MWC2023 Recap: 1. Everyone Was Stoked about Metaverse, Connected Devices, and Generative AI 2. I Remain a Curmudgeon
Ok, I have finally had time to process my amazing trip to Barcelona for MWC2023. I came home with lots of thoughts and a few extra pounds (thanks to endless tapas!)
Here are a few of my observations:
1. MWC 2023 was BIG. As someone who likes to say yes and figure out the details later, I agreed to speak at this year’s event without basically any knowledge of the conference.
Turns out that MWC (aka Mobile World Congress) is one of the biggest tech conferences outside the United States, with some 90K+ attendees. The exhibition space spanned nine giant halls, and basically, anyone who is anyone in tech had a booth. I destroyed my feet trying to see everything.
One of the most interesting things for this American was seeing the numerous European and Asian mobile vendors. In North America, it’s pretty much a two-dog show (Apple and Android). Both are awesome products but makes me wonder if the lack of competition may eventually lead to a lack of innovation.
2. Metaverse was hot (and Web 3.0 was not). If you had any sort of Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality product, you were guaranteed a line at your booth. Enchantment with the metaverse was extremely high and conferencegoers seemed delighted by the AR/VR products they saw.
That said, I was far less impressed. Admittedly, because I work in the space, and tend to be crotchety about emerging tech in general, my bar for new tech is probably unrealistically high. From what I saw on the floor, companies are focused on the fun factor right now and not the killer, but practical, apps that will make these technologies viable long term. And of the apps I did see, the quality of the underlying hardware and software was underwhelming.
Nevertheless, the enthusiasm was fun to see and I am hopeful that metaverse will quickly evolve from a silly distraction to an effective business tool soon.
(And a special shout out to the metaverse for replacing “Web 3.0”, as the talk of the town. It was so refreshing to spend an entire day with tech folks, and not hear the word “blockchain” muttered once.)
3. There was a lot of talk about the promise of connected devices. And equally as much talk about its challenges.
I spoke on a panel entitled “Is There Anything That Can’t Be Connected?” with leaders in healthcare, automotive, and education. The panel kicked off with speakers from Hewlett-Packard and Nokia discussing how their companies connect devices in space.
Those presentations quickly answered the question that the panel was posed. If you can connect devices on the moon, yes, there is not much that can not be connected here on Earth.
Having established the ubiquitous potential of connected devices, our panel dived into a derivative question: Just because anything can be connected, does it mean it should?
From my standpoint in healthcare, digital health has incredible potential to bridge healthcare inequalities. The pandemic illuminated the healthcare divide amongst our most vulnerable — the poor, children, senior citizens, and those with complex medical needs.
Connected home devices can help bridge the gap. However, they must be implemented thoughtfully, taking into consideration things like privacy and security.
My fellow panelists had similar sentiments from the perspective of their fields — just because we can connect everything, does not mean we should. Connected devices can be transformative, but only when they are implemented mindfully.
4. Artificial Intelligence is back in style (thanks ChatGPT!)
A few months ago I read an article lamenting the lack of interest and funding for Artificial Intelligence in the startup world. As someone who considers herself a long-time AI fangirl, I rolled my eyes as I read that. AI goes through hype cycles on the regular but continues to march on even when it is out of the spotlight.
AI is fueled by algorithms, training data, and processor heft. All three of these things have been steadily improving, through fanfare and through not. Algorithms are becoming more clever, training data sets are getting more vast, and chip technology continues to evolve.
Thus, the only thing that surprised me about ChatGPT was that everyone was surprised about it. Something like it was bound to happen when someone clever combined advancing AI tech with a universally appreciated practical application.
Generative AI, such as ChatGPT, came up a lot at the conference, with the general sentiment being a fascination with a generous helping of trepidation. I think for many, this was their first time truly understanding the power of artificial intelligence. With that comes the excitement about possibilities and also the hesitance about its potential shortcomings.
Like connected devices, AI needs to be implemented thoughtfully. As I quipped during the panel, we all thought social media was rainbows and kittens and embraced it immediately without reservation. Only later did we realize that social media had a dark, seedy underbelly contributing to mental health issues, misinformation, and other nefarious results.
Ultimately, by big takeaway from MWC2023 was tech has so much potential right now — across connected devices, generative AI, metaverse, and more. But we are at a pivotal point where we need to think before we implement.
Thank you to IEEE for arranging and sponsoring this trip! If you aren’t a member yet, please consider doing so. After all, their motto is “Advancing Technology for Humanity”. What human can’t get behind that?