Rockin’ blockchain at WorldWebForum

Ueli Maurer, Swiss Confederation 2019 president at WorldWebForum. Photo:

The annual WorldWebForum hosted its seventh edition in Zurich, Switzerland 17-18 January, 2019. The event gathered 1,500 mostly C-level execs to talk thought leadership and digital transformation. The conference had a modern vibe with rock music intros to sessions, dim lighting and lots of neon. In 2019 the theme of WorldWeb Forum (WWF) was “Master or Servant”. Focus areas included blockchain, artificial intelligence, the future of work and digital transformation.

Day One opened with a keynote from Ueli Maurer, the 2019 president of the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland’s federal government), who said Switzerland was a country of “young startups and old banks.” Maurer has been keen to position Switzerland as the “Blockchain Nation” and, given the country’s favourable regulatory conditions for cryptocurrency, it seems to be working.

Blockchain was a big topic of the conference. It seems 2019 might be the year it loses its sparkle, with a recent report from global analyst firm McKinsey (a WWF sponsor) claiming blockchain has not lived up to expectations. However, in a panel on Crypto Assets hosted by McKinsey and featuring Jos Dijsselhof, from the Swiss Stock Exchange, and Andrea Maechler from Swiss National Bank, pannelist Ted Rogers from bitcoin company Xapo said:

“Bitcoin is the best way to store value we have. Better than gold.”

During a session in the dedicated Blockchain track, Dr. Guenther Dobrauz-Saldapenna, head of PwC Legal in Switzerland and creator of the “Disruption Disciples” technology think-tank, said blockchain was a great technology when used appropriately, but it is not a panacea.

Photo: WorldWebForum

The day rounded off with a “fireside chat” from Bill Wyman, ex-bassist from The Rolling Stones.

AI at WorldWebForum

There was also much talk at WorldWebForum about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how this will affect the future of work for humans. Nicolas Economou, CEO of H5 said we’re seeing the 4th industrial revolution with AI, and advocated urgently for global governance. Most discussions were generally positive.  Economou said, rather than focusing on the fear of what AI can do, we should be reassured by what it can’t do – replicate human emotions.

“AI is artificial intelligence, but it will never be artificial humanity.”

Work and innovation

Day Two of WorldWebForum looked more at work strategies, innovation and team building. A standout speaker was Bill Barnett from Stanford Graduate School of Business, on innovation and Leading By Design. His premise was that humans are terrible at prediction but fantastic at retrospectively rationalising. And, since innovation requires a non-consensus idea that could be genius or madness, it is impossible to predict and rare to find.

“Most people’s fear of looking a fool is stronger than their hope of being a genius.”

Martel in action at WorldWebForum

Peter Jacobs from ING Bank gave an enlightening talk on the benefits of Agile methodology in IT departments. He said IT is often stuck with the language and timelines of civil engineering. However, when it comes to designing software and solutions, IT works better when it can move faster and be flexible. Definitely worth incorporating for many industries.

All in all, WorldWebForum was a classy conference in Martel’s home town. See you there next year, where Martel will hopefully join the rockstar lineup!