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Friday, December 4, 2020
Believe: against all common logic
The Vested Summit, powered by S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., was launched today in its third edition. This edition distinguishes itself from its predecessors in both format and theme. For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic has mandated that the summit take place entirely virtually. Speakers could take part through the video conferencing platform Zoom while registrants could watch the entire event streamed LIVE on Facebook in a line-up of different sessions – keynotes, talks, panel discussions and fireside chats, all for free. But in this year of firsts, the Vested Summit team decided to capitalize on the transition to the virtual sphere to expand their base. Normally targeting emerging markets in the MENA region, the registration to this year’s edition was open to basically anyone with an internet connection.
The expansion of the Summit’s reach aims at spotlighting the region’s conscious tech ecosystem, its players and its dynamics. The expansion will also have the effect of amplifying the global call for technologies that are ethical, environmentally friendly and conducive to the well-being of individuals as well as the greater good of communities. Unifying forces on a global scale has never proved more necessary. If the pandemic has highlighted anything this year, it is the interdependence of our actions and the interconnectedness of our fates. No time is better than now to promote learning and exchange on matters tech-related in the pursuit of innovative, sustainable solutions to our most pressing problems.
Winston Churchill, during WWII, may or may not have said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Such is the spirit animating the Vested Summit this year. This brings me to the second unique aspect about this year’s edition. The e-summit’s spirit is reflected in its theme – “Believe!”. Inspired by the significant power of the heart which is a 1000 times more stronger than the mind and inspired by a heart led leadership in the world, this theme testifies to the conscious tech movement’s grand ambitions. Nothing short of a leap of faith can chart the way ahead for conscious techies to meaningful progress. Outwitting themselves at every turn, they strive to realize higher and higher potentials, creating works of art and genius worthy of awe.
Indeed, the e-summit kicked off with the Vested Summit team elaborating on the theme “Believe!” as they personally associate with it in their respective journeys to conscious tech in general and this initiative in particular. Salma El-Hariry, Founder and CEO of S[k]aleUp Ventures Inc., narrated through the lens of belief her own course of development as it guided her through her cross-disciplinary interests in engineering and business during her undergrad studies in Egypt, her initiation into entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley in the US and finally, her return home to Egypt in the wake of the 2011 uprising. Brimming with hope and faith in the potential of the local and regional start-up scene to bring about positive change through willpower and tech savviness, she founded the venture capital initiative behind Vested Summit.
The first session was a talk titled “Why Ethical Tech?” by Margarita Quihuis, Executive Director at PeaceX. The topic of ethical tech offers vital framing for the efforts of the conscious tech movement. In market-based economies, it is imperative that ethics and profitability are brought into compatibility. Namely, a good case needs to be made for ethical business. Recently, there has been a fortuitous shift in customer and client mindsets, as Quihuis observes. Their demand for ethical, environmentally-friendly, sustainable products and services has witnessed an increase. This novel state of affairs puts pressure on businesses concerned not just about consumer satisfaction, but also necessarily issues of liability. Businesses thus become incentivized to pay more careful attention to their own orientation and branding insofar as they should reflect a business’s earnestness about promoting values like equity, justice and inclusivity. However, the alignment of business goals with ethics could prove to be a complex problem whose solution shouldn’t be of a merely technical nature, says Quihuis. This is where ethics frameworks come into play, and a couple of these are already in deployment in the tech industry. One aspect of these frameworks is that they institute a culture of learning from mistakes, lending business practices much needed substance in such a way as to guide them beyond a mindset of mere “tech solutionism”.
One of the two panel discussions in today’s line-up was concerned with the topic of conscious media. This discussion brought together Maged Farrag, Creative and Managing Director at 5D, Shady Ahmed, Co-founder at Yalla Zest, and Injy Abou El So’oud, Writer/Host at Salizon. Roughly, conscious media is shareable creative content that is mindful of its messaging in mode and aim. This content might, for example, aim at weaving culture and country narratives and beaming them at a local, regional or international audience to fill a gap where official narratives may be deficient or lacking in certain respects. Moreover, the role of augmented and virtual reality paradigms in conscious media was discussed. Most importantly, the panelists highlighted the role of online content streaming and production platform Netflix in broadcasting culture and country narratives. Emphasized was the indispensability of a support culture from the viewing public and media practitioners alike, towards manufacturing quality-rich content that captivates the viewers’ attention.
The other panel discussion was concerned with human well-being as cultivated and sustained with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Dan Seider, Founder at Misu, talked about his machine-learning–based emotion recognition tool for mood tracking to enable informed decisions by the user towards the self-regulation of their mood. Thereupon, Ahmed Alashwah, Stanford University, The Flourishing Lab-Founder, talked about his alternative paradigm where AI is mobilized to mine the user’s data streams to construct a model for their personality and raise the alarm when inconsistency between the user’s new actions and the model is detected. The optimizable objective here is user integrity as grounds for human well-being, and the guiding presupposition is that AI constitutes an objective measure of personality and consistency that bypasses subjective biases. I would critically ask, however, whether such a dependency on an external arbiter of integrity does not introduce negative feedback in its own right so as to amplify dissonance. One should perhaps reflect on the constitutive role of bodily mechanisms and body perceptions in informing our sense of self and identity. That being said, Seider recommends the regulation of media practices, often reliant as they are on AI mechanisms to tailor content to the anticipated audience – content that often sows distress, addictive behavior and unhappiness. Echoing Quihuis’s thoughts on profitable ethics frameworks for business, Seider noted how incentivization plays a key role in driving media practitioners to adopt practices conducive to human well-being.
Finally, in an hour-long video keynote, Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan, showcased Taiwan’s exemplary response to the pandemic. The motto capturing the response is “Fast. Fair. Fun. Humor Over Rumor.” Armed with this motto, Taiwan was well-positioned to conquer both the pandemic and accompanying infodemic through participatory, democratic internet governance grounded in transparency and trust in the institutions and supported by the media literacy and media competency of the citizenry. In that connection, also articulating faith in the power of open data policy in promoting democracy was Vasyl Zadvornyy, CEO at Prozorro, in his talk earlier today about the Ukrainian case. His start-up developed a framework to institute an open data culture where citizens monitor government expenditure and hold the government accountable for wasteful spending.
The opening ceremony truly set the tone for a unique two-day e-summit experience putting conscious technology at the center of the conversation in these times of disruptive change.
Taiwan COVID-19 Response
Sara Al-Sayed was born in Cairo, Egypt. She studied electrical engineering at the German University in Cairo, Egypt, and holds a PhD degree in electrical engineering from Germany. Fascinated by the pivotal role technology and technical systems have on shaping our lives and existence, in positive and not so positive ways alike, she picked up a master’s program in the philosophy of technology, in Germany. She currently resides in Princeton, USA, where she is writing her thesis. She is interested in making contributions to the #ConsciousTech movement.