Web Summit 2023: More than just AI? Five key themes.

We were on the ground in Lisbon, Portugal, for Web Summit 2023 - one of the leading global technology conferences, bringing together creatives, leaders and entrepreneurs for thought-provoking discussion and business growth opportunities.

Written by Adrian Brown & Caroline Szeremeta.

One of the world’s largest tech conferences with over 70,000 delegates from 153 countries and 1,000 speakers from across the industry. Web Summit ‘23 was alive with a spirit of learning and networking, against a background of lively opinion and debate on the tech industry and how recent developments are likely to have profound impacts on society as a whole.

Here are some of our highlights:

Women in tech.

We recently reported that at Advertising Week New York there was a huge female focus and, while 43% of attendees and 34% of speakers at Web Summit were women, and the industry clearly has an appetite to evoke change, there’s much still to be done. Women are underfunded and under-represented in tech (they comprise just a quarter of full-time tech employees in the US), Web Summit’s own survey found 49.5% of women experienced sexism in the industry, and 66.9% felt they were paid unfairly compared to their male counterparts.

Oh, and then there’s the small matter that women are nearly twice as likely to be affected by AI-driven job disruption according to a Goldman Sachs report.

Getting philosophical: Trust and truth.

As tech advances at an exponential rate, we’ve been forced to question what makes us human. This has spawned a trust crisis, resulting from an inability to decipher the truth any longer. Young people in particular trust less than other generations due to the amount of change they’ve experienced in their short lifetimes – from tech-exacerbated conspiracy theories to fake news, data privacy breaches, AI hallucinations and bias etc. Indeed, the topic of AI regulation is huge and largely unanswered.

However, while it’s easy to blame AI for the situation, this is a wider issue created by both tech and the media. People are absorbing news differently nowadays, away from traditional platforms. They no longer trust a polished newsreader on television, they want the authentic take, more likely through social media, and associate perfect content with being sold to.

Gen AI and creativity.

“Could brands replace swathes of their agency rosters with Gen AI agents and tools?” It’s an existential question for many agencies. Across various sessions it was clear this was already beginning to happen – throw some images and words into a Gen AI tool and voilà! A motion graphic output in seconds. Other platforms are now able to deliver an end-to-end Google ad campaign – from creative to placement – without even a requirement for a Google ad account (read our piece on the seven ways AI is inspiring young creatives and what tools to use).

That said, problems with copyright, content quality, brand control and lack of originality are hurdles to clear. Lots of agencies are going to need to rethink their business models – especially those that profit from fairly simple task-based activities. However, exceptional creativity comes when brilliant people get together and challenge each other, and we can take solace in that.

AI & the future of work.

For as long as there has been innovation there have been either promises of humans becoming paid creatures of leisure or being left destitute by machines taking our jobs. From the agricultural revolution to today, neither of these things have happened so let’s get comfortable being uncomfortable and embrace the change, rather than fearing it.

A lot of AI isn’t actually intelligent, it’s just automating tedious and time-consuming processes, therefore making us better and more productive. Some companies will see this as a chance to downsize but they’ll risk getting left behind by others who realise the benefits of giving their staff more time for heads-up strategic thinking.

Paying lip service to sustainability.

For an industry that has long championed its commitment to building a sustainable future this subject was noticeably absent – maybe because the AI hype machine pushed everything else into the fringes. The few sessions devoted to the topic felt like a box-ticking exercise and, whilst there were plenty of climate tech start-ups present, we would hope to see more progress on this next year. Especially given the new Web Summit CEO opened the event by talking about bringing people and technology together to solve the world’s biggest challenges.

Web Summit as a brand experience.

The spirit of networking is strong at Web Summit. A keynote tradition is for everyone to stand up and introduce themselves to three people around them and to keep that spirit going whether queuing for food, sitting in a session, or at the night summit events. The chance to meet someone who might be your next business partner or customer is, in many ways, the experience.

But, for us, there was a lack of wow and little visceral demonstration of all the great emerging tech that could really elevate the experience. THE photo opportunity is still the same old 3D event logo it’s been for years with little thought of backdrop. An opportunity missed, but certainly one to be exploited in ‘24.


Let’s talk.

If you’d like to discuss supercharging your brand experiences, contact us to make the most of moments that matter.

More reading:

Advertising Week New York ’23: Top trends and tips
Generative AI rules. Says who?
Generative AI: Fad or future?