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Business, Inspirational by Kirsi Tenhunen,

Slush 2017 Was a Rock Festival with Great Vibes

Slush 2017 was once again like a true rock concert with so much inspiration and endless chances for interesting conversations about new innovations. It was like a city festival where everyone’s really happy and energetic despite it being the darkest time of the year in Helsinki. The organisers surely put a lot of effort in making it as good as possible. They actually bought all the pink led lights available in Europe to bring light to the perpetual darkness on our November – impressive!

What did we learn at Slush this year? Two of our dear colleagues, Mika Suonperä and Sunny Chandi speak about what they found interesting and inspiring. Sunny was at Slush now for the first time, and for Mika it was the third time.

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What was new and exciting at Slush?

Sunny: You could totally see that robotics is a big thing now – many companies had fascinating prototypes. Some companies really made it, some not so much.

Mika: When designing a robot you have to think what value it really creates – does it pay itself back and if so what is the added value on top of that? There’s no point in making a cool robot cafe barista, if you could take your coffee from the same machine yourself and do it a lot faster. You don’t only lose time but also the human-to-human contact that we will need in the future too. This was the case with ABB – a pretty nice showcase of what they can do, but the slow robot itself does not really create any real value above being a decent marketing gimmick.

Sunny: The robotic Blackjack table by Futurice was built in three weeks only. They took five volunteers in the company to work for a small amount of time per day and come up with something – the only requirement was to actually get something done in time. The volunteers were really enthusiastic about being able to create something cool and different – and the result was the Blackjack robot. That’s a really good example on how motivation works at its best.

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Mika: Facial recognition has developed a lot and there was some really cool stuff at Slush. I tried Finnair Face Identification system and it made me think where the “Orwellian thinking” is leading us – are we soon being watched and recognised wherever we go? Facial recognition will be used more and more, everything will work with it. Where is the limit when we are already able to recognise whether the person is gay or straight, or you can recognise a person’s mood with AI?

Leap Motion had also created a VR system that worked with your bare hand motion. The motion recognition is built directly into the camera.

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What caught your attention during those two days at Slush?

Mika: Battery technology with renewable energy sources and a super fast 5-minute-charging speed for electric vehicles. It was nice to see that sustainability and improving the world was a big thing at Slush this year.

This brings to mind a startup called Memphis Meats which is funded by an investment company called Fifty Years – the name for the investment company comes from Winston Churchill’s essay Fifty Years Hence that was written in 1931 and focuses on deep technology. It predicts, among other things, nuclear power and the advent of clean meat ie. growing meat without the animal.

Fifty Years is an investment company that only invests in companies with both the potential to become a billion dollars annual revenue business, but also contribute by their innovations to areas that make the world better. Memphis Meats is one of them – growing meat in a lab is closer to reality than ever. This means that in the future there will be no need to feed, breed and slaughter animals, thus things like deforestation and methane emissions can be reduced greatly. According to Seth Bannon from Fifty Years, Memphis Meats has the potential to dominate the nearly trillion dollar meats business.

Sunny: Lots of interesting pitches in Science Pitching Finals. Svante Henriksson’s pitch about reducing hurricane destructiveness caught my attention. This could be done by shifting momentum from the a belt of strong winds to the outer, calmer areas of the storm by spraying aerosols or water vapor from ships, aircrafts or drones into the hurricane.

The winner of the pitching competition was Johan Seijsing, a researcher at the University of Stockholm, who won over the audience with his bid to use enzymes found in nature to treat bacterial infections.

Sunny: Data and security were interesting topics and there were industry leaders talking about whether users can take control of their data. Cyber criminals are something scary and alien – but should we fear them? Mårten Mickos, the CEO of HackerOne said the Pentagon got hacked in 13 minutes – it’s better to be hacked by someone that you can trust – then you’ll know what went wrong and you can fix it. White hat hackers – ethical hackers – side hobby, profession. They hack you for your benefit if you ask them to – the cyber criminals will hack you anyway whether you ask them or not.

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Farewell to Centralised Data was an interesting talk led by security expert and crypto author Andreas M. Antonopoulos, with Pamela Morgan, Founder & CEO of Third Key Solutions, and Dr. Jutta Steiner, Co-founder & CEO of Parity about de-centralised data, for example crypto-currencies. Antonopoulos pointed out that no one is able to store large amounts of data 100% safe. “The only way to secure data is to not collect and store it in the first place”, he said. One of the best examples of decentralised data that came up in the discussion is open-source software. Decentralisation also helps to mitigate risk, said Pamela Morgan.

There was an interesting talk about self-organizing companies with great insights from example the CEO of Smartly.io. Companies should just provide the infrastructure, premises and the frame for the employees to do their work the best they can. Niklas Jansen, Co-founder of Blinkist, emphasizes the importance of hiring the right people with a somewhat heavy hiring process with many different people interviewing and discussing the fit of the person to the company culture. After all, there is always one decision maker only, taking all the feedback from the other people into account.

When you look back at Slush, what are your afterthoughts?

Mika: There was a strong feeling of making the world better, starting with Al Gore’s opening keynote, and throughout the event I kept hearing passionate pitches where one of the main attributes of innovation was driving change to better the world we live in. Many companies and startups have this important mission, and many make services and products that create value and really make for a better quality of life on our planet. This is great, but the other side of the coin is that there could have been more of a 360-view in the talks – criticism was lacking and not all solutions seemed that realistic. — But all in all the vibe at Slush was great.

Sunny: After the first day I felt like there was still a lot to see. It was good that the startups were different on the second day. In two days you have time to see more, but not everything. You still need to have a plan and yet it’s hard to stick to it if you want to see some talks and discuss with people. You have to make choices.

Mika: Slush proved that the slogan “nothing normal ever changed a damn thing” is true.

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