On June 4–5, Minsk (Belarus) hosted EMERGE, the largest IT conference in Eastern Europe. Speakers from all over the world flocked to the capital of one of the fastest growing technological hubs in the region. There, they shared their valuable insights on what’s on the tech table today. Iflexion lucked out to visit the conference and share its key takeaways with the world.
Lit with club-like neons, the conference venue hardly left anybody in doubt about what to do. Three stages welcomed a total of 64 speakers from the US, UK, and Europe. At the same time, the Startup Alley hosted 127 teams from 20 countries, all there to present their products to those interested. Meanwhile, the Mix & Match Zone played host to the attendees in search of new business partners.
As for the conference’s biggest intrigue, it was surely the EMERGE Challenge, where 11 shortlisted startups were competing for a €10,000 reward. Every startup presented their 3-minute pitches to the jury of practicing investors, with the prize awarded to Usedesk, an AI-enabled helpdesk platform.
From great speeches to epic parties and side-events, we tried to be everywhere so not to miss a single idea voiced. Now we share what impressed us most.
Artificial Intelligence Won’t Kill Creativity
Dr. Lev Manovich lives in New York and teaches Computer Science at the City University of New York. He also studies how technologies influence modern media, which became the topic of his keynote at EMERGE. In his speech, Dr. Manovich addressed the common fear that AI will kill art eventually.
From image correction to creating unique artworks, AI is finding more applications in arts. Many worry that such excessive use of technologies would smash creativity and lead to AI-run “aesthetic totalitarianism.”
Manovich rejected that idea and noted that art had always been somewhat algorithmic. To prove it, he showed the works of Jackson Pollock, an artist who always tried to break predictability but, according to Manovich, still followed certain algorithms in his art.
Manovich made a point that we shouldn’t fear the algorithm but embrace it. Bringing together the best from such disciplines as AI consulting and art, we’ll be able to transform the very act of creation, Manovich predicts.
[Lev Manovich believes that art has always been algorithmic, and these abstract works by Jackson Pollock were to prove it.]
Synthetic Flavors Is the Future of Food
If you still choose products labeled ‘organic’, you’d probably found Alexandra Genis’s speech quite thought-provoking. Alexandra is a founder of TAS2R, a Critical Food Design studio that literally creates the food of tomorrow.
She opened her speech by asking the audience whether broccoli looked organic to them. As the majority voted “yes,” Alexandra justly noted that broccoli doesn’t grow in the wild but only on human-made fields. The speaker stated that this fact really questions the ‘naturalness’ of food we believe to be organic. All in all, most of the snacks we eat are already wholly artificial, so why not become a little more creative in our artificialness?
In her studio, designers and biologists are working on synthetic flavors. Mixing available molecules, they develop different tastes, from well-known ones like strawberry to something completely new. The method of molecule blending allows adding absolutely any taste to edible substances. At long last, it might help us feed the growing population that is soon to hit 9 billion people.
[Alexandra showing how the food of tomorrow can look like]
Tech Industry Is Going Through Rough Times Mentally
Steward Rogers, a digital nomad and tech industry veteran, visited EMERGE to share his ideas on what’s wrong with the mental health in the industry. That’s for a solid reason: according to him, the number of suicides and bipolar disorder cases among startup founders skyrocketed during the last ten years.
Rogers believes that these sobering numbers are the after-effect of today’s entrepreneurial culture imposing a high level of stress, endless deadlines, and fundraising pressure.
In his speech, he offered startups and tech companies to get away from the office environment more often. Rogers reminded that taking yourself away from the computer screen and reconnecting with nature is an excellent way to refresh. Meditation, he claimed, could also help you feel better — it rewires the brain and puts you in a state of mind when you entirely focus on the present moment.
Rogers also recommended playing more, be it just swings or a family football match. That’s because when one plays, their mind is subconsciously planning the next piece of work to get down to.
Nike Uses Technology for Creating Best-Match Footwear
Lysandre Follet, Director of Computational Design at Nike, told how the company uses technology for creating sneakers that perfectly fit every particular athlete.
Nike puts sensors on an athlete’s body and uses motion capture and high-speed video to objectively see a sportsperson in motion. Nike’s testing room is also equipped with force plates taking thousands of an athlete’s measurements every second.
All the gathered data helps to form best-match sneakers as they support every move a sportsperson makes while running or jumping. Following this method of generative design, Nike manages to create the shoes that match not only an athlete’s shoe size but also other no less important characteristics.
Startups Go on Changing the World for the Better
On the second day of the conference, all the attendees and finalists were on the watch for the EMERGE Challenge results. Among the teams having made it to the finals were such startups as RedTrack, Speakus, Swipio, Epico, and WebTotem.
In the end, the €10,000 prize landed in the hands of Usedesk. The startup developed an AI-powered helpdesk platform connecting up to eight B2B communication channels within a single interface. With the help of AI, users can also set up autoreplies for standard requests and create rules to change statuses automatically.
While not getting to the finals, some participating startups gained traction too. Skinive.com is a startup that developed an AI-powered app that can detect dermatological conditions by skin images. While demonstrating their product at the Startup Alley, the Skinive team detected a pre-cancer form of skin neoplasm for one of the EMERGE participants. The diagnosis was later confirmed by two dermatologists.
Bonaka became another startup discovery as it got an investment promise from The Untitled Ventures. Bonaka is a biotech company that uses bacteria solutions for cleaning industrial equipment like heating systems, heat exchangers, and boilers. The cleantech team says this method causes no structural changes to equipment.
[Startup Alley really lived up to its name]
This was only a sketch of some of the amazing EMERGE participants. In reality, each speaker and startup had a great idea to share, and their passion for what they do was nothing but a bout of motivation for all of us.
We had a great time networking and feeding off some of the most exciting speeches from tech insiders. In the end, we left EMERGE with a conviction: the age when technologies break through the boundaries of what we deem impossible now is just around the corner.