Web Summit, 2017 – Day 3

Dangerous data, corporate incubation and the final frontier, highlights from Day 3

Good data, bad data

On centre stage today Matthew Freud (great-grandson of Sigmund Freud) interviewed Alexander Nix (CEO of Cambridge Analytica) about the level of influence that Cambridge Analytica (CA) played in both the Presidential Election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum. CA combines data mining with data analysis for strategic communication purposes in political campaigns and elections.

Freud stated that some people hold CA largely responsible for both Donald Trump’s election as well as Brexit because of its massive data-mining capability and public profiling that it provides as a core service. CA is also known to have been been engaged by Ted Cruz who spent $3million for its services during his 2016 presidential campaign. What makes CA so controversial is the fact that it has collected between four and five thousand data points on almost every individual in the US and thereby formed over 220 million profiles on citizens. Hence why politicians pay so much to gain access to this kind of data.

If it’s true that CA was largely responsible for installing Trump (or be it any politician for that matter) then CA is more than just a data company; it’s a highly powerful political force, one that is able to deeply understand the demographics of a country and clearly identify what the social and political sentiments and susceptibilities are of citizens. Whoever can pay for this information has without doubt a major competitive advantage on the political playing field.

There are many ethical concerns around CA: To what extent does the data and information slant the playing field and does this seriously undermine democracy in the process? Arguably it does because the company has been criticised for persuading and even manipulating people to adopt ideas and political positions by providing convincing evidence and strong reasonings. And this is why CA is more than just a data company; the role it plays in politics is by no means neutral. Rather, it is a highly powerful political actor and one that can determine the outcome almost single-handedly as it pushes the pawns (i.e. politicians) in the right direction across the checkerboard.

Freud did ask prying questions around how the company decides who to work with and how it selects clients. Nix, who’s clearly learnt some political tricks, answered by saying the company operates like any other business and accepts basically any opportunity so long as it doesn’t transgress any obvious moral lines. Reading between the lines, however, it seemed clear to me that CA has not established an ethical position of its own and is clearly unconcerned by the consequences its business has on the world.

Data is only worth the money it can make, and CA makes a lot of money.

Corporate incubation

We had an interesting conversation with Kaspersky, a Russian cybersecurity and antivirus software provider, about the challenges of corporate accelerators and their plans for moving to an incubator model for experimenting with products rather than investing directly in startups.

Kaspersky currently invests between two hundred and four hundred thousand dollars into the startups they work with and the return on investment is clearly not working for them. This is largely because they buy the startups outright, building the businesses from scratch and employing the founders themselves. Kaspersky spends a lot of money trying to accelerate and grow startups into million or billion dollar companies. Most startups fail, however. And a lot of money is lost.

Our recommendation to Kaspersky was to spend 10% of their investment figure (i.e. instead of spending $200,000 just spend $20,000) and build new products following the lean methodology. This way they can test and experiment with ten times the number of products thereby increasing their chances of finding one that truly fills a niche and hits the ROI they are seeking.

Investing in startups is risky. Building new products less so when working with the lean methodology.

Moon, Mars and Universal frontier

Space – It’s immense and fast becoming a commercial gold mine.

The opportunities in SpaceTech are essentially as big as the universe itself. New data and communications systems are being sent into orbit and many startups are taking full advantage of the rich information being sent back from space. Forest Guardian, for example, are observing wildfires and providing real-time reports on wind changes and critical variables, while others are creating micro-satellites to enhance the speed of global communications.

Space mining is becoming an increasingly promising industry as it will see us start extracting resources from comets and other space rocks that are rich in minerals. This should subsequently reduce the heavy mining and resource extraction here on Earth, thereby easing the heavy impact on our ecosystem and restoring much of the damaged environment back to good health.

Space tourism is a fast moving industry with the likes of Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic promising commercial space experiences within the next few years. Similarly, SpaceX (owned by Elon Musk) and Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos) are transforming space logistics with rockets such as Falcon 9 and New Shepard.

But the most alarming idea about the future of space was that of the Moon becoming a massive billboard, with someone throwing up the suggestion that Coca-cola could project a massive advert onto its pale face for all us to admire in the midst of a romantic summers night. In my view the possibility of this is quite frankly horrendous, but something in me think that coca-cola loves the idea. This better never happen because it will see the end of my guilty pleasure of drinking coca-cola.

And that’s a wrap from three days at Web Summit, 2017. The entire event was truly fascinating for it had on display the most advanced and cutting-edge technology, plus all the startups and other companies all utilising this technology as a means of making the world a better place not only for all mankind but planet Earth as well 😀

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Web Summit 2017