Highlights from Day 1 of Web Summit Rio 2023

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Marie Boran
A person (Signal president Meredith Whittaker) sits in an armchair. They're wearing a headset mic and gesturing emphatically with both hands. They appear to be speaking.

We’ve just wrapped Day 1 of Web Summit Rio 2023. What were the highlights?

The first full day of Web Summit Rio 2023 took place today in Riocentro, seeing many of our 21,367 attendees descend on the venue for masterclasses, roundtables, and talks across 14 content tracks.

Here’s (some of) what you missed.

ChatGPT is your drunk uncle

Signal president Meredith Whittaker didn’t pull any punches, critiquing not only how large scale AI systems like ChatGPT are developed and used, but how unreliable they can be at producing verifiable facts.

Responding to an example of ChatGPT producing incorrect information, Meredith said: “It’s a bullshit engine. … … Why are we using a bullshit engine for anything serious?”

“We see these companies – Microsoft in particular – releasing a chatGPT demo that behaves kind of like that uncle who shows up to holiday gatherings, has a few drinks, and then just talks confidently about shit he does not know about.

“That’s not something we should be injecting into our information ecosystem; into our core infrastructures. We should not be championing this as something you add on to a search engine where people go to find information they don’t already know and check facts,” added the Signal president.

‘There’s some hype, but there’s a lot of reality here’

Cognitive scientist and AI researcher Ben Goertzel is bullish on the future of generative AI, and of AI in general.

Acknowledging that there are many who envision a bubble followed by a burst, Ben – who is also founder and CEO of SingularityNET – said that the same could be said of the US stock market on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis: “In hindsight, when our machine descendants and our cyborg descendants are looking back, it’s gonna look actually like a pretty steady rise of the AI.”

“What we’re seeing is one burst of genuine advance in a series of genuine advances in the AI field,” Ben said of ChatGPT and its ilk.

Investor Itxaso del Palacio had similar optimism for growth in this sector, explaining that AI is delivering on KPIs in a way that wasn’t possible before now.

Daniela Braga, the founder and CEO of Defined.ai, added that there has never been so much investment in AI. US$93.5 billion has been poured into the tech in the last year in the US alone – double the previous year’s investment – and the EU Commission has committed €1 billion a year over the next 10 years through the Horizon program.

Chelsea Manning calls for more ethics in tech

An image of Chelsea Manning speaking onstage on Day 1 of Web Summit Rio 2023
Image: Nym security consultant Chelsea Manning onstage at Web Summit Rio. Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

In front of a packed Center Stage crowd, prominent whistleblower Chelsea Manning took part in a wide-ranging conversation covering cybersecurity, privacy, AI and Web3. During that discussion, Chelsea stated that technologists should be held to the same ethical standards as doctors and lawyers.

“We’re held to a different standard than, say, a surgeon, and I wouldn’t want to go to a surgeon who has the mentality of ‘break things and figure it out later’,” said Chelsea.

Chelsea took issue with the tech credo ‘move fast and break things’, saying “We’re in such a new environment and a new time. While we’re moving fast and breaking things, we have to think of the consequences of what that means”.

TikTok SEO tips from a marketing expert

Image of marketing expert Neil Patel speaking on stage at Web Summit Rio 2023.
Image: NP Digital founder Neil Patel onstage at Web Summit Rio. Eóin Noonan/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

Neil Patel, founder of NP Digital, said that TikTok is still very much the platform that marketers should be paying attention to.

Neil had this advice for marketers looking to make a mark on the dominant social media app: “Optimize for visibility. TikTok is a popular place [for younger people] to search.”

“The way to optimize for TikTok is using the right keywords in your video. They’re able to detect what your video is about,” said Neil, explaining that only using keywords in your description or your tags won’t cut it anymore.

Additionally, TikTok’s algorithm is scanning how many comments your videos get, how users are reacting to these comments, and what is being said. “If the comments create more of an engaging conversation, your video gets shown more. You want to create content that helps encourage comments,” Neil said.

Building a Brazilian ‘startup mafia’

An image of Edith Yeung, general partner with Race Capital speaking at Day 1 of Web Summit Rio 2023Image: Race Capital general partner Edith Yeung onstage at Web Summit Rio. Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

Edith Yeung, general partner with Race Capital, expressed an interest in meeting “the next generation of the Brazilian founder mafia” here at Web Summit Rio – a reference to the success of the ‘Paypal Mafia’, the founders and former employees who went on to build other fruitful startups including Tesla, YouTube and Yelp.

The Brazilian startup ecosystem has matured since 2010, when, according to Monashees founder and managing general partner Eric Acher, “entrepreneurs had basically no capital at all and had to be incredibly resilient”. Now, as Edith pointed out, it is pulling in one third of all VC funding that’s pouring into Latin America.

“It’s great to see Brazilian founders with good outcomes who can go back and be angel investors; fund the ecosystem. And so much of it is connections,” said Renata Quintini, co-founder of Renegade Partners.

“Be each other’s customers. Give each other money. Give each other talent. Because these are the engines that compound and multiply,” Renata continued.

“This mafia concept is really, really important. If you think about Y Combinator, one of the most valuable things is that they are all each other’s customers.”

How to go from seed to Series A

Unsurprisingly, conversations on the Venture stage were dominated by topics such as finance and funding – crucially, how to manage it and how to attract more of it.

Renata pointed to global economic stagnation as the key reason for a recent freeze in startup valuations, saying they “have come down, on average, 30 to 50 percent” from 2021.

However, this shouldn’t deter emerging companies from seeking new rounds of funding. It just means entrepreneurs need to be more financially forward-thinking. Pierre Schurmann, founder and CEO of Nuvini, claimed that companies now need “to show a clear pathway to making a break-even point” before they can seek new funding.

Renata echoed this point, saying “ensuring you have two years of runway is very important”.

There’s plenty still to come at Web Summit Rio! Catch further highlights by following #WebSummitRio across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Main image: Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, speaking on Center Stage on Day 1 of Web Summit Rio. Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

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