Did you miss the biggest tech startup event in Europe? No worries, I have a quick wrap-up for you guys! It was my first ever day at Slush, so I will guide you through as a fellow beginner.
First, see the quick walkthrough video of the Slush 2016 venue here:
What is Slush?
I would usually be historical in my approach.
But the people of Slush always emphasize how Slush is “different”. So let me try to be different, too.
I quite frankly did not have any enthusiasm coming to Slush. I was completely tired, worn out, and full stress from various sources.
Slush was started by Aaltoes, the entrepreneurship society of Aalto University. Entrepreneurship societies (ES) are the biggest student movement in Finland since the Cold War (when everything was political). I am the Chairman of the Board of the ES of the largest university in Finland, University of Helsinki. There are altogether 19 ESs in Finland. All the Universities have one and many colleges too.
These student-driven organizations have started something completely new. They have created hope for Finland. As 2016 draws near to its end, we are still facing the depression of 2008: Finland is not out of the slump. We have unresolved budget deficit and unemployment, strikingly high for university graduates.
In Finland, to study in a University is free for native Finns (and quite cheap for foreigners). The government even pays for you to study (approx. 500€/month). But when you graduate, your opportunities for employment are not particularly good, as I wrote in my post almost a year ago.
So something is radically wrong.
This is where the ESs come in. They give students what they desperately need – and their universities are not giving them – access to real-life experiences, escape from the academia, and a brand new mindset of entrepreneurial thinking. These are the skills that the makers and doers of the future will truly need.
Slush is the embodiment of this movement. Slush 2016 was organized by 2300 (mostly student) volunteers and just a few people who get paid. Slush is bringing light to the, let’s be honest, fucking dark Nordics. Volunteering can be anything from picking up trash to hosting various stages and organizing the program.
Why do people want to do this for free? In addition to the abovementioned external benefits, I think what really drives people to participate is the internal gratification. It feels amazing to be part of something.
And this is where I left off when approaching Slush from a different, i.e. “Slushian” perspective. This is why I joined the ES movement. I wanted to be part of something that creates valuable experiences. So that’s why, about a year ago, after producing the brand video for them, I applied for the Board of Helsinki Think Company and was chosen as the Chair.
It has been an interesting year. Full of surprises and unforeseen challenges. I have failed many a time. I hope I have learned some. I hope I can someday do my small part in bringing this country out of this slump.
How can Slush say they are different? How the hell do they bring something new to the table? As a first-time Slusher, I am no expert, but I might have an idea.
Slush has independent teams working on independent topics. There is concierge, program, tickets, Asia, etc. The teams are trusted and they deliver for themselves.
But how are they motivated? This brings us back to the previous idea: Being part of something. This is highly motivating. I am 100% certain of this. And it doesn’t hurt to get a nice mark on your CV either.
Enough meta. Let’s get to the first day of Slush 2016.
Slush 2016 brought me back from slumber. That is my personal experience. Human experience is constituted via the data perceived by our senses. We have no other means of gathering information. Therefore, let me try to transmit my experience forward by describing my sensory experiences. I will go through the moments, which had the most profound impact on me. To get an idea of the whole Slush 2016 venue, check out the video above.
GREEN STAGE, Shoshana Berger: Redesigning Death
Slush offers atypical palette of speakers when it comes to tech events. This is the first time since Shift in Turku (check out my blog post on that), when I have seen themes of human life, human condition, death, sexuality, and ethics discussed in a startup event. I think that was pretty cool.
There was a stage called Green Stage that hosted these not-all-tech topics. I will go through some of them next.
Shoshana Berger is Editorial Director in IDEO. She had one simple point in her talk: hospitals are designed to take care of the disease, not the human being. This problem affects the whole healthcare system. We should not look at the symptoms, as then something is already wrong, but we should have a more holistic view of human beings. Death is a good topic on this, as it is the most profoundly stopping experience we humans have.
Death can be seen as a problem, as it prevents us from fulfilling our desires. One way to tackle this problem could be to alter our desires in a way that death wouldn’t affect the fulfillment of those desires, i.e. thanatizing our desires. This will obviously backfire, as after enough thanatizing we would have no desires left. Moderating desires is still a useful tool – some projects are impossible to achieve during our lifetime and it is not reasonable to desire them.
We should reimagine death – Shoshana Berger
Berger approached the subject from caretaking point of view. She displayed statistics, which state that doctors recommend very aggressive treatments during the last 3 weeks of people’s lives. This gives them hope: 80% of patients treated with chemotherapy believe it is going to heal them, even if they are very old. Patients and their loved ones want treatment, even when the actual benefits are minimal or even non-existing.
Shoshana’s answer to the problem of death was human-centered design. Hospitals, as we all have experienced, are not particularly pleasant venues. No one wants to go to the hospital; you go there only when you have no other option. Death ought to be reimagined in a way that it is part of the cycle of life. When an old, large tree dies, it releases massive amounts of beneficial particles into its surroundings. When a human dies, we look at it as a tragedy. Death doesn’t have to be a tragedy. We should reimagine death.
GREEN STAGE, Arielle Zuckerberg: Overcoming Human Limitations Through Emerging Technologies
Arielle (yes, she is that Mark’s sister) is an associate at KPCB. She touched upon one of the themes that is rarely discussed at tech events, but one we all can instantly recognize and love to engage with: Ethics. She spoke about human enhancements, e.g. prosthetics and the possibility of designing a perfect child.
Think about athletes. It is clear that in highly competitive sports it is impossible to win without some sort of cheating. So the question is: Where do we draw the line?
My background is in philosophy and I wrote my Master’s thesis on metaethics. I think the philosophers are to blame for the lack of ethical debate. We have made philosophy too boring. Academic philosophy is mostly writing papers and publishing them in journals, which are read only by other academics. This doesn’t really constitute a public debate. Academics have a tendency to isolate themselves in ivory towers and talk in a too difficult language in order to appear more intelligent and fool the rest.
I think ethics should be made fundamental building bloc of all the new technologies. In this way, we could all participate, as we all possess ethical reasoning capabilities. E.g. games offer a great platform for all kinds of ethical solutions and games already have a plethora of ethics in them. But why are we not seeing more of that?
GREEN STAGE, Albert Wenger: World After Capital – Moving to a Knowledge Society
Albert Wenger is a General Partner at Union Square Ventures. He spoke on the topic “What will come next?” The question is based on the realization that the world has seen huge changes recently, ones “no one would have expected”. To name two: Brexit and Trump. No one saw these coming. Yet they happened. How is that possible?
We have failed to provide a narrative of what will come next – Albert Wenger
Wenger took a historical point of view to understand. Humans have gone through 4 different major phases: 1) Hunter-gathering, 2) Agriculture, 3) Industrialism, and 4) Information Age. All these phases have radically changed how we exchange goods and knowledge and how we perceive the society and its role. They have changed the way we live together and how we divide our lives between work and free time.
In forager time the main thing we cared about was food. In agriculture this changed into land, which lead to a long epoch of larger and more devastating wars. Industrial era again switched the economic attention to physical machines. Information Age is all about attention economy.
Wenger refused the term Information Age, though. He proposed we use “Knowledge Age” instead. Focusing on information is vague and, frankly, not what we really careabout. Who cares about information per se?
We should get rid of the industrial mindset, where we sell our time as labor so we can buy stuff. This can be called “job loop”. Instead we should focus on creating more knowledge, not just information. This “knowledge loop” constitutes of learning, creating, and sharing.
In order to get to knowledge loop, we need freedoms. Wenger divided freedoms in 3 categories: 1) Economic freedom, 2) Informational freedom, and 3) Psychological freedom. Economic freedom can be reached with universal basic income and Informational freedom with knowledge in commons. Psychological freedom requires us to work together. This is where the huge late upsets come into play. Brexit and Trump were manifested much through social media. People’s innate fears were played in order to reach a desired result. This happened with information, not with knowledge.
Here “bubbles” come into play. People are surprisingly different. We have very different ideas on how our common society should be arranged. Our brain is wired to react to fear much quicker than to anything good. This has kept us alive in the hostile environments we developed in. In today’s world fear leads us to overreacting when we see something in social media that triggers our fear of something we don’t understand (great article on the topic in Rolling Stone).
When we have more knowledge, we have less fear. When we have less fear, it is much harder to manipulate us. Therefore, I agree with Wenger’s statement of thinking the Information Age more in terms of Knowledge Age.
Interestingly, this was not the only talk where universal basic income was mentioned. On the second day there was a panel discussion of it and other speakers also mentioned it. Universal basic income does seem like a possible way to solve the problem of wealth distribution in the future.
GREEN STAGE – Stephanie Alys: When Robots Get X-rated – AI, Big Data, and the Future of Sextech
The first day of Slush 2016 ended on a particularly “high” note. Wonderful Stephanie Alys, Co-founder of MysteryVibe, spoke about sex. She asked a very good question: “What did you learn about sex before you did it?” The answer for most people is probably something like “which body part goes where” and “how to avoid STDs”. Sex education tends to scare us and give simple instructions (very funny and creepy John Oliver episode on Sex Ed). How about as adults? It doesn’t really get any better. Read any magazine or internet article that offers anything about sex, and they are still mostly just tips and tricks, such as “How to give a great blowjob to your boyfriend” or “10 finger techniques to blow her mind”.
Sex Ed shouldn’t be about telling us what to do, but how sex and sexuality make us feel. Isn’t that what sex is really about? We don’t consider food in the terms of chewing and swallowing, but in the terms of how it tastes. Sex should be taught in another manner than other technologies. As most technologies focus on solving a problem, we should note not that sex is not a problem. Therefore sex tech, instead of solving a problem, is bringing new ways to think of and to experience pleasure.
Alys asked more intriguing questions: “Will robots be like us? Will they be better than us? Will we fuck them or will they fuck us? Will they change the way we look at relationships? Is having sex with a robot cheating?”
To answer shortly, sex tech can offer huge possibilities to have pleasure more available. Think about this. Machine can already be the last thing you touch in the evening and the first thing you touch in the morning. This is the case for me almost every day. I don’t think many of us have even noticed this dramatic switch in our haptic behavior – we are already accustomed to machines in our most private and intimate moments. Machines are already here.
Will we fuck robots or will they fuck us? – Stephanie Alys
What possibilities machines can offer in the sexual domain? Think about all the people who might very rarely have a sexual partner. Handicapped, elderly, depressed, shy, lonely – there are all kinds of reasons why we might be missing human touch. Or, touchin general. Think about pets. They are genetically manipulated beings that we touch and who want to be touched. As pets are genetically manipulated, they are a product of technology. In what way are machines different? How does touching a machine feel like?
Let’s look at a machine almost all of us possess and use daily. Phones are there for us to connect to each other. Therefore it is controversial to tell (as we often do) someone to put their phone down in order to have a “real” conversation. The problem lies in the interface. Connecting via phone does not feel the same as face-to-face interaction. We shouldn’t be adapting to technology, but technology should adapt to us.
All in all, sex ought to be viewed not as something requiring an instruction manual, but as a platform to explore yourself and your partner(s). Therefore the right question is not “What should I do?” but “How do you want me to make you feel?” Same applies to sex tech. Instead of thinking how sex tech works, we should ask “How does this technology make me feel?”
FOUNDER STAGE, Steve Jurvetson: The Big Think
Founder Stage was the main stage of Slush 2016 and offered a wide variety of world-class speakers.
Steve Jurvetson is a board member in e.g. SpaceX and Tesla Motors so he might have an idea how to make an impact. He started by stating that entrepreneurs can change the world more than we think. According to Jurvetson, now is the time for creative disruption. This is made possible by cheaper access to technology, simulation, commodity hardware, dematerialization of value, and global markets. He was referring to aerospace industry, but these points are of wider significance too.
We all now of Moore’s Law. Simply put, technology advances on exponential, not on linear scale. This has made it possible for us to get so used to magnificent leaps in technology we don’t notice them anymore. There is more computational power in your mobile device now than there was in all the machines of the world when Alan Turing was cracking the Nazi Enigma code with Bombes and Newman’s Colossus. This is explained very well in Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, which is a highly recommended read.
Profit is a by-product of the mission – Steve Jurvetson
Not only do we have advanced technology, it is also readily available, as hardware has become very cheap. This makes it possible to build e.g. satellites and put on the orbit with products found on stores. This has actually been done many times, the first satellite using an Android phone as its brain was launched already in 2013.
When SpaceX entered the market, they had 1000x cost efficiency. This would’ve been impossible to achieve with traditional innovation. This put other aerospace companies in a situation where it is impossible to compete without government incentives. The largest disruptions come and will come from outside the core industry as Elon Musk and others have shown. This brings us to the concept of “Mission”. Profit is a by-product of the mission.
Jurvetson ended his talk by putting it all together with the concept of deep learning. Learning is about process learning, not product learning. Product is not the most important goal, but the process, which leads to it. Scientific method was a profound change in human learning. Deep learning can be as big as a change and can lead to “Interdisciplinary Renaissance”, as Jurvetson put it. He claimed that small teams (5-7) are going to disrupt the future.
Interdisciplinarity is highly important. As the availability of information grows (also) on exponential scale, various skill sets and constant hunger to learn are needed. As Matt Ridley has put it: “Ideas are having sex with each other more than ever before”. As long as we keep this cross-pollinating happening, we will see more and more disruptions in the future.
ENGINE ROOM, Panel discussion: What’s Next On Our Plates?
Engine Room hosted a plethora of panel discussions and networking events.
INSECTS! They are definitely the food of tomorrow. I was happy to see representation of insect farming in Slush. Entocube was one of the companies participating in the panel discussion. They manufacture insect farms into shipping containers. As we have learned (recently in e.g. DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood), producing meat, especially beef, is very resource intensive. One of the biggest problems in our future is to be able to feed the growing population of planet Earth.
Insects are used daily in diets of about 2 billion people around the world. They contain much protein, have healthy amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
There is a problem with the insect industry: the law. EU regulation forbids insects to be grown and sold for food. This is because of EU Novel Foods Act, which states that every foodstuff that was not consumed to a significant degree in Europe prior May 15th 1997 is considered “novel food” and therefore needs to undergo application test to be authorized. Why May 15th 1997? This legislation was created during the Mad Cow disease. Only 3 countries in the EU have bypassed this EU regulation: Belgium, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom (more info in wonderful Swedish blog Bugburger).
Entocube bypasses the lagging legislation ingeniously: they just released a cricket product that is not meant for eating – it is crickets in a glass jar to be looked at, not consumed. In this way the product can be sold legally and the idea (I think) is to prepare consumers mentally for the upcoming insects as food revolution. Can’t wait for that to happen (check out the crickets in a jar).
It is ridiculous that meat is the cheapest protein I can buy in the store – Perttu Karjalainen
The somewhat worrying phenomenon in meat consumption is that it has in fact been increasing dramatically since the 1950’s all the way till now. 60 years ago in Finland people consumed 150 grams of meat weekly – now the number is 1 500 grams. As Perttu Karjalainen from Entocube noted, we should get back to more healthier and more varied diet. Consumers alone cannot achieve this; the biggest problem is the subsidies given to meat production, which makes meat way too cheap.
How could we then ready ourselves for the upcoming insect revolution? How can we be ready to start eating insects? In addition to Entocube’s cricket jar, we could simply imagine eating less meat. Christoper Slim from Ifoodbag, also in the panel, gave one idea. He had tasted Kobe beef in Japan and said it was like no meat he had ever tasted before. If he could have that once a year, he could give up all other meat. Maybe, if we would focus on quality of the meat and the conditions it is produced in, we would be content with less meat in total.
We should push our legislators to subside meat production less and allow the production of edible insects. Best of all, this wouldn’t even mean loss of jobs for the farmers. Another Finnish company, Finsect, is currently prototyping cricket farming for existing farms.
First day of Slush 2016 was a blast. I will post the second day as soon as I have time to go through my notes. I hope this has inspired you, as it has inspired me. Let me know if you want more details on the things I wrote about, or if you think I missed something crucial.
Your most humble servant,