The Court of Miracles
For a few days each year, Paris celebrates Netexplo Forum and becomes the famous court of miracles popularized by Victor Hugo, referring to the incredible recovery experienced by the beggars around Les Halles, who feigned blindness or disablement during the day, but recovered “miraculously” when they arrived home.
The Netexplo forum is, in a sense, somewhat similar, because it is not a matter of judging projects, but ideas. It is not, obviously, a court of thieves, crooks or cheaters: everything on Netexplo is the fruit of hard-working initiatives and projects, from amazing people with extremely serious and ambitious goals such as changing the world. But since Netexplo is not an investment forum or for venture capitalists, it’s not about analyzing the feasibility of what’s on show, but rather it’s a showcase for the trends of the moment, of innovation, of what’s going on out there. Here, all the selected ideas are good, all projects get attention. Whether they finally work, become star products and services, or disappear, is another, unrelated question.
For two days, with a previous one if you are on its Advisory Board and with a later one if you stay for the part exclusively in French, the UNESCO conference hall sees projects that have been selected and carefully identified by the students and academics from some of the best universities and business schools in the world, who share their ideas unrelated to their future viability or ability to persuade investors: it is about analyzing trends and the innovation that they represent, not their financial aspects. And it is done by brute force: if a significant number of students in prestigious universities are not able to find and identify interesting and innovative ideas, then that idea does not exist. The more eyes, the better.
Netexplo is 10 years old: when it began, Obama was preparing for his first term, the iPhone was a trendsetter, and there was talk about a social network with messages limited to 140 characters. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a decade. And as was rightly commented on the first day, Netexplo, during this decade, has proved to be “a very good forum for identifying trends, without us necessarily being very good as venture capitalists”: plenty of companies, having been identified as interesting at some point during these last ten years by the tendencies they represented or exemplified, have disappeared. In reality, their ability to become a viable business, which depends on a large number of factors, was not the key, and instead the innovation they showed. Others, obviously, were analyzed as early ideas and today are big players, but again, that is not the question: the idea is to study the ecosystem, extract trends in aggregate, and think about the future consequences of those trends for the economy at all levels, micro and macro.
Last year, the protagonists at Netexplo were startups based on blockchain. This year, however, the idea that seems to permeate everything is machine learning. Either you have it and you use it, or you don’t. Either your business has actionable data capture with which to feed your algorithms, or you are living in the past. There are startups here applying machine learning to the detection of tumors and anomalies in X-rays and scanners, medical diagnosis, cybersecurity, conversation, video and even artistic creation. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have become the strategic factors marking the trend of the moment, not as in fashion catwalks, but as part of a sustainable future where machines are able to replicate — and eventually improve — human learning, without being subject to the limitations of the human brain.
The first day’s Advisory Board debate was about machine learning and artificial intelligence at the technological, business and social level. For a teacher of innovation, visiting Netexplo is enormously refreshing. If you or your company are interested in disruptive innovation and trends, Netexplo is definitely one of the interesting places to show up each year.
But I must go, the second day is about to begin…
(En español, aquí)