Web Summit recap: Is the tech industry disappearing?

If one thing was made clear after attending Web Summit in Lisbon last week, it’s that the notion of the “tech industry” is quickly disappearing. It seems that every sector is shaped by tech in some way these days. And although Trustly attended to represent the financial technology industry, we gleaned universal insights from those in politics, transportation, insurance and beyond.

Read on for some of our most profound learnings.

A slowdown in FinTech investment is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably healthy.
In a panel titled “The state of play in FinTech,” moderator Janet Guyon of Quartz noted that 2015 was a tremendous year for FinTech investments globally. While that seemed to continue into 2016, investments dropped about 49% in Q2.

“A lot has happened in a short period of time, so we should be really excited about the growth of the industry,” said Mattias Ljungman, co-founder of Atomico. “We have to be careful not to think of it as a quarterly capitalism type of thing. It takes time to build these industries. They are huge and we are only scratching the surface at the moment. So a little pause is maybe not a bad thing and probably pretty healthy.”

Eileen Burbidge, partner at UK-based Passion Capital, added that numbers are going to change quarter on quarter because the definition of FinTech is pretty fluid. “You’re going to start seeing insurtech being added in there, regtech, property tech, and certainly cybersecurity because the biggest market for cybersecurity is financial services institutions. So the whole pie is clearly growing and I think definitions will continue to change,” she said.

Technology is good for democracy … if we’re careful.
In conversation with CNNMoney correspondent Laurie Segall, actor and entrepreneur Joseph Gordon-Levitt weighed in on the potential of technology to bring about social good. “It depends on how we use it, and certainly there are plenty of potential pitfalls for what technology can be and how it can impact our democracy,” he said. “The Snowden story is a great example of those potential pitfalls,” added the actor, who met and played whistleblower Edward Snowden in the recent titular film. If we aren’t careful, Gordon-Levitt warned, we could end up with some sort of mass surveillance, authoritarian situation.

But Snowden himself was surprisingly optimistic. “He said in the future, technology would provide us more liberty, whether it’s because of renewable energy, or advances in science or in medicine, or in education. Whatever it is, technology can move us forward,” recalled Gordon-Levitt.

In the future, the world will become a smaller place.
Last week, Hyperloop One, a company that aims to realize high-speed transportation as put forth by Elon Musk, announced it has signed a deal to build the first Hyperloop between Dubai and Abu Dhabi — a project that could decrease travel time from 2.5 hours to just 12 minutes. In a panel called “The age of moonshots and Hyperloop One,” co-founders Josh Giegel and Shervin Pishevar explained the impact this innovation could have on the world.

“When I look out at our cities, I see a lot of decaying infrastructure. The world isn’t investing in new infrastructure at the rate that it should, so there’s a lot of economic potential and human potential to unlock by redesigning cities from the ground up. Hyperloop is a transportation system that we want to spread around the world and make the world a smaller place,” said Pishevar.

The transport system will completely change the relationship between where people live and where people work, Pishevar said, which frees people from time and space. “And in that case, there is a real opportunity to basically re-terraform our planet; to redesign cities to be green and to design cities not around cars anymore but around people.”

Leaders of companies should be held just as responsible as leaders of countries.
The day after the U.S. election, emotions were running high at Web Summit. Even panels that weren’t intended to cover politics veered towards the outcome of the night before. One panel titled “Is ego the biggest reason for failure?” got especially heated when Dave McClure, founder of Silicon Valley accelerator 500 Startups, jumped out of his seat to yell, “This whole election is a god damn travesty. We shouldn’t just sit up here and act like nothing just f@#king happened. If you’re not f@#king pissed right now, what is wrong with you?”

Moderator Laurie Segall tried to loop the conversation back around to technology but the election talk prevailed. “I think the biggest thing is that this election is a wakeup call about the responsibility of companies. Uber is a great example: Self-driving cars create job displacement. Will those people become the next supporters of Trump? These issues are forced into the forefront of discussion now,” said Justin Kan, partner at Y Combinator. “It’s funny,” McClure added, “that we hold leaders of countries responsible, but we don’t hold leaders of companies responsible, when they may have more users than the populations of many countries.”

Missed Trustly’s talk at Web Summit about the three keys to hockey-stick growth? Read a recap here.