We Are All Data (Natives)
Bracing for the Quickening and Defying the Death of Data
What’s the quickening and is big data really dead?
These were some of the open-ended questions from Data Natives in late November 2018. Now in its fourth year, the conference has a loyal following and impressive speaker list, thanks to the organizers who brought together nearly 2000 data enthusiasts to Kühlhaus in Kreuzberg, Berlin.
The 2018 edition of Data Natives (DN18) broke down business through the lens of ‘Industry Focus and Applications’, presented pitches from innovative startups, featured expert panels, and offered stellar networking opportunities. DN18 also facilitated a very human connection between presenters and attendees.
Seated on a couch at ‘ask me anything’ stations, people who might not otherwise cross paths strike up new conversations. Take for example a chat between the Chief Data Scientist at IBM Watson IoT and a designer/filmmaker interested in the intersection of emerging technologies, design research and speculative fiction. Or the digital health Head of IBM talking with a small group including a HR tech recruiter, students, a UX designer, and a content writer to learn about new AI initiatives in general medicine.
Founder of Data Natives, Elena Poughia, opened the conference saying ‘we are all data’. She means our DNA is encoded data which can be continually explored via modern analytical technologies.
In her intro, Elena explained that the ‘quickening’, a bold concept taken from science fiction, is the critical moment when a powerful energy is released. It’s a good metaphor for this 2-day conference, which unleashes new ways of thinking about data.
Elena spoke about quantifying ourselves and our existence by measuring and tracking our activities, preferences, and interests. This detailed view of ourselves can lead to more self-awareness as well as advances such as personalized medicine. But it also raises ethical queries about handling an increase in data, addressing transparency, and ethics.
Here are selected highlights:
Hardware Matters in AI
Romeo Kienzler, Chief Data Scientist of IBM Watson IoT WW, and associate professor of Artificial Intelligence at Fachhochschule Bern focused on designing AI that humans need. He presented IBM’s innovative journey including the moment where Watson showcased abilities to handle debate, including free-will of understanding and construction of arguments.
Romeo suggests preparing for a future when jobs reliant on collecting and processing data will dissipate. He discussed the important role of hardware in AI, showing examples of autonomous e-shuttles as well as the famous Boston Dynamics dogs. The prominent and central IBM mini-theater at DN18 indicated the company’s commitment to driving up business possibilities using AI and data science and improve decision making.
Healthcare is a right
Bart de Witte from futur/io institute presented a compelling case for a new project called the Hippo AI Foundation. It’s a general medicine AI NGO endeavor that aims to ‘open source the sh*t out of AI’. Bart questions aloud, ‘we can do everything but we can’t solve access to care?” He highlighted that people in underdeveloped nations are sometimes willing to adopt tech if they have no other option. He’s fighting against a monopoly of knowledge, where immense VC funding risks silo-ing medical knowledge instead of sharing it for the common good.
Bart says that healthcare as a right aligns with the European system of values, notably distinct from Silicon Valley’s approach. In true decentralized fashion, you can get involved in supporting Hippo AI by sharing a video.
‘It’s not who has the best algorithm, but who has the most data’
Speaking of a decentralized approach, data scientist Marcus Jones says Ocean Protocol aims to unlock AI for the world. They’re creating an ecosystem for data and AI, a protocol for the marketplace, and in a sense a library that people can work on top of– providing smart contracts. Ocean is creating a decentralized data service supply chain fit for the Web 3.0 revolution where data consumers and providers interact.
According to Ocean Protocol founder Trent McConaghy, blockchain is an incentive engine in that interaction. Ocean Protocol is a substrate, enabling you to build on top of that. One of Ocean’s Partners in this new data economy is NBT venture, Weeve.
Listen to Startup Voices
Two ventures from Berlin-based IoT and blockchain company builder Next Big Thing AG (NBT), took the stage to present their innovative solutions in healthcare and logistics. The Q&A proved that attendees wanted to engage in solutions coming from people tackling real problems with smart solutions.
AssistMe’s CEO and Founder Jens Grudno presented AidMate, a connected system of care for elderly which addresses lack of innovation for this growing sector of the population. Jens discussed his startup’s approach to building a smart incontinence pant that offers information to a caregiver, enabling timely changing which restores dignity and also avoids infections.
Darina Onoprienko, CEO & Founder of NBT’s supply chain venture, Evertrace, presented her solution: a single platform for all participants of the logistics process — cargo owners, freight forwarders, brokers, insurers — for real-time cargo tracking, insurance and supply chain risk modeling. After professional experience in international supply chain management and logistics, she is involved in both the operational and strategic level. Evertrace was recently listed as one of the top 100 innovative startups in Germany.
Another impactful startup speaker solving real-word problems was Eduardo Piere from AI Scope. He’s using AI to improve the diagnosis of infectious diseases in communities living in remote parts of the world.
Not Design-Thinking, but Data-Thinking
In the startup and corporate scene, design thinking is a common term. But speaker Marc Weimer-Hablitzel, Principal Data Innovations from etventures, came with a zingy title of “Big Data is Dead.” He’s working on a data lab at the Berlin wavespace, one of EY’s innovation centers, to apply a new methodology of interaction between lean startups, corporate innovation, and data scientists. Etventure offers a consultancy to help corporates and companies leverage data into business areas.
At DN18, he emphasized that CEOs typically complain of data quality, insufficient data, and lack of talent. Instead, he urges them to focus on the strategic need of data. Marc prioritizes use cases (via ML) and then pulls in the data, saying the most successful companies design customer experiences, iterate, and are data-centric.
The general approach looks like this: business understanding, ideation, definition, and prioritization. Before closing, he asked the audience: “What’s the false positive you are willing to accept for automization?”
One of the DN18 panels on data ethics was particularly controversial, sparking a debate about big tech versus open source algorithms and transparency.
One memorable line from the Data Ethics panel stuck:
“You work with data when you seek the truth.”
Data Natives seems to attract truth seekers who will gather again next November in pursuit of that goal.