Web Summit 2016: Tech & A Closer Look At The Human Brain

The Web Summit, as you might know, is all about entrepreneurship, tech and the latest trends in the marketing and business world. But I didn’t attend the event to pitch or sell or grow a business, I was there strictly to observe, think and talk to the people.

And one of the main observations I’ve made is that most of the sessions focused on or highlighted one specific topic: how does the human brain work? And why is it crucial to know more about it? I could see this theme wrapping nicely around almost any session, whether it was about robotics, VR, content, design, development, etc. One of the primary conclusions that I came to is that:

the great advancement in technology that we see today is giving humanity a fantastic gift – that of getting closer to understanding the human brain a little bit better, and most importantly, faster.

The human brain is a very complex machine. Hence, businesses (and governments, as we’ve seen recently) try to make and run all sorts of hypothesis, tests and forecasts about how their customers will ultimately think, action and experience the product. And we all know that this ‘thinking as the customer’ or ‘putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes’ approach is most of the time not driving the desired results or at least helping to gather some actionable insights.

One of the cause might be the insufficient amount of information about the customer – intrinsic/ extrinsic motivators, plus the role the unconscious has in the decision making process. Having a better understanding of the human brain seems like a goldmine for businesses. Just imagine the world when technology could help businesses accelerate and improve this customer discovery journey, and most importantly help them understand the WHY. Comparing the results is not enough (seeing the winning version of an A/B test), knowing the triggers is the real game changer: understanding why do different groups of people relate to a specific story, while perceiving other stories as dishonest or just not interesting; why do people deliberately choose to donate for a cause straight away, instead of waiting until later on (or most probably never taking action).

In relation to these observations, I’m listing below the sessions that touched on the topic, plus a few interesting thoughts from the speakers.

1. Storytelling – we are all in this business!

People don’t care about the channels and platforms, but they do care about the story. Not all videos have to be 50 seconds long, people do consume content in long format (with incredible attention span) if it’s a good story. The content strategy should be led by the customers, not by the platforms (having a more value-led approach to content). If a story is worth telling, then formatting it to better fit within each different platform shouldn’t be a big task (or even necessity).

2. Virtual Reality – the ultimate empathy machine!

We may think about VR as the next level in delivering and consuming information, similarly to what the radio and television used to be, enriching our experiences as consumers.

The highlight on this topic was an example of the first group VR experience. In this case study, the great thing about VR is the possibility to revolutionise the education, and especially the classroom (a space that hasn’t changed since forever). A child could actually experience the Ancient Greece while studding about it or be in the middle of savanna to see the animals living there. Moreover, giving children the opportunity to share and experience this amazing discovery together with their classmates — this is what I think is going to be truly revolutionary — having a group VR experience!

Also, VR will most probably be revolutionary for the fundraising and charity campaigns – mostly because is so much easier to emphasize with the cause. How many donors have ever travelled to see the victims they are donating for? Maybe VR will not awake our empathy at global level, but it will most certainly provide a necessary, additional layer of cultural education, allowing people to better emphasize with some kids or a struggling family in Syria by experiencing their circumstances and lifestyle.

3. Robotics & The Future of Workforce

An interesting idea that I liked was that robots need to spend time with humans. Once intelligent enough, by being in the presence of people, robots could learn so much faster, helping them grow their emotional abilities and absorb human values.

Contextualizing the robotics topic within the future of the workforce was a so much needed debate. It’s been discussed that as a result of the advancements in technology, there will be less people with jobs. Paradoxically, this should be fine as there are so many that argue that not all people are motivated by work.

While the need for building robust tech that will be learning/replicating the human brain’s abilities is huge, it’s also essential to mention that this tech is needed to do good for the masses, not just for the already fortunate few. We need robots in our lives as some specific jobs could actually be performed better by robots, especially in industries such as services, manufacturing, agriculture, etc. But at the same time, it was highlighted the need to put in place programs and educational systems that will create new jobs opportunities for people whose jobs will be replaced by robots.

Here are few interesting questions asked:

How long to we think it’s going to be by the time we embrace the presence of robots in our lives (or our presence in theirs)? How long until we’ll need regulations to give rights to robots or regulate their existence?

4. Design & User experience

What is good design and what makes people really tick? This is still one of the main challenges for so many businesses. It mostly has to do with understanding of how people react and interact with design. If we’d had a better understanding of the human brain than we’d cut down on all the questions about the right colour, shape, CTA, etc. An interesting perspective from a session I attended was that this is happening because people who are not designers try to think like designers, and designers who are not women try to think like women (without asking for external input). We know that design is powerful, but it’s still yet to be defined and uncovered as a driving force to make our lives better.


The super-charismatic Gary Vaynerchuk said that “this is the greatest era to be alive, be an entrepreneur if you want to and get sh*t done”. And lots of people liked the fact that he delivered his speech with such an urgency, heat and enthusiasm (as if he’s just escaped from a f*cking concentration camp – to use the vocabulary in line with his brand, see his talk here).

I know that not everyone is presented or has access to the same opportunities or even gets to benefit from technology. Even so, I do believe that we are living in great times, and I’m looking forward to see the advancements in tech/ the human brain and the role this will be playing in our lives in 5, 10 years onwards.

Watch here some videos from the Web Summit 2016

P.S. Lisbon is beautiful city, with gorgeous weather and a great potential for new business opportunities and innovation!


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