My main Slush takeaway: using Tech for good, but how?
When I arrived back from Slush , the head of Deloitte Ventures asked me: “what was the main theme of Slush?” Theme?! Well, it covered every type of tech, both nascent and mature, so I wasn’t sure that a single “theme” would really apply…
Then, my friend piped up: “the theme was ‘what should we be using tech for’”, and he was dead right.
There were several talks on this. One of the best quotes from an established CEO was that, when he learnt to code at uni, he realised he could run a simple script to email every single person on campus. Needless to say — the university’s system went down. This, he said, was typical of the “I’ll do what I can do, and not what I should do” mentality.
As the pace of tech development continues to increase, the importance of having a debate to ensure tech advances do more good than harm, is paramount, not least because we are getting close to solve genuinely world-changing issues (e.g. Brain-Computer Interface; scalable meat-replacement products). We don’t want to undermine or slow positive advances by, at the same time, having a negative impact elsewhere.
So how do we make sure that the industry is doing more good than harm, and what’s the main barrier to overcome?
The thing is, there are the same pressures on a startup founder as there are on a large tech CEO — as there are on any big company CEO — and this is a big problem.
It’s very easy for established CEOs to say 'if you’re not starting a company doing something GOOD, then stop doing it' — but as far as I am aware, when those companies were starting out, raising money etc, neither them, nor their funders, had the primary objective of 'doing good’. And I think most of the funders haven’t changed, so it’s understandable if the startups haven’t either. That’s not to blame the funders — they have their own objectives, which are obviously profit driven, and set by LPs in turn. Unless something changes, founders will continue to focus primarily on the questions: “is there enough paying demand to create a business here?”, and “can we do it?”.
So what is the answer? I’d love to see in 2018 some form of cross-industry action from the tech industry as a whole, to start a debate on how tech should evolve, and how we can influence how it evolves. That is, something more formal than CEOs tweeting “AI is a significant risk to the labour market” once in a while. My sense is that, if the industry is not proactive in doing this, governments will very quickly step in, which (as we all know) will likely mean:
a. Heavy handed regulation that will (very often) show a lack of understanding for the subject matter; and
b. A patchwork quilt of different regs in different countries, making it harder to scale internationally. We’re starting to see this a bit in the crypto space.