Following a year of barely any in-person conferences, 40,000 people flocked to this year’s Web Summit 2021 in Lisbon. This makes it the largest technology event in southern Europe, along with MWC in Barcelona. Following closely from Canela’s office in Portugal, as in previous (pre-pandemic) years, Director Catarina Oliveira captured five of the most interesting innovations that were on display.

The metaverse 

Facebook (now Meta) was doubly present at Web Summit 2021. On the one hand you had Frances Haugen, the former employee and data scientist who leaked tens of thousands of internal documents about the ins and outs of this social network, as one of the most prominent speakers at the event. On the other hand, the social network created by Mark Zuckerberg rebranded as Meta. This is a new approach that aims to turn the platform into a “metaverse”, a virtual universe halfway between Second Life and the OASIS from the film Ready Player One. Although the move seems to have been precipitated by Facebook’s reputation crisis, experts see potential as virtual reality becomes more popular.

Ambient artificial intelligence 

Amazon presented us with a new concept that could revolutionise the way we understand the increasingly omnipresent virtual assistants: ambient intelligence. Instead of asking Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant to do things all the time, this trend is committed to the creation of intelligent environments that are capable of anticipating our needs at home, in the car, or at work.

Did you know, for example, that Alexa is already capable of performing more than 13,000 tasks, from playing music to regulating the heating? Next it will be able to do it without you having to ask, thanks to the incorporation of all kinds of sensors connected to the Internet of Things.

The next threat comes from app stores

Apple, which rarely attends other people’s events, also stopped by the Web Summit to warn us about the dangers of unsafe mobile apps.

With more than 5 billion apps available for download on the App Store and Google Play, the risk of our devices being infected by an app containing malware is greater than ever. That’s why Apple recommends not downloading apps from unofficial sites. At the same time, it also criticised the European Commission’s plans to force manufacturers to allow the installation of third-party apps, known as sideloading.

The money of the future: cryptocurrencies, tokens and NFTs

With cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum breaking trading records, the future of the digital economy was also very much in the spotlight at Web Summit 2021. The CEO of Sorare, a French fantasy games platform based on blockchain technology that is valued at more than $4 billion, explained how so-called non fungible tokens (NFTs) are creating a new concept of ownership in the digital universe.

Music, art, finance, anything that has value in the real world will eventually have an equivalent digital certificate on the internet. But NFTs and cryptocurrencies will also be used to trade digital-only goods: from video game upgrades to virtual goods and services in the various metaverses to come.

Live commerce, the new way to sell online

Of course, there was also a lot of talk about digital marketing and e-commerce. One new feature that promises to be a big hit in 2022 was mentioned: live commerce.

Live commerce consists of an influencer or celebrity presenting a product live to their followers via streaming. During the session, attendees can watch demonstrations, get feedback from other users, ask questions and, of course, buy with just one click. This sales system is all the rage in China, through platforms such as Taobao Live, and promises to give influencer marketing a new twist.

And finally… startups are making way for the giants

Apart from the big tech giants, more than 1,500 startups from 128 countries were present at this year’s Web Summit 2021. Some of them, such as Spotify and Proton, have warned about the excessive market power of the Big Five (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft), which in practice makes them an oligopoly.

We have also seen innovations from Portuguese and Spanish companies: from the smart toilet that saves water and analyses your urine proposed by Ablute; to the online heart monitoring platform Idoven, presented by Iker Casillas.

And beyond the media showcase (this year celebrities such as the footballer Thierry Henry, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Ayọ Tometi, and the actor Nikola Coster-Waldau, who plays Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones, attended the event), Lisbon’s Web Summit is above all a meeting point for investors and entrepreneurs, and we look forward to seeing which unicorns emerge into the light this year.