Tech Events: Will A.I. Ethics Frame Which Ones You Attend?

As Apple, Google, and Microsoft make their cases for why developers should bother with their various platforms or services, there are a few common narrative threads. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning (ML) are starting to push their way to the foreground at tech events, and the messaging on that front feels similar between these tech firms.

A recent survey we conducted shows tech pros are, by and large, still excited about tech events. A few metrics stuck out, though: Only ten percent try to get into big events, and 11 percent say they’ll go to any event they can. To wit, that means only 21 percent of tech pros are actively trying to get to large events; the majority of respondents (39 percent) simply stream sessions and keynotes. Some 26 percent have zero interest in tech events at all.

Part of this malaise might be due to A.I. and ML. It seems each event is attempting to do the same thing with these technologies, albeit in different ways. The Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure are now positioned as delivery methods for A.I. services and features, for example.

With Microsoft Build and Google I/O both in our wake, we can draw many parallels between those two shows. Both conferences made strong cases for their own design languages, and progressive web applications as a stopgap for native apps. Cross-platform solutions aren’t discussed at these conferences; you are either encouraged to write for Android or Windows, but rarely both.

Apple’s WWDC happens in the first week of June, but we expect it to carry some of the same narrative threads. Siri improvements will be the framework for its A.I. efforts, and we may see more developer tooling around it. Native development takes center stage at WWDC, as Apple continues to shy from progressive web apps as a solution for its platforms.

Google and Microsoft may take similar approaches to A.I, ML, and their respective cloud platforms serving them up – but Microsoft is far more aligned with Apple when it comes to data privacy. As ZDNet points out, Google never once mentioned ‘security’ or ‘privacy’ during its keynote address.

Tech events Google I/O Shoreline Ampitheater
Google I/O at Shoreline. Plenty of scholarship students in attendance.

Tech Events: What’s the Difference?

It’s probably easiest to appreciate tech events from a direct angle. Microsoft is far better suited for enterprise developers; it’s where the company – with all its new synergy around Azure and Office 365 – is largely staking its claim.

Google is very focused on A.I. and ML, but its efforts all feed back through search and its ad business. It’s working hard to keep users locked in and using Google services so it can gain insight and feed them ads. That sounds sketchy, but it’s also driving some really robust tooling.

Apple is far more pragmatic, and won’t do anything unless user data privacy is safeguarded. That’s anti-thematic to the ‘move fast and break things’ thinking of much of Silicon Valley. The company also has more platform tie-in than Microsoft or Google, which both offer a wide variety of services for iOS in addition to their own platforms.

Arguments around A.I. and ML will also frame tech events moving forward. In addition to technological hurdles, the tech landscape is facing ethical questions. Should an A.I. bot such as Google Duplex try to sound human? Is robo-calling even ethical?

Platforms matter now, but the “morals” of A.I. and ML will become far more critical in the next few years, as those platforms see even wider adoption. It’s possible those developers disinterested in iOS but dedicated to data privacy will have a crossroads to contend with, when it comes to choosing tools and platforms; Apple likely won’t bring Siri to Android or Windows any time soon, and won’t compromise on privacy.

Streaming events will always be an option, but actually attending also allows you to pick the brains of those inside the company during office hours or workshops. As tech ethics move to the forefront, we think visiting an event can help you shape your own thoughts on those matters, should you be on the fence.

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