Web Summit 2021: Heard in the Halls
Join Cloudflare’s João Tomé for a series of conversations at Web Summit 2021, featuring an array of technology experts, entrepreneurs, government officials, and more.
Hosted in Lisbon, Portugal, the event drew 42,000 attendees from 128 countries — and it was an amazing opportunity to get a sense for what many of the world’s leaders are thinking about the Internet and beyond.
This episode features:
- Ana Maiques, Co-founder and CEO of neuroscience-based medical device company Neuroelectrics — on neuroscience, and women in tech
- Dame Til Wykes, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation at King's College London, Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network: Mental Health — on mental health during the pandemic
For more, don’t miss the blog post: Heard in the halls of Web Summit 2021
Welcome to Cloudflare TV. Ana, can you summarize what your company in Barcelona does?
Yes, so my company has created this amazing technology, so this cap that I'm wearing can read your brainwaves, but it can also stimulate your brain, so send electrical signals into the brain.
So we believe that this sort of brain stimulation is going to help patients to be a new therapy, for example, reducing seizures in epilepsy, improving patients with depression or Alzheimer's.
So it's going to be a new therapy based on non -invasive brain stimulation.
Of course, and you've done a lot of work throughout the years in terms of neurology, of human behavior, of course.
In terms of what the Internet is today after the pandemic, how do you see the trends going in terms of human behavior, the Internet on you?
It's a very interesting question.
I think that what we've seen with social media is one dimension.
What I'm very interested in is the moment neurotech technologies will come into the consumer space.
Let's think about Neuralink and Elon Musk, right? They're trying to put chips into our brain, right?
What does it mean for the next generation of human communication?
The fact that we have chips implanted in our brain, right?
So I think that humans are going to evolve in ways we cannot even imagine, and it's going to be more of a hybrid brain-machine interfaces.
What are the worries throughout that process?
So I think that the worries is that we've been already worried about the impact of social media on the ethical side and other sides, right?
So imagine the moment you have an implanted device on your brain, inside your brain, who is going to control that data?
What can you do with that data, right?
It can be even in the unconscious part of yourself, right? So I think that the ethical debate on who owns that data and what is that data used for is super relevant.
Europe is ahead in those terms of discussing that matter. What do you think should be the next steps in terms of Europe and the world discussing ethics there?
I think that on the ethical side, and I'm part of a big neuroethics group, but I think it's about really setting up some guidelines and really making sure what should be and should be not done before the governments interfere.
I would love to see companies acting ethically and developers and startups, but if not, I think that at some point governments may have to intervene.
In terms of human behavior throughout the pandemic, were you surprised with so many people adopting the Internet as a way of communicating?
I mean, that has been beautiful on one side, but the rise of mental health diseases like depression, anxiety, also show us that even if we use the Internet as a way of communicating, it's maybe not the best way for humans, right?
We still lack the human interaction, so it's good news on one side, but it's bad news on the effect it has had on our mental health.
So I think at the end the future should be more mixed, right?
Because all remote, I don't think it's good for our brain health.
Of course, and you've done a lot of work there also.
In terms of Internet trends that are coming, that you can see that will be relevant, what is the future of the Internet for you?
I mean, I think that the future of the Internet is what we've seen.
It's more fluid, right? It's like the pandemic has shown us that the Internet is everywhere and it's part of our lives, right?
So I think that we are going to see more and more fluid interfaces, right?
Maybe not only your computer or your phone, right? There should be other interactions with the fluid Internet.
So I think it's going to be an interesting future.
In terms of your company, do you have plans for big projects in the neuroscience area that you can reveal?
Well, one of the things we've discussed in my talk is the fact that we are developing Neurotwins or digital copies of your brain.
So these will be hosted in the cloud or in the Internet, right?
So the goal is can we build a digital copy of Joao's brain, right? So we can help Joao when he's suffering from Alzheimer's or depression and we can provide a personalized treatment with these Neurotwins or digital copies of your brain.
And it looks like it's going to work? It is. I mean, we've already used these models in epilepsy.
We are developing new models in Alzheimer's. So, you know, it's a bit, I mean, the brain is very sophisticated and very complex, but I think we are getting closer to understand it a bit better.
Science fiction, help us imagine a future where we can download our brains and live forever.
Do you think that is possible somewhere in the future?
Well, I think that technology has evolved, but people keep on talking to me about mind reading.
I mean, the fact that we can read brain signals doesn't mean we can read minds or thoughts, right?
So I think that in the mind of people there is this scientific dream of reading mind and playing memories, and I think the science is not yet there, right?
So I think that it will take years until we can really read thoughts or emotions and maybe play them back.
And, of course, we can see black mirror and hope for the worst in terms of technology.
So there's some worries there too. Well, that's why our company is very focused on the medical side.
So, I mean, we can daydream about the future, but I think we should really focus on the present, right?
There are millions of patients out there suffering from depression or epilepsy or Alzheimer's who are drugged on work.
So I think that entrepreneurs and innovators and people on the Internet should be also focusing on helping our planet in terms of our climate crisis, but also the humans in terms of the diseases that are affecting us so much, right?
So I think it's interesting to think science fiction, but we need to act now on things that are really affecting us today.
One of the things we saw in your talk is that medical has a lot of components.
And, for example, Alzheimer's disease, everyone is talking there's no cure for it.
But your technique can give us a little bit more preview of what is happening.
What do you think is the future there?
I think our technology may also help in Alzheimer's by stimulating the brains electrically and we are collecting some data, so we are not yet there.
But I think that, you know, in many, many neurodegeneration diseases we've been very focused on the chemical mechanism.
But there's a whole electrical system up there and we haven't been so active in developing technologies dealing with the electrical part of our brains.
There's a lot of talk also about technology being more human-centric, more women coming to technology.
What do you think about it?
Well, I think we are still a very small percentage of women CEOs and it was very hard for me to raise money also.
I raised 18 million in my Series A. But I think that little by little I see more and more women and I think that's why it's important to get out there and explain to women that it's not only Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, but there are other women in tech.
And we have to, I think the media is also responsible for showing those cases so that we can really enlighten and inspire young girls.
Diversity is important there. Yeah, I mean, I'm a white woman born in Barcelona, so, you know, I'm privileged, right?
Imagine I'm also a woman of color or from a minority country or my sexual orientation, right?
So diversity, you know, has many faces and I think everybody should have the same chance, right?
Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you, Joao. Well, I'm a clinician.
I'm a clinical psychologist. I work in King's College London.
I do research on developing treatments for people with all sorts of diagnoses and I work in the Maudsley Hospital, which is a big old hospital for people with mental health problems.
Of course, and throughout this past two years, almost two years of pandemic, there was a lot of changes in human behavior and different types of approaches people had in terms of their mental health.
They went more online when they have that possibility.
In terms of new trends, new changes, what did you saw, really?
Well, I think one of the things that the pandemic did was if people had difficulties like anxiety or depression, they started to talk about it and lots more people talked about it, which is a good thing, particularly to reduce stigma, and they talked about it online as well.
The only issue I have is whether those people were really depressed to the extent that we might actually be treating them in a hospital or whether this was a depression that was not quite so severe, that might have just needed more social support and more community support during the pandemic.
Those were the positive things and there were some people whose mental health problems got better while they were in lockdown because a lot of the stresses that they were under had actually lessened and communities got together.
We all went out and clapped for carers and clapped for the health care workers and that was really important.
So the social conditions also improved for some people with mental health problems.
Their neighbors checked on them and that was a very good thing.
So there has been a sort of change in the way that people talk about mental health.
So it wasn't all bad because of this discussion that reduces stigma and it wasn't all bad because there was more social support.
But as time went on, we all got a bit tired of that and I think some of the issues that happened online did affect people quite a lot.
There was a lot of stigmatizing language, for instance, on some social media.
There were some major concerns that really made people feel very stressed, particularly with false information that was going around the Internet and encouraging people to do things which were really very bad for them.
And I think we've really got to beware, I think, of how that has affected mental health as well and that people with mental health problems may be more, when we're more suspicious, we have to build up more trust for them to believe us about vaccinations and about social distancing and mask wearing now because there's been all of this negative information or wrong information around on the Internet.
Of course, a positive side, also a bad side. I'm interested, for example, in terms of tools, web-based tools, video conferences, of course.
Did that help in some way the approach that was made in terms of diagnostic and helping people even without seeing them face-to-face?
Okay, so there were also some positive things about that.
After I'd stopped shouting at the computer because I didn't know which button to press, we ended up on Zoom and on Microsoft Teams and even a few people still on Skype.
So we did have that telehealth connection.
The problem for the telehealth industry is that when people have mental health problems and you can only see them from the waist upwards, their foot may be tapping under the table and you can't see it, but that may be telling you something about their level of stress and anxiety, but you can't actually detect it on a screen.
Although screens were really important, I think, for keeping people, for connecting people.
There was also the digital divide because people with mental health problems often don't have access to the latest smartphones or to good Internet, for that matter.
They may have a few minutes left on their phone, but that isn't enough to carry out any proper conversation with a clinician.
So we've had to move really quickly in working out how people can access us via those Internet tools.
We've created little booths that people can go to where they're separate from the rest of their household, because that is another issue.
People who are poor, who have several kids around and at home, where is the private space for them to have the discussion about their mental health problem?
And so we created booths for people to go to where they just have to press a switch and they're online immediately with their clinician.
So I do think we've got used to that.
Some of that is good. As I said, we just need to know what its limitations are and how it affects the therapeutic alliance with our patients.
The therapeutic alliance is really important for people. But I think we'll learn how we can do that alliance over Zoom.
People also turn to apps. Some of those are really useful.
They may not cure anything, but they do help. I think a lot of them do help, although there's not a lot of really strong evidence to support it.
But I think for some people that is another way in which they manage their mental health while they were in lockdown and during the pandemic.
I think that sometimes people just had a life boot.
They just decided to do things in a different way while we were locked down.
And certainly if you were not seeing your relatives, then using other systems of support, like on an app, was probably quite useful for people.
Some of them are the mindfulness apps that people use. I think that is a good way of calming you down and giving you time to think and reassess.
But there's also some that are based on cognitive behaviour therapy or psychological treatment.
Those also seem to help with some people. And I think we'll see.
There has been an enormous number of referrals for mental health problems that are just appearing now.
And it's hard to know why they're just appearing now.
Is it because the services are now opening up and people are now seeing their primary care professionals who are sending them on to mental health services?
Or is it that at the end of the pandemic, people are now faced with the same problems they were before the pandemic, maybe even worse, because the system of jobs changed with e-commerce, meaning that people became out of a job because they worked in retail.
So there's sort of social effects from loss of employment and loss of income that may also be affecting the number of people who are now coming forward for mental health difficulties.
And we don't have enough mental health professionals to cope, so we will have to rely on several stages of treatment.
Some of them will be online. And things like mindfulness apps and cognitive behavior therapy apps will certainly help.
It's interesting because a lot of conversations about resetting people's lives because of the pandemic.
They were at home, they were somewhere without jobs, so that was a resetting by itself.
But a lot of resetting. And, of course, now we talked about the great resignation.
People are changing their jobs because now they reset their lives and thinking in things in a different manner.
Did you think that the great resignation could happen when you saw the pandemic coming?
I don't even know if it's happened now, actually.
I think people have generally gone back to the work they did before, but there is clearly a lot of businesses are now having difficulties, but as I said before, particularly e -commerce, and that is a big problem.
And how many receptionists do you need in an office block if people are only coming in two or three times a week?
So there are some changes, I think, that will be permanent changes.
I don't know that there's a sort of resignation. I don't think that's what's happening.
I think people have been forced to look for alternatives.
They haven't looked for them in a voluntary way. And who knows? Who knows where we're going now?
I have no idea. Maybe there'll be new forms of employment that will turn up through sustainable futures in producing energy, and maybe those will take on some of the people who were in retail before.
For example, in technology, there's a lot of talk about meaning.
People who work in technology don't want only a job.
They want a meaning for their job. Do you see a trend going there in terms of people trying to find a meaning in their job, not only have a job?
I would be so pleased if I heard more of that, because I'm now at a Web Summit conference, and at Web Summit, people just keep talking about money.
They're not talking about something that will be good for the world in general and that they can feel proud of.
They seem to be feeling proud of the potential for this, a particular company going public, or here to get more investors for the next step, without the idea of social responsibility.
So the more people that have social responsibility and want meaning to their lives, I would be so happy if that happened.
I haven't honestly seen a lot of it here. Of course. For example, I was wondering, you have a great experience in this area of psychology and all that.
There's a lot of talk about the metaverse. It's not a new idea. It's an old idea in books in the 70s.
There's some talk about it, of course, in managing people living outside their real world.
In terms of the human part, the psychology part, where do you see this going?
Do you see a future there? Actually, I do see a future there.
For treatment, actually. I've often thought that what we should be doing is treatment in three stages.
A sort of more face-to-face, building a therapeutic alliance and getting people to think slightly differently and then giving them VR.
In situations where they could try out behaviour changes and see how it feels in a sort of stepped way.
Because you can control that, whereas you can't actually control what happens outside of the clinic in the real world.
But I do think that the metaverse might be a way of not living a different life in the metaverse, but trying to provide people with a new way of thinking about themselves.
It's like putting on several different types of clothes for, you know, does this suit me?
Maybe they could try on a few ways of behaving in a different world and see which feels best.
But I still think that people need to step out of that and practice those sorts of skills within the real world rather than living in this fantasy.
Of course. It's interesting because in the social media aspect now we have people doing a little bit of that, but in text.
It's just a small image of themselves.
And we write and we comment and we live a different life by text.
But, for example, something like the metaverse, it's more similar to reality, let's say like that.
Well, it is similar to reality, but it's not exactly the same.
So I do think that we could use it in a positive way. But I think there are, you know, like Second Life.
So that was a sort of, you know, different way of thinking about yourself in a different...
And that's probably very good for many things, for, you know, thinking about sizeism or racism or sexism and enabling people to have a different view of how the world acts when you're a different kind of person.
So I think they're all very positive things. I just don't think it's the same as the real world.
So I do think we could step in as long as we know that that's for a short time and then you step out again.
In terms of the future of the Internet, where do you see the Internet going in terms of human behavior with it, really?
Are you hopeful in the future? I am a bit pessimistic about the Internet. You know, maybe it will be regulated in some way.
At the moment, all we seem to be doing is increasing the carbon footprint of the Internet, which was never the idea.
You know, people are buying carbon capture and sticking, you know, CO2 underground in Iceland as a way of offsetting.
I don't think that's the way to go. I do think that large corporations really need to take global warming and climate change, you know, seriously, and that's really important.
And if we're going to have privacy and security of data, that is more expensive of electricity and more expensive, you know, encryption is very expensive.
So we need to think about all of these changes that might happen where, you know, with the public demands for some privacy of data, those will have an effect on a need to be sustainable, and they won't be sustainable if they have a very large carbon footprint.
And I don't really see anybody here at the moment thinking about how that should happen.
I just think any app company that said, you know, this is all driven by sustainable energy, that your data is encrypted and private and only to you, I bet they'd sell millions of apps because people would trust them, and they would think that was a better way of doing it than at the moment where we're giving away data, and we don't know what people are doing with it.
Well, I have a vague idea that they're producing algorithms which aren't very good because Google keeps sending me adverts for slippers.
I am never going to buy a pair of slippers. There's no way that, you know, they know that I'm a slipper-liker because I'm not.
So the idea that these algorithms are going to sort of, you know, take a place in our lives which is more than they are now, that's what makes me pessimistic because people are talking them up and hyping them a lot at the moment.
But, you know, the algorithms, they may only be predictive at, like, 85%.
Well, that leaves another 15%, which is a really important space, you know.
Maybe that's where my slippers come from. They're in the 15% where they're not absolutely targeting, and that's a kind of worry, I think, about the Internet.
So I am more pessimistic than... I've met some people here who, you know, I met a whole load of teenagers who were fantastic.
And were doing all the, you know, uses of the Internet for good.
So socially responsible young women.
But a lot of the older people here, older, I mean, you know, in their 20s and early 30s, they are not thinking that way.
They're thinking, I want to make a mark in the world, and what I want to make a mark in is to, you know, do this, get more money, and then sell it and make my fortune and retire.
And, you know, I don't see...
That's why I'm pessimistic, because I think they're very short-sighted in what they're doing.
Makes sense. I was curious, in terms of human behavior, were you surprised at all throughout these last years of changing?
Any surprise for you, for your career?
It's difficult to say there was a surprise. What I was really pleased about was the community spirit that arose in...
You know, I live in London, I live in a square.
Everybody worked together. We all came out onto the doorstep at 5 o'clock to make sure everybody was OK when it was in the severe end of lockdown.
That people, you know, did odd jobs for people, that they couldn't have bought things from shops when they couldn't get out.
All of those things were really, really positive.
Great sense of community, which, you know, is a sense of behaviour change, because it isn't one, you know, I'm only going to do it for me.
It was about doing it for the whole community. And I think that was a really positive thing that I saw in terms of behaviour change.
There were lots of behaviour changes that happened even before anybody locked down.
You could tell on the GPS, you know, people were slowing down, not going to work, not going to the shops.
All of those things were, you know, were happening way before anybody told them to.
So that's another positive thing, it's that people are taking in data, evaluating it and deciding for themselves what they think is a good thing to do.
So those are very positive things about how our behaviour changed.
In terms of future of work, more flexibility, more people asking for flexibility, stay at home, what do you think, it will stick?
I think it might stick, but I can tell you, as a hybrid worker at the moment, that it is very hard to hybrid.
It's easier to work at home all the time or to work at work.
But to do both is tough, although the enjoyment of meeting somebody face-to-face is fantastic.
And because in the work that I do, it's the informal contacts which changes, you know, changes science really, changes knowledge and provides that extra support that you need if you're only seeing one person in your house and just walk.
The other thing you do is you only walk between your computer and the kitchen.
You know, that isn't so good for you in terms of a lifestyle choice.
But hybrid working, I think, will continue for quite a while.
There are some companies that are selling up. Their office space, because they don't think they need as much.
And there are people who like the idea of having the flexibility of working at home.
And certainly, people are now thinking about moving out of big cities, because if they only have to go to work once a week or once a month, then they could easily live in a nicer place than in the middle of a big city.
That's a positive, right? But it just means that inner cities will die as places to socialize.
So a lot of the small businesses that are in those cities, like the coffee shops and the sandwich shops, which are used by office workers, will actually die.
So there will be changes which will take a while for us to adapt to, I think.
Makes sense. Thank you so much for your time.
It was perfect. Thank you. ¶¶ ¶¶ ¶¶