VivaTech 2019’s key takeouts


The place to be on May 16-18 was Paris, where this year’s Viva Technology conference once again gathered together the most insightful leaders and innovators in cloud, AI and data technology.

Now in its fourth year, the 3-day event has become one of the largest tech trade shows in Europe, offering opportunities to hear from a variety of forward-looking speakers as well as first sightings of as-yet-unclassifiable hardware and software.

And all while you’re networking amongst game-changers responsible for nearly 9,000 early-stage startups too.


The Speakers

It was all set in motion with a speech from President Emmanuel Macron, who used the event to promote a call for cooperation and multilateralism in the tech sector to ensure the development of employment, business, and innovation.

However, in reference to the concerns over Chinese telecom giant Huawei, he also firmly announced, “When it comes to 5G, we are being very careful over the access to the technologies in this network in order to preserve our national security.”

On the main stage, attendees were awed by the star power of tech-sector heavyweights like IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, expressing her belief that technology can be a positive force for both our economy and society, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who confessed to an anxiety regarding Europe’s obsession with tech regulation that was restricting companies’ ability to innovate.

“If you think the technology revolution is a problem, I’m sorry to say a problem just started,” he declared. “If you think it’s an opportunity, the opportunity just started. The only thing is your mentality. If the mentality is now a worry, you’ll worry all the time.”

IBM Research Director Talia Gershon took to the stage to lead another highly instructive talk, this time on ‘How Quantum Computing is a Game Changer’, setting out examples demonstrating how it’s already solving real world problems connected to businesses and research. The following day, at an event entitled ‘Journey to Growth in Four Chapters’, IBM Digital Sales and Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso joined Megan Clarken, Chief Commercial Officer at Nielsen Global Media, to show why 2019 is the year for marketers to double-down on high-quality metrics.

In a similar vein, Friday’s ‘How Data Has Transformed the Creative Marketer’ brought together a well-informed panel of global marketing leaders to debate the impact of machine-learning systems and data-driven technology on the future of marketing.


AI and Robotics

As you’d expect at a conference dedicated to all things new in innovative technologies, camera-equipped drones were everywhere, with some linking up to virtual reality headsets, offering an experience remarkably close to flying.

If you actually wanted to fly, of course, then there were the air taxis of French firm Hovertaxi, or the electric aircraft prototype unveiled by German start-up Lilium.

“This is not science-fiction anymore, it is fact. Today we have all the technical tools,” Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury declared amidst an announcement that the aerospace giant will be working with Paris underground operator RATP to “explore the feasibility of urban air mobility services” as a component of the city’s transport network.

Helpful robots roamed the conference floor as ably as any human, skilfully detecting any obstacle in their way and neatly avoiding any potential clash. Four-foot-tall Pepper, developed by SoftBank Robotics with the capabilities to recognise basic emotions and assist people in different settings, amiably chatted away to anyone approaching him. On the simple tap of the tablet screen attached to his chest, he’d also take you through the process of discovering important details regarding where you were, where you possibly needed to be, and even offered advice on improving your health.

Another robot concerned with your wellbeing was Diya One X, the creation of French start-up Partnering Robotics. Designed with the environment in mind, it collects data that helps map out the quality of air as well as humidity and lighting, purifying the atmosphere as it wanders about the building.


The Most-asked Question

In dozens of forums throughout the conference, one particular question was being constantly raised:

Why hasn’t Europe created tech giants like China and the US?

As Jean-Rémi Kouchakji, co-founder of PayinTech, one of 9,000 startups attending this year’s conference, explained, “It’s a difficult place for small- and medium-sized companies to thrive.”

In other words, Europe might be good at launching tech startups but – despite a market of 500 million consumers – it doesn’t provide the necessary incubators and accelerants required to build a corporate titan.

Even so, Kouchakji remains optimistic, the general agreement at VivaTech being that the hurdles aren’t insurmountable. Government officials freely acknowledge that nascent tech companies are being hindered by a fragmentation of capital and digital markets, and changes are urgently called for.

Indeed, as Ginni Rometty explained earlier on in the event during her ‘The Next Chapter of Digital Reinvention’ speech:

“Chapter 2…is going to be way more transformative; it’ll change the core of how everyone’s company operates, it’ll change…the world itself.”


Watch Ginni Rometty’s Opening Keynote here.

You can also listen in to her well-informed views in this Tech For Good replay.

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