Asia’s largest tech conference, RISE, comes to Hong Kong
Asia’s largest tech conference, RISE, took place in Hong Kong last month, bringing with it some of the world’s biggest companies and most successful start-ups to share their experience and advice with an audience that is rapidly growing in numbers and diversity
RISE brings speakers from the biggest international companies together with some of the world’s most exciting start-ups to Hong Kong. From July 11 to 13, RISE welcomed more than 14,000 people from 90 countries, including 400 investors, 565 media, almost 600 start-ups and 240 speakers at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for its third edition in the city.
RISE is produced by the team behind Web Summit which, in the space of six years, has become Europe’s largest tech conference - last year it attracted 53,000 attendees from 136 countries around the world.
Web Summit (originally Dublin Web Summit) is an annual technology conference which started as a simple idea in 2010: to connect the technology community with all industries, both old and new. It has since grown to become the “largest technology conference in the world” and has been described by The Guardian newspaper as “Glastonbury for geeks”.
The company was founded by Paddy Cosgrave, David Kelly and Daire Hickey and the conference is centred on internet technology, with attendees ranging from Fortune 500 companies to smaller tech companies. The mix of CEOs and founders of tech start-ups, together with people from across the global technology industry, as well as related industries, makes for an intensive networking experience, in addition to a host of opportunities.
For the first five years, the event was held in Dublin Ireland. In 2015 Web Summit co-founder and CEO Cosgrave announced that Web Summit would be held in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon for three consecutive editions, from 2016 to 2018.
The three-day event, held in Lisbon from November 7 -10 2016 at the MEO Arena, site of Expo ‘98, drew 53,056 attendees from more than 150 countries and more than 1,500 start-ups spread over 21 venues.
Among the more than 600 speakers were a number of tech executives from around the world, including John Chambers of Cisco, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Also speaking at the event were prominent figures such as U2 frontman Bono, Salil Shetty of Amnesty International, as well as Portuguese footballer Luís Figo.
“The new hot ticket
on the tech conference scene”
Web Summit runs events throughout the world, in addition to Hong Kong’s RISE, including Founders Collision in New Orleans, SURGE in Bangalore and MoneyConf in Madrid.
Now in its third year, the Hong Kong event has been described by Forbes as ‘The new hot ticket on the tech conference scene’ with 240 speakers, around 600 start-ups, and 400 investors moving between stages and more intimate Q&A exchanges.
Talk headings this year included titles such as: Asia and the decline of Silicon Valley, How to Pitch in 2017, Augmenting your Reality, Blockchain: East meet West and Bitcoin: An evolution of ownership, among others.
AN AI FUTURE
Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a very hot topic at this year's RISE and one that interwove itself into many of the discussions. Day 2 of the conference saw Antoine Blondeau from Sentient Technologies take to the AutoTech & TalkRobot stage to present 'Three Cases of AI'. Blondeau founded Sentient Technologies nearly ten years ago, a company that has patented evolutionary and perceptual capabilities powered by the largest computer grid dedicated to distributing AI. Sentient is also the world’s most-funded artificial intelligence company, with US$143 million in venture investment. Blondeau is an early pioneer in the field, and was involved in developing the technology that would become Siri, iPhone’s intelligent personal assistant.
Macau CLOSER: What is the value of RISE to you?
Antoine Blondeau: These events are all about connecting, and even in this virtual world which we’re are all part of, face to face connection is still the best way to interact with people – trust me! Also, there are interesting start-ups showing new technology and it’s important for people like me to partner and invest and see what’s happening.
Where do you see China in terms of AI and development?
In China, there is very clear, strategic investment in building AI capabilities and it’s across the board: government, law firms as well as start-ups, both large and small. The level of funding that’s going into AI or AI adjacent start-ups is beginning to rival the US. In robotics over the last 12 months more than a billion USD has been invested in Chinese start-ups; that’s a very sizable number.
Having been in the business for at least 25 years, where do you see AI today?
I think we are ahead of where I thought we would be, I don’t think anyone foresaw the amount of attention and investment the industry would garner. We all knew the potential and how this is a transformational industry, however the speed at which it is moving is unexpected.
Having said that, 80 percent of what you see and hear is still hype, but the 20 percent reality is actually very tangible. What fascinates me is how quickly the technology has penetrated so many verticals, whether it’s healthcare, agriculture, or the car industry, etc.
Where it’s lagging is how you place AI at the heart of a business. Today you still see enterprises thinking of AI as innovation. For business intelligence you should place it at the heart of a business, even if you are just starting small. AI is intelligence, so you have to expose it to your workflow; many companies don’t understand that.
What part of Sentient’s large work landscape resonates the most with you?
The notion that we can engineer a dynamic world around ourselves. Humans are not static, we learn all the time, we can have this virtual world of services and content online, we can learn about the world around it for smarter and smarter interactions, and then we can get somewhere. For example, a dynamic website versus a static website; I think that is transformational because if you can make that work across a website and for an individual – if that service becomes increasingly more relevant and useful to you, instead of having to understand the world, the reverse happens, the world comes to you and becomes truly user-centric.
Some people are afraid of AI. What is your view?
Fear comes from uncertainty and a lack of understanding. AI is a blackbox making decisions and we don’t know what it’s going to do. And yet we humans have been dealing with blackboxes forever, our brains are blackboxes. This notion of blackbox is not inherent to AI, it is the issue of intelligence. The question is: can we trust a system that is making decisions not based on organic and chemical processes, but based on software and electricity? You establish that trust through trial and error. Having the systems injected more and more into our everyday life and making increasingly good decisions helps us begin to trust them. Today, if you use Google, you aren’t using an organic system, you use a very smart algorithm that is AI in nature, and that gets you somewhere that is satisfying - that is AI.
What can the person on the street expect from AI in the next five years?
Five years is a good timeline for the initial deployment of driverless cars, they won’t be mainstream yet though, it’s not a simple problem. The virtual world and the way we interact with content and the emergence of true smartphones, where they are capable of solving complex issues is coming.
In 10 years, you will walk into your doctor’s office knowing more about your health than they do. Medical imaging is going to change dramatically over the next five years; today a doctor looks at five images, AI can look at 5,000 images in a matter of seconds. So it will be able to look at more images, but it will also be able to look around. There will be a lot more information available and this will save lives. That is significant.
ROBOTS ON CENTRE STAGE
Hanson Robotics’ chief scientist Ben Goertzel took to Centre Stage with robots Sophia and Han to discuss the future of humanity and humanoid robots. While Sophia and Han chatted about life and everything from “silly” reality TV shows to their love of science fiction, they also raised serious issues about ethics and ownership. The machines have been programmed to learn from each other and trained to act like humans from movies and YouTube, Goertzel told the audience. Robots could be “as smart as people” in as little as three years, he predicted.
RISE wasn’t just about robots and AI though, on the other end of the spectrum the very real business of laughter was represented via Hong Kong’s very own media entertainment brand 9GAG. Ray Chan is the CEO and co-founder of 9GAG, a Hong Kong-based site that hosts and distributes humorous pictures, videos and memes. With 41.1 million Instagram followers, 9GAG is one of the largest media entertainment brands on the web.
Macau CLOSER: This is your third time at RISE, what changes have you noticed?
Ray Chan: In the first year a lot of the speakers were from the West, but as of last year you could see a lot more from China and Southeast Asia. Now there are also a lot more Hong Kong people and people from Asia in the audience; the crowd has changed and is a lot more mixed.
I also like the addition of the Q&A stage. You can get really close to the speakers and there is a lot more exchange with the audience. You can watch lots of talks online, but Q&A is a lot more dynamic.
How has 9GAG changed your life?
The company is an extension of the founders. Deep down it affects you a lot because most of my time is spent on 9GAG. We’ve been running it for nine years and I’m 33 years old - that means almost a third of my life has been with 9GAG. One of the downsides is that it’s really hard to make me laugh because when you see funny content everyday your threshold becomes really high. But we get surprises every day, so it’s still a lot of fun to work there.
But as the CEO everything rides on you, so if something fails, it’s down to you. If a team member messes up, it’s your fault because you hired that person. It’s an exercise in ‘No Excuses’.
We started 9GAG in 2008, and at the time we just wanted to create a funny website to share funny pictures because at that time Facebook wasn’t very popular in Hong Kong and it still took a long time to share a funny picture. You had to upload a photo to MSN Messenger and it was super slow, and to share it with different friends meant you had to upload it every time. That’s when we started 9GAG. It was just a fun project for us.
In 2011, we started applying for funding from accelerators in the US, because Silicon Valley is like the NBA for tech companies. We joined a 500 start-up in 2011 and in 2012 we raised Seed funding, and it was around this time that we started to get serious about making fun.
9GAG has done a lot for getting Asian content to new audiences and you have had a number of success stories.
It is just amazing what you can do. We are only a team of 30 people in Hong Kong, but you can see that the content that people created and submitted and the results are just phenomenal.
Putting Asian content out is something we didn’t expect when we started, but the model changes as you get more people on your platform, you get more people sending content to you. Every day we get between 20,000 to 30,000 submissions, and to be very honest, most of them are really crap.
You have become a cross-cultural bridge.
There is a definite gap between Asia and the West because Asian people watch Hollywood movies, but American people don’t know a lot about Asian people. At 9GAG we make the content very easy to digest, so there are some funny and weird commercials or content created by people in Thailand or the Philippines who go on to become globally popular and that’s really amazing.
For us, making people happy is really important, and honestly, most people are just looking for happiness in their lives. Our company mission is to make the world happier. The cultural differences don’t take that away, no matter where you are from, you still want to be happy. Because of the Internet, media, the social network, it becomes the common goal of the human race. I think this is a very meaningful mission.
Different countries have their own humour and what we have observed is that in Hong Kong the humour is mean; local humour is sarcastic, laughing at politicians and big companies.
Some countries just laugh at anything, places such as Brazil, the Philippines – the way I see it, the Philippines is the Brazil of Asia. Other countries are very creative, places such as Thailand, the ads are great. On the surface its just fun stuff, but it says a lot about the psychology of people.
How about Macau?
In Macau people don’t care much about politics, but the younger generation feel somewhat stuck because it’s relatively easy for them to make a living, but if they want to pursue something higher it is very hard for them because Macau is a very small place. When you hear that, it really sounds like a first world problem, because you’re not faced with the problem of making a living. But despite that, it is a very real problem for people in that situation.
With all those funny cute videos that do the rounds online, are you a puppy or a kitten kind of guy?
I have two dogs so I’m going to go with puppies. Even when you give them a small reward, they get so happy. They are so loyal, no matter what you do, they still love you and I think that is the support that you want as a friend. But online, cats are more popular because they are bigger assholes.
– Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary Vaynerchuk, is a four-time New York Times bestselling author and founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, as well as prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, investing in companies including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Uber, and Birchbox before co-founding VaynerRSE, a US$25M investment fund. The marketing guru pulled out all the stops for his 48-hour visit to Hong Kong, to rapturous crowds as he went. Known for his keen ability to spot trends in consumer behaviour, Vaynerchuk discussed the trend he is most excited about in the next five years: audio.