Dublin Tech Summit 2023 in Review

Dublin-tech-summit-panel

SureSwift Capital at DTS 2023

In today’s rapidly evolving technology sector, we’re facing an inflection point where innovation meets shifting capital dynamics, influenced by rising interest rates and inflation. As investors, entrepreneurs, and tech enthusiasts, we are keenly aware of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. While the world may feel smaller thanks to technology, it is imperative for global investment firms like SureSwift to incorporate international insights to thrive in acquiring and growing software businesses.

That’s one of the reasons that we attended this year’s Dublin Technology Summit – Dublin has emerged as a tech hub, attracting major players like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Apple, PayPal, and Airbnb, who have established their European headquarters there. This event showcased the city’s vibrant tech scene. Our main goal was to gain valuable insights into the latest tech advancements and connect with dedicated professionals who share our passion.

The conference featured keynote speeches, founder workshops, exhibitors, panel discussions, a pitch competition, and a live podcast covering topics as wide ranging as tech for good, to datafication, to AI and singularity. In this blog post, we will attempt to synthesize some of the highlights of this year’s Dublin Technology Summit for a review of the current innovations, industry trends, and capital markets (without diving headlong into some of the potentially existential conundrums).

DTS-2023

Artificial Intelligence

With the genuine promise of the most significant technology shift since the iPhone unleashed mobile web and computing, AI now represents a potential panacea for productivity as well as a potential existential threat for those with a more cautious view of the technology. In her Opening Keynote: Embracing AI, Dr Patricia Scanlon – the founder and Executive Chair of SoapBox Labs and the first Irish Government appointed AI Ambassador – set out to highlight the opportunities and challenges ahead for AI and society.

Dr. Scanlon set out the evolution of AI from weak/narrow AI as an ability to solves one specific problem like search; to generative AI models which are based on massive datasets like DALLE-E able to create images like the Pope in a puffy coat and language models like Chat GPT; and finally the theoretical possibility of achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI) where a computer might possess humanlike cognitive abilities.

While it has the potential to unlock rapid and positive impacts related to productivity, medical advances, and education, AI is not without its challenges. Challenges include high energy use, programmer or foundational data bias, IP/copyright infringement, and the potential for bad actors to misuse the technology.

While AGI is currently hypothetical, Dr Scanlon pointed out that the rapid pace at which generative AI has evolved in only a short time means we can’t say how fast AGI models might evolve. She referred to the lessons learned from not regulating social media in its early days, and called out the importance of incorporating those learnings into our current oversight of AI.

While considering oversight of AI, regulators need to balance the potential of an existential threat without stifling innovation. Today, narrow AI and generative AI models are low to mid-risk, with areas such as employment and health records requiring current regulation. The higher risk resides with AGI and the need for global collaboration to create an effective regulatory framework. While many countries have already signed on to create a regulatory standard, getting true global buy-in may be a challenge that hampers the effectiveness of any proposed framework.

While not everyone agrees on the degree of risk inherent in this evolving technology, the consensus seemed to lie with the quote from one of the godfathers of AI, Geoffrey Hinton, when he proposed “safety over usefulness”.

Blockchain

The buzz around Blockchain this year was more about how the technology will impact industries not related to the often hyped Cryptocurrency space. In the panel discussion Blockchain Beyond Cryptocurrency: Exploring New Business Applications the discussion centred around using a unified ledger creating greater control and transparency of information to give rise to a wide variety of uses for the technology. Financial transactions, logistics and supply chain tracking, NFTs for identification of digital rights to IP and licensing, medical information for consistency and completeness of records, potential for voting integrity, and other applications where there is a need to reduce duplication of transactions through multiple information nodes.  

There are real world problems waiting to be solved by Blockchain technology. In the fireside chat Blockchain Revolutionizing the Circular Economy: Unlocking Sustainable Solutions, the speakers discussed the use of the technology in creating a global marketplace for sustainable farming, where today hemp and other new and/or regulated crops do not have established marketplaces where financial trades are facilitated.

DTS-2023-attendees

Business productivity tools and the future of work

The fireside chat: From Remote to AI: Charting the Future of Work in a Digital World, addressed the topics of how and where we work.

Our work choices are evolving with the integration of new technologies like enterprise software, big data analytics, digitization, and AI. These advancements aim to enhance efficiency and productivity. As companies embrace these tools, businesses and workers face a choice: adapt or risk becoming obsolete.

Where we work has also been impacted by a global pandemic giving rise to the proliferation of remote and hybrid work arrangements for employees, while some employers are now returning to in-person office policies. To illustrate the tug of war between remote and back to office work, in a recent Square employee engagement survey, 98% of the workforce said they would stay with a company because of the remote work policy; while Meta hired a “Head of Remote Work” who was gone less than a year later. Meta, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are among the big tech companies rethinking their remote work policies requiring a gradual and/or hybrid return to the office. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a significant differentiator when candidates evaluate the companies they apply to join.  

Tech for good, diversity, environment

With advancements in technology and a growing emphasis on impact-driven sectors, individuals are establishing companies and creating jobs with a strong sense of purpose. The central themes revolved around leveraging technology to enable businesses to adopt societal solutions more comprehensively. Examples include measuring environmental impact to drive changes in business practices and fostering a diverse and representative workforce to mitigate bias in decision-making processes.

Illustrating the corporate directives from global tech companies, Mike Adebiyi, Enterprise Business Development Lead at Google said that, “you have to make sure you do your best to make sure the next generation is diverse”. The keynote speaker Arnaud Collery, Co-founder and CEO of humanava.com also discussed how to spice up employee wellness and performance with technology, showing that softer skills result in a quantifiable improvement in outcomes for both staff and employers.

Fintech and Payments

According to a 2018 Gartner Report, 80 percent of heritage financial services firms will go out of business, become commoditized, or exist only formally by 2030. While the stat is dated, the sentiment was reaffirmed by Ken Moore, the CIO of Mastercard, during his Keynote on The Next Economy and The Future of Payments.

The adoption of emerging technologies in transforming commerce is creating opportunities in the areas of Zero-Trust Architecture, Blockchain Evolution (web 3/5), Cloud Native Platforms, Privacy-Enhancing Technologies, Mixed Reality Technologies, Next Gen Networks (5G/IoT/Edge), Quantum Computing, and AI Engineering. These emerging technologies will allow for a tokenized world, programmable payments, ubiquitous wallets, connected finance, and borderless rail that will unleash acceptance of new technologies transforming the physical and digital checkout experience for both consumers and businesses.

Digital and Business Transformation

David Singleton, the CTO of Stripe, shared his insights on engineering agility and overcoming the challenges of scale. His strategy is centred around five principles including: i) sensible architecture, ii) operational excellence, iii) practical deployment of AI, iv) no code and low code methods, and most importantly, v) incorporating user feedback.

Attendees were encouraged to embrace the OODA Loop, which was developed by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. The OODA Loop is a decision model based on a four-step process (observe, orient, decide, act) to support quick, effective, and proactive decision making within an organization. Reorientation using customer feedback is the key to high performing and agile organizations – where David often advises other CEOs to set aside time to meet with customers directly and often invites users to speak at company events.

Cybersecurity and data protection

A more connected world offers the potential for greater efficiencies and a seamless experience between the digital and physical world. Of course, these benefits come with the need for a robust cybersecurity framework to address data protection and privacy issues. Not only does a robust cybersecurity framework protect your user’s data, but it also protects the reputational risk of those firms that experience a breach. Each year, advances in technology create new challenges for data and privacy protection and the 2023 DTS provided the opportunity to learn about the most recent advances in security and connect with other professionals advancing the field.

Overall VC Sentiment

In only a few words, the panel for Mastering Venture Capital: Navigating Today’s Tough Funding Landscape for Tech Entrepreneurs agreed that the current market for investing is “tight, cautious, but optimistic”. The next obvious question is how the speed of investment capital is flowing towards certain technology verticals.

While AI dominated the discussion from a VC and investing perspective, other high growth sectors where capital continues to flow include cybersecurity, impact sectors such as climate and diversity, as well as sectors that have big world challenges currently experiencing major change, such as healthcare, education, energy, and fintech transactions.

Sustainability is also at an inflection point for investing where the amount of money flowing towards new technology solutions is significant. John Cormican, Site Lead at Jaguar Land Rover, said, “If we’re serious about [sustainability], we have to invest … Battery technology is improving all the time … That’s the kind of investment we need.”

Despite current retail headwinds, the retail B2C segment continues to experience a rapid pace of tech advances and investments due to the sheer size of the industry. Alan Gormley, CEO @ShopboxAI, said of sectors embracing AI that “retail is by far the most dynamic sector. They love experimenting…”. But at the same time, Martin Hosken, Chief Technologist, Cloud Services & CDEI Advisory Board Member, said “companies will be mapping the inside of your home and they will target you for other things…so what is the line when people stop feeling comfortable with targeted advertising?”

Overall, these continue to be exciting days for tech founders. The fundamentals that VCs will continue to look for when investing in businesses include the classics like a robust evaluation of team, market (opportunity size), product, and fit/traction. When evaluating market/product/fit, there will almost always be several potential companies looking for investment to solve similar problems, meaning the differentiator is always found within the team. VCs tend to back the jockey, not the horse, meaning they’ll look for founders with deep firsthand experience into the problem they are solving, and make decisions influenced by a founder’s professionalism (timely responses, do what you say, take seriously the obligation to investors, know your KPIs, be efficient capital allocators).

In the end, we found that the 2023 Dublin Technology Summit provided a great opportunity to connect with our global colleagues and share industry best practices and trends from both international market leaders and other smaller regional participants that are disrupting established technologies.

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