When a conference is called 'The Olympics of tech' and boasts speakers including Nicole Kidman, David Beckham, Chelsea Handler and Liam Payne, you know it's not your average conference.
Even though Collision Conference was online this year and not its usual Toronto home – the stars rocked up, the discussions kicked off, and more than 38,000 people attended.
With 1,516 sessions looking at the role of tech in today's world and speakers including some of the biggest names in business, academia, entertainment and sport – it’s an almost overwhelming two days of content.
Here are highlights from three of the sessions we enjoyed.
Building a 21st Century Community
Did you know Ashton Kutcher was part time Hollywood actor, part time tech investor? Along with founder Matthew Peltier he gave the lowdown on Community, their burgeoning start-up that nurtures relationships through texts.
As Pelter said:
"It's authentic, it's human, it's got an identity behind it. You participate in this naturally human exchange... with intrinsic value in it."
It's a really interesting step back from the digital marketing we know that's algorithm-led, transaction based, and sales focused.
Engagement in the medium is much higher than email, they don't sell data, they don't sell ad space and it's serving engaged audiences everything from Bieber album drop to doctors giving Covid updates.
It'll be interesting to see where this hyper-focused 1:1 community marketing platform goes.
The future of work
Josh Silverman, CEO at Etsy and Javier Soltero, vice president at Google discussed how the future of work might look post pandemic.
They discussed the challenges around culture – Etsy managed to stage everything from fashion shows to BLM vigils virtually over the past 12 months – onboarding new team members who haven’t met their colleagues and rethinking office space to meet a new hybrid approach to work.
At Google their approach both to the development of new products and their own hybrid working model is focusing on three things they’ve learned over the past 12 months:
- Work is no longer directly associated with a location.
- Time and attention management is critical for individuals and organisations – both tech and non-tech (a child banging on the door…) are demanding our attention. The better we are at managing that the better we will be.
- Human connection is an essential ingredient to everything. It's incredibly hard to get that over a video call. How do you bridge that gap?
Josh and Javier both agreed that the social capital and sense of togetherness built over decades in some cases played a big role in Google and Etsy riding out the past year.
And they both agreed hybrid meeting scenarios are a huge challenge – how the people not in the room can effectively collaborate with those who are physically together. A challenge Google are exploring, watch this space…
Responsible tech in an era of hostile tech
Dr Rebecca Parsons from Thoughtworks gave an insight into her work on new tech and how to minimise its potential for negative outcomes.
There's no Hippocratic Oath to abide by when we’re creating software, but in our decision making, we know what we're doing – and we know whether it's right or wrong.
- Hostile tech: this goes beyond hackers, malware and malicious software – it’s things like software that doesn’t respect people's right to be surveyed online, it’s image recognition software that doesn't recognise the black community. Tech can be hostile without being malicious.
- Responsible tech: tech that does the right thing and promotes equity and equality.
Rebecca talked about how our tech choices influence and impact on stakeholders. When we design tech we have a particular stakeholder, or stakeholders, in mind and we don’t always think about the wider impact we will have beyond that.
She gave the example of an online training module that is so data intensive that it has more of a carbon footprint than 125 flights between New York and Beijing. Good for the target stakeholder, not for the environment.
And she talked about considering equity – not everyone has high speed internet at home, we can't leave people behind in an equitable tech revolutions – and making sure the tech we develop fits with the values of our organisation.
What should we do?
Tech now touches a broad range of our lives, medical, legal, education – all impacted by tech choices. Even more so now we're living more virtual lives.
Explicitly think about invisible stakeholders and what might our impact be on them? And make an explicit statement as an organisation – when you know what you care about, where your profit versus fairness boundaries lie then you can start to live your values.