Heading to Lisbon had never been on my personal map, but as soon as Girls in Tech invited me to the “House of Beautiful Business” it only took one look outside at the rain in Cambridge to convince me to pack up my bags and go. I was on a mission to discover if business, with all its desire towards money and power, could indeed be beautiful, and if technology could make us more human. This was unchartered territory that I had never really explored in such detail.

The salon of ideas

This conference was unlike any other I had ever attended in my professional life. Instead of a stale, square building with chairs lined in rows with cameras and large screens, we the participants spent the majority of the week in a simple house, lounging in couches and exploring different rooms, which became our salon of ideas. Here was the most random collection of people, ranging from CEOs of corporations to freelance website designers, to poets and photographers. We all came from different walks of life, from all over Europe and North America, somehow ending up listening to the same talks, eating the same food and drinking the same wine, mulling over deeper thoughts about what all of this really means.

The more we talked about artificial intelligence, the more emotions arose. Some people were excited for the future of automated service, having a robot who could bring you an ice cold Coke while you lounge in bed on a Saturday morning. Others were wondering what would happen to our jobs, if robots and automation really could make most of our work meaningless and out of date. Some of us wondered if how we responded to robots was making us become less human, shouting out commands or short sentences to Siri or Alexa, both of which tend to respond as a subservient woman who obeys our every command. What would our children experience in the future?

The more we talked about business, the more I realized that I had at least found the right “tribe.” These people were of course on a mission to make money and profit for themselves, but one thing everyone had in common was this feeling of compassion for others. Over the course of the week I heard many people question not only what the tech industry was doing as a whole, but what they were doing as human beings towards others. Am I really producing business that makes our world better? Am I connected to the right mission? We didn’t really find the answers to these questions, but at least we were asking the right questions. Each night we delved deeper into topics that often came out of left field:

  • What is the right kind of leader that we need in today’s collaborative business style?
  • Can AI make us more human?
  • Do we have a moral obligation to artificial intelligence?
  • At what point do robots have feelings, and become evolved past us?

By the end of the week we were like kids at a summer camp, hugging each other, laughing at each other, and swapping business cards, not because we wanted to do business, but because we wanted to stay connected as friends. Through this shared experience, I felt closer to not only discovering business, but to better understanding how I fit into this tech world, and how I can appreciate that sometimes all you need is a little human connection to get you where you need to go.