Tech conferences for adults – POLITICO


With help from Derek Robertson

A dispatch from Ryan Heath, the eyes and ears of POLITICO on the global conference circuit:

TORONTO— Tech conferences were once giant fan clubs for technology itself, with customers prancing about the latest cool gadgets and adoring like groupies the founders of Tech God (always men).

And, okay, some of them still are.

But with the industry now very much in political headwinds – and with regulators and citizens well aware that the industry’s habit of writing its own rules can cause big problems downstream – you can now find dating technologies ready to solve these bigger problems -on.

The most interesting conferences are now aimed at a wider range of people, from startups looking for their first capital to regulators and NGOs focused on holding these tech gods accountable.

This week in Toronto, 35,000 geeks are gathered to Collision Conference, the North American offspring of the even bigger Web Summit that takes place in Lisbon every November.

It’s part of a new generation of tech conferences that span mass activist events like RightsCon to Invitation-only codeby Kara Swisher.

So what’s different: There are real arguments at these events, new CEOs attacking the previous generation (Bill Gates was criticized here for his recent crypto-skepticism) to detailed debates about what kind of regulation or organization is needed to hold Big Tech to account.

There are also many more women. According to Collision organizers, 39% of panelists here are women, and 350 of the 1,557 startups represented were founded by women.

The assembled geeks also want to think about more than coding: Speakers include author Margaret Attwood on abortion rights and Alicia Garza, co-creator of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

What is no different: Stuff. Would you like to participate in tonight’s ax throwing happy hour (what could go wrong)? Have you tried “nanoseptic technology” in the elevator (enjoy self-cleaning elevator buttons at your own risk)?

If that’s too much, grab a drag queen robot for Pride.

How is the crowd? Decidedly unisex – and barely a hoodie in sight. The audience is more global, due to some newer tech niches, such as climate tech, which have roots far beyond Silicon Valley.

As you wander the halls, you’ll meet anyone from founding women in Canadian provinces to British regulators and West Coast scholars, alongside investors and government affairs teams and marketing officers from major tech companies.

I met Daniel Visevic, a European investor and former political adviser, who says he has never imagined being at a technology conference 10 years ago.

He knew a lot about social platforms as a key member of the team that shaped former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s global image – but after deciding in 2018 that his real mission in life would be to tackling the climate crisis, he says his goal is Collision (and beyond) to help “restructure venture capital to save humanity.” He is co-founder of Global Fundwhich aims to finance new climate-friendly technologies.

In this world, it is no longer enough to know how to scale a business quickly. A wider range of talent is needed, said Viševic: “If you invest in climate technology and in solutions that solve real problems, you need physicists, mathematicians, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, of biologists. He also spots something closer to equality: “There are a lot more female founders in this industry, where you solve real problems and it’s not just about the money.

What does the tech industry need to know? As Congress finds itself at a stalemate on tech regulation and the EU executive continues to have its key tech enforcement decision overturned by a court, that’s no reason for the Office of the Commissioner to be complacent. corner. It’s clear that a whole generation of geeks are learning that there are ways to run the world that don’t fit the traditional Silicon Valley boxes.

Yesterday the code repository GitHub announced that Copilot, an artificial intelligence tool for writing code, is now open to developers after a one-year development period.

There has been a flurry of speculation and publicity in recent months around tools like the GPT-3 text generator, or the DALL-E image generator, which use AI to build massive amounts of existing data and produce something like “new” content. What are the implications of training such patterns on the code that underpins our basic digital infrastructure?

I called Sanmay Das, professor of computer science at George Mason University, and asked him about the potential benefits and risks of such a tool, which he called “pretty clever” using the huge code stores from GitHub to train its model. He also warned of potential security risks by making the code so easily reproducible. “It’s a matter of scale,” Das said. “Suppose you have an AI that has been trained in a particular way, and 10,000 people need a particular snippet of code, but that code has a security hole. All of a sudden you have 10,000 different deployed software that exhibits this defect.

Some critics have also worried about the implications of a company – Microsoft, which bought GitHub in 2018 – having access to and control of such a tool, which it developed with OpenAI. your preferences and use them to extrapolate with other people’s preferences and decide which ads to show you,” Das said. “There are questions about privacy, there are questions about who owns the data; there are legitimate concerns about this. Derek Robertson

When Will Wright was develop the original “SimCity”, potential publishers were skeptical of anyone wanting to play a game without a clear “win” condition.

This skepticism was obviously misplaced, as ‘SimCity’ itself has grown into a massively lucrative franchise and spawned dozens of imitators and successors – including ‘Townscaper’, which puts a new spin on the genre with the power of AI.

How the game works, in a nutshell: Players build a city out of very simple, non-customizable blocks. As they add and remove said blocks, the game’s procedural generation engine then weaves them together in a surprisingly organic and aesthetically pleasing way. This is kind of like SimCity, but you’re not entirely in control as the game builds your vision with a ‘spirit’ of its own.

Game designer Oskar Stalberg talked at length with the Game Developer website recently, describing the genesis of the game and the technology behind it – which was inspired by his desire to create massive virtual landscapes that aren’t just the same patterns and textures repeated over and over again, like in previous generations of video games. “Townscaper,” which Stalberg calls on Twitter more of a “toy” than a game, is just one of many projects that have use AI to create memorable virtual worlds. — Derek Robertson

Keep in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Constantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on twitter @DigitalFuture.

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