camp with a few 'rockstars' too. John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple was spotted wandering around in relaxed mode wearing a pair of black Ugg boots.

But underneath it all, bubbled 'the row', to which the overseas attendees were largely oblivious and indifferent.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton played down the bad blood.

Asked whether tensions were too great between the Government and the Web Summit organisers to cooperate in the future, Mr Bruton said: "Not at all. I know Paddy well. I've known him for years and have participated with him at earlier events and promotional occasions."

But he said the decision to move on was "obviously disappointing".

And he suggested there were other promoters lining up to take the Web Summit's place.

Close by, Web Summit co-founder Daire Hickey was lingering.

Asked afterwards what he thought of what the minister had to say about a possible replacement organiser for a similar event, he shrugged.

"I think it's very difficult to create something like this and I don't think many people can do that. It may be possible," he said, rather doubtfully.

Irish Independent

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