This year another 60 000 persons from all over the world attended the Web Summit in Lisboa. The country has become the reference for IT start up and although still struggling from the bad impact of the crisis in 2011, a very pragmatic fiscal policy has made Portugal interesting for financial and technological centre of excellence. This year in Web Summit Stephen Hawking delivered a keynote address on artificial intelligence (AI).

Women are becoming more important in the Tech sector

Web Summit launched their Women in Tech initiative two years ago to increase the number of women participating at their events around the world. This “Commitment to Change” has resulted in the ratio of attendees at Web Summit this year of 42% women, maintaining last year’s record ratio. The percentage of women speakers has risen by half to 35.4% across its multiple stages, event organisers said. Tech industry events typically have about 20% women speakers.

Eleanor McGrath, Head of Press, Web Summit said:

“We are confident that 42% is the highest ever figure for a major tech conference. It is a great milestone for a technology event. But we know we can do better. We are also proud to be transparent about the ratio of women speakers on our stages. We have worked hard to get to 35.4% and we know we can do better to further improve the gender ratio. “In a year where the issues of bias, harassment and assault against women – in tech and in many other industries – have hit the headlines, we know we have a further part to play as part of the tech industry ecosystem.”

Artificial Intelligence is gaining importance and creating jobs

AI was the topic most asked for during the evet. For Stephen Hawking it is not clear how we will use it:

“We cannot predict what we might achieve, when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one, industrialisation. We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty. Every aspect of our lives will be transformed.”

While also warning about potential risks:

“I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for its consequences well in advance. Perhaps some of you listening today will already have solutions or answers to the many questions AI poses.

“We all have a role to play in making sure that we, and the next generation, have not just the opportunity, but the determination, to engage fully with the study of science at an early level, so that we can go on to fulfil our potential, and create a better world for the whole human race. We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be. You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted, or expected, and to think big. We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting, if precarious, place to be and you are the pioneers.”

Concluding Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit CEO, said:

“Professor Hawking is one of the great minds of our generation and when he speaks we all should listen. AI could be the greatest or the worst thing to happen our society since the industrial revolution. Regulation and agreed ethical practices are essential to ensure we protect the rights of all in society because this is not the future this is the now, AI is already permeating into every aspect of our lives. Are governments and industry aware of this, and are they prepared? These are the important societal questions that are going to be asked and answered at Web Summit. I hope Professor Hawking’s remarks spark debate amongst our speakers and attendees both on the challenges and also the opportunities of thoughtful AI development.”