Web Summit Returned to Lisbon with an impressive lineup

Named the world’s largest and most influential tech conference, the Web Summit came back to Lisbon as an entire physical event. The organization says 42,751 people from 128 countries attended. This year’s event featured over 700 top-notch speakers such as Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, Arm CEO Simon Segars, VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram, and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen.

Two years ago, the Portuguese government agreed to pay Web Summit €11 million a year to expand Lisbon’s conference facilities, anticipating that the number of participants would eventually increase from 70,000 to 100,000. The government made the commitment based on estimates that the conference itself generates 300 million euros ($330 million) for the city during the week it takes place in November. 

At that time, Paddy Cosgrave, CEO of Web Summit, and Antonio Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal, revealed that Lisbon would remain the host city of Web Summit until 2028. 

Obviously, like any other big conference scheduled after March 2020, the Web Summit did not happen as a physical conference last year. The organization, which also hosts the Collision conference in Toronto, created a proprietary online platform to host a 100% online event. 

This year, with 87% of Portugal’s population fully vaccinated and one of the lowest infection rates worldwide, the Web Summit was cleared to return to its home in Lisbon’s Altice Arena.

This year’s show, however, didn’t expect a similar turnout as two years ago. Travel restrictions imposed by countries and corporations, and strict health regulations to enter Portugal and the conference facilities made difficult for many people to travel to the event. Some countries, including the US and UK, also require additional tests for all returning travelers. Nevertheless, according to the organization, 42,751 people from 128 countries attended and, for the first time, 50.5% women.

Food Summit is made up of 50+ food trucks around the event venue, serving everything from empanadas to regional Portuguese wines. 200,000 cups of coffee were served, and attendees consumed around 152 tonnes of food. Additionally, the Food Festival had seven Michelin star chefs cooking for VIP attendees at Forum.

A Covid “green pass,” consisting of proof of complete vaccination, recovery, or a recent test, was strictly required to enter the conference halls. Also, masks were required at all times, except for open areas and consuming meals. 

An impressive lineup of speakers

The key to the success of the Web Summit has been the quality of speakers and conference sessions. Previously, the show featured world leaders, influencers, politicians, and top industry executives such as Al Gore, Margrethe Vestager, Edward Snowden, Tony Blair, António Guterres, Elon Musk, Jaden Smith, Bono, Guo Ping, and many others.

This year it was not possible to have all the participants the organization wanted. Still, there was a lineup of high-profile speakers from Microsoft, Facebook, VMware, TikTok, ACLU, eToro, Ofcom, PwC, Siemens, Shell, Volkswagen, many musicians and entertainers, several members of the European Commission, and representatives of the Portuguese government, including the Prime Minister.

Siemens CIO Hanna Hennig

Supply Chain and Chip Shortage took the floor

The current supply chain and chip shortage crises was discussed in detail. Executives such as AMD CTO Mark Papermaster, Arm CEO Simon Segars, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, Apple VP of Engineering Craig Federighi, Kneron CEO Albert Liu, DHL CIO Tom Vervoort, and others shared their views and potential solutions to minimize the current impact.

Privacy and Security, as well as the role of Social Media examined

Online privacy and security will be primary topics during the conference. In the opening night, we had the opportunity to hear from the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who recently provided tens of thousands of pages of internal company research to the US government and testified at the Senate. The documents revealed that Facebook (now Meta) has been lying about the effectiveness of its efforts to eradicate hate, violence, and misinformation.

To counteract her damaging testimony, Facebook (Meta) sent Chris Cox, CPO, and Nick Clerk, VP of Global Affairs and Communication. There was no face to face discussion between them and Ms. Haugen.

Amy Poehler, one of Hollywood’s most versatile and sought-after talents and co-creator of Smart Girls –a platform that showcases real girls who are changing the world by being themselves – talked about empowering young women and the role of social media and its impact on young women around the world.

Stacey Plaskett and Věra Jourová during Web Summit 2021

Additionally, the conference explored the role of governments in regulating and promoting the digital economy. Three Commissioners of the European Union spoke at Web Summit: Věra Jourová, Vice President for Values and Transparency; Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion & Reforms; and Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health. Also present was the head of the US Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, and Stacey Plaskett, a Member of the US House of Representatives. 

Artificial Intelligence and Sustainability

AI and its role in society, industry, health, and the government was deeply discussed during Web Summit. 

How the pandemic has transformed our view of healthcare. From vaccine development to telemedicine, smart hospitals, and elderly care, nothing will remain the same. Advancements in AI, IoT, wearables, and data science will impact the next stage of Medtech’s evolution. 

Can we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for freight and aviation? Are we ready for a total change in personal transport? Industry experts and government representatives talked about the impact of AI in transportation, including autonomous vehicles and ADAS, mobility as a service, and sustainability. 

Digital transformation was another big topic for the show. The pandemic has accelerated the use of new technologies, including IoT and Machine Learning, to transform all industries, including the most traditional ones. Automation and telework are on the rise, already creating friction and serious discussions about the future of work, and which professions could be hit shortly.

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