Should We Fear For The Future Of The Meetings Industry?

This article was originally shared on LinkedIn

Singularity University


In looking back at the past year, a highlight for me was attending Singularity University’s Global Summit conference in August. 

Singularity University is a Silicon Valley think tank and business incubator that challenges leaders of major corporations, world governments, non-profits, and startups to apply emerging technologies to solve humanity’s biggest challenges.

The SU Global Summit is the organization’s flagship event. It draws a high-power roster of 1,400 thinkers, leaders, and doers from 64 countries to San Francisco to hear from more than a hundred presenters.  

I had been aware of the event for years and when I was offered the opportunity to attend, I jumped at the chance. Who would miss an event where you can connect with people from Google, Cisco, Microsoft, MIT, Intel, and Sony?

For three days we listened to futurists, innovators, technologists, and humanitarians. Presenters gave us a snapshot of the not-too-distant future and offered insight into how technology is making an impact around the globe.

We heard from people advancing artificial intelligence, leading space exploration, driving medical advances, reversing global warming, solving the food crisis, fighting antibiotic resistance, and creating a world with autonomous everything.

The information was thought-provoking, challenging, and terrifying. I mean hearing that removing and replacing human memories isn’t something limited to science fiction movies was pretty unsettling.

But mostly it was inspiring. New technologies are advancing human progress and creating unexpected opportunities at breakneck speed. Global life expectancy has doubled since 1900 and child mortality has decreased by 56% since 1990. In 1981, 44% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty, today it’s less than 10%.

At the conference’s close, I found myself reflecting on all that I had heard. As a meeting professional what struck me the most probably wasn’t what the organizers had in mind.

Despite all the technological advances that our society has made over the past hundred years, people from 64 countries still had to leave their homes, fly thousands of miles, and find accommodation in San Francisco to take part in this event. These are people whose time is at a premium.

It wasn’t for lack of access; the entire event is live-streamed. In fact, thousands of people tuned in via Facebook. But even with online access, every year the number of people who attend Singularity’s Summit in-person increases.

The experience reinforced for me that as human beings we have an inherent need to connect in person - to hear from people first-hand and have discussions eye to eye.

Many people in the meetings industry have fears about what technology will mean for our livelihoods. Will our profession become obsolete and be impacted by offshoring and automation the way so many other sectors have been?

But I came away from Singularity with a renewed sense of optimism about the future. Our industry isn’t going anywhere. Will it change? There is no doubt. Will some of that change be hard? I’m sure. But as meeting planners and suppliers, we are all helping people connect and find their tribes. And that is going to be difficult to outsource to a machine. 

by Kelly Heesterman