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June 28, 2018

The Collective at Tech Open Air 2018

Alyssa Jaffer

Last week, our team packed our bags and jetted off to Berlin to explore the Tech Open Air festival. TOA (toe-ah, as it’s called by the techies) is two days of all things tech – from robot arm demos and VR helmets to what’s new in blockchain (block lattices, apparently). It was an inspiring event to learn and think about what will might come in the future, and speak to those that are working now to design it. As TOA is Europe’s leading tech conference, it was particularly empowering to see and hear such brilliant minds presenting their ideas in Germany, where we are expanding to soon.

Here are our key takeaways from the week:

1. The future of cities looks innovative and even more crowded

Imagining what our cities will look like was a popular topic of discussion at TOA this year. In his talk, ‘The 10x City,’ the charismatic Amol Sarva of Knotel showed projections of how our cities will look in the next ten, fifty and one hundred years – and let me tell you, it’s looking pretty crowded.

In his analysis, our cities will continue to be the epicentres of economies, culture, innovation and human connection, but the way we live will look different. People will work everywhere – in self-driving cars that will eliminate traffic jams, in modular homes made out of shipping containers stacked on top of one another, in planes and boats and all modes of travel. As a result, we will be a more efficient in our cities – which will of course be floating, because let’s face it, climate change.

2. Women in tech are shattering ceilings and kicking in walls.

Through a fireside chat with Jeanette Epps, NASA astronaut, it was clear that women are breaking down gender barriers in all industries. Recently, Dr Epps was pulled from an epic NASA mission without cause, raising speculation that it was a decision driven by racism or sexism, as she would have been the first African-American to live at the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps at TOA 2018
Footage of Dr Epps, shown at TOA 2018
Jeanette Epps in her spacesuit, on screen TOA 2018

“There’s no time to really be concerned about sexism and racism and things like that, because we have to perform,” Epps told the Washington Post. Instead of commenting on the details of the issue, Dr Epps spoke with grace about her experiences as a scientist, and with passion and vigour when discussing her journey to becoming a space soldier. It’s clear that space exploration is her life’s purpose, and she continues on, with NASA’s missions as her main focus.

Women are rising up in other tech sectors as well. Ida Tin, CEO of feminine health app Clue, opened up about what it’s like to work in a male-dominated industry. She coined the word ‘femtech’ as a way to describe how technology can help women understand their reproductive cycles in order to live easier, better and healthier lives. It’s a play on the term ‘fintech,’ “as women need technology too,” she said.

Tin accredits a lot of her success to her business partner and Clue’s co-founder Hans Raffauf, who she jokingly referred to as her husband. But on a serious note, she told stories of how difficult it is to raise capital for her business, calling VC fundraising “a boys club.” Tin is leading the charge to convince wealthy investors (mostly men) that women’s health matters, that data is not for men alone, and that with more information and contraceptive options made available to women, with less stigma around feminine health and hygiene in societies, women can become more empowered.

3. There is no resisting technology.

This seems like an obvious one, but as much as technology pervades and enables our daily behaviours, it will even more so moving forward.

One of the most fascinating talks at the festival was about how tech can enhance fertility. Called ‘Making Babies in the 21st Century,’ it was given by the brilliant Argentine entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, founder of Prelude. Genetic testing, he said, can reduce the risk of miscarriage and abortion, by identifying embryos that are highly likely to miscarry or have severe defects – but Germany, due to it’s Nazi history, is one of the few countries that does not allow it.

He also discussed the incongruity between our lives and our bodies when it comes to reproducing – although we’re spending our 20s focussing on our careers and our social lives, when we’re young is also when we’re most fertile. And it’s not just women. Varsavsky cited a study in which men in their 20s had children with women in their 20s, as compared to men in their 40s that had children with women in their 20s. The study found that older fathers had children with greater risk of serious mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, manic depression and schizophrenia.

So, how do we reconcile our lifestyles with our so-called biological clocks? Varsavsky proposes for men and women to freeze their sperm and eggs, as a sort of fertility insurance. So you can have your 20s free, and your babies too.

Another interesting session was about sextech, delivered by Mal Harrison of the Center for Erotic Intel. She touched on how in the age of sex robots and polyamory, technology is affecting our sex lives and intimacy among partners.

As we venture into new frontiers the digital age, one thing is for sure: technology is set to continue challenging and changing our world. We learned so much at TOA, were inspired by so many fascinating ideas, and had a great time bonding with the wider team. Till next year!


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