Organizing one of Europe’s largest conferences for Artificial Intelligence: RISE OF AI 2017

Hosting a conference is not an easy task. And I find many similarities to run a startup. You need funding, a strong team, a concept, a business model, traction, marketing and execution.

Therefore I would like to share my insights in organizing one of Europe’s first and largest conferences for Artificial Intelligence in Berlin: Rise of AI.

Briefly about me: I am an investor into AI and I like to speak & write about AI.

It started small a few years ago. At the beginning we where 15 people meeting at cbase in Berlin for one evening. We discussed Ray Kurzweil and his theory of the Singularity. I decided to give the concept a greater platform to reach more people. I hosted the first Rise of AI meetup with 70 people and then six months later again with 180 people. Both evenings we had great talks and a waiting list of 700 interested ones. There seemed to be a demand.

So far so good. I decided last September to make Rise of AI a full day conference. Mainly because I want to place Berlin on the map for Artificial Intelligence, to connected the greatest minds and to prepare humanity for the upcoming Rise of Artificial Intelligences.

Like with a startup, you beginn with the team.

A small and powerful team

I didn’t think much and asked my wife right away. She is an event manager for 10 years and runs her own agency for digital clients. I have the vision and network, but she has the operational skills. We can call her the COO, while I took over as CEO & CFO. My task was the program, speakers, partnerships, website, financials and ticket sales. Veronika was in charge for every other detail like catering, location, design, HR or furniture. While it sounds minor, she did the major part of the work.

We worked together not only, because she is a professionell and has great experiences. Additional because I like to work with those, who I trust. I run my investment firm with my father; my conference with my wife and my political activities with my sister.

Pick the right date

You will never find a date, where there won’t be other events. However I tried to avoid events the same day, where my potential guests would rather go to. Therefore I compiled a list of 200 events and analzed their ticket prices, content, strategy, target group, partners, place and date.

Conference season begins in September and Ends in June. We opted for May, since Berlin is the most beautiful in May. Additional there were no larger AI conference announced for May at this time.

Find the a location which fits your needs

Normally finding a great location is tricky. Most event spaces are too small, too expensive or already booked. It takes a lot of time to research them and to visit the spaces.

We finally chose the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin. It was perfect, since it has room for 350 people and fits wonderful to the storyline talking about Artificial Intelligence. Where else can you speak about the future when not at the place, where it was created? For example you could see the (re)build of the Z3 there – the first programmable computer build in the 1930s/1940s by Conrad Zuse.

No concept no conference

Similar to a business plan, you need a concept for you vision, mission and milestones. Who do you want to target? What shall be the content? Who can speak about these topics?

I have worked for months on the concept and it never has been finished. It was important for me to have a storyline:

  • What is Artificial Intelligence?
  • What is the Future of Artificial Intelligence?
  • What are the implications of the Rise of Artificial Intelligence?

First we start in the present, then speak about the future and its consequences.

Furthermore it was important for me to invite those, who know something about AI (scientists and entrepreneurs) and to connect them with those, who would like to learn more (politicians, journalists, top level managers).

In retrospective I have to admit, that politicians do not care for the future, technologies and Artificial Intelligence. Each of them passed on us.

The media was more interested, but inviting journalists sucks. The had the highest no-show quota (people who have a ticket and do not show up). First (many, but not all of them) write you an email with demands. Then they threaten you do write a negative article in their (dying) newspaper, if you do not invite them FOR FREE. Third they get a ticket but do not show up.

I have made better experiences with bloggers.

Content is King

Like for SEO, content is king at conference. Most conference I have visited (>100), the content was not strong enough. Therefore I intended to change that.

I prepared a long list of speakers and checked everyone of them: personal interview, hours of youtube talks, obtaining references and narrowing down possible topics.

That was the part of the organizing, which I enjoyed most. Within my network I was able to win many speakers. Since I am active in the Artificial Intelligence industry, it is easier for me to judge the competence of possible speakers.

By the way it is difficult to win comparable qualified female speakers. There are just significantly more men in the AI business. Nevertheless we emphasized to integrate woman in our content program.

Additional it is hard to find a lighthouse speaker. A lighthouse speaker is someone, everyone knows. The only person everyone wanted to see, was Elon Musk. However even I asked Elon politely, he did not react. I understand that. I would be busy too, if I would build rockets, autonomous cars, send people to Mars, work on Brain Computer Interfaces, dig tunnels, stop the AI apocalypse and fight global warming.

Winning partners is sales

To win a partner is similar to customer sales. If you get a deal, everyone is happy. However it takes a lot of time to make that happen. Sales Cycles were between 2 weeks and 4 months. I had to speak with hundreds of peoples before we closed it down with four partners (KPMG, IBB, HTGF, Axel Springer). I am very thankful for their support, since they helped us to pre-finance the event.

As usual I created a CRM, a lead list and funnel for sales. Partners received from us a combination of tickets, branding and content collaboration.

Always be selling tickets

Really. Sales almost never stops. You start on day one with crazy early bird and most often you sell until the event day. However we were lucky to be sold out a few weeks before the event.

I loved the moment when eventbrite sent me an email, that someone bought a ticket. It reminded my at my former business of selling wedding-dresses. I guess successful sales gives you a boost of dopamine.

There is no golden rule how to sell tickets. Even I tried a lot, no channel was scalable and 100 % trackable. Therefore I used a combination of discounts, personal invitation, facebook, adwords, SEO, cooperations and word-of-mouth. If you know how to sell tickets easier, please let me know.

Events are expensive

For a one day conference you can spend >100k €. If you care for the security and well-being of your guests, nothing should be cheap.

First you need a location and for >350 people, the costs are often 10,000 € to 35,000 € per day. You need the location one day before (for installation), during the event day and one day after (disassembly). That makes three days you have to pay for.

Second catering is expensive. You have to calculate between 50 € and 100 € per person per day, depending on the quality. If it is cheaper, you should not eat it.

Third you have to pay for the electronic equipment. You need a stage, screens, monitors, lighting, beamers, wiring and several technical people during the event and the days before and after.

Then you have to rent furnitures, chairs, tables and lounges. They have to be shipped, assembled and disassembled.

You need some funding for performance market. Additional you should treat your speakers well.

You should not forget insurances, since you rent equipment worth millions. You have to pay fees for certification, applications and safety concept.

Next you have to hire the temporary staff. That includes hostesses for check-in, cash desk, cloakroom, beverages, food, speaker management and cleaning. Additional you need security guards before, during and after the event.

Additional there are hundreds of minor costs, which will show in your profit loss statement: like designer, printing, name tags, logos, garbage collection, event app, speaker presents and floral arrangements.

If you do not have experiences with events, you will most likely forget plenty of things you need. Furthermore there is the risk, that service contractors will not offer you the best possible deal.

You have to pre-finance your conference

To reach break-even is hard and a very important milestone. However more concentration you need for the liquidity management. Ticket sales tend to come in late but most costs occur before. You have to make advance payments for furnitures, equipment and service providers. Additional you face the risk, that one of your service providers go bankrupt and you lose your money.

On top the costs are always higher than expect. Insurances, fees, paper work and other unexpected expensive will have to be paid.

Therefore it is important to have partnership and sell early bird tickets. Even the early bird tickets are sold with a negative contribution margin.

An interesting side fact is, that most guests get the maths wrong. They take the highest ticket price and multiple it with the expected number of guests. The truth is, that 95 % of guests go for the cheapest ticket, 4.8 % buy the middle one and 0.2 % take a premium ticket.

We got something right

It was right to work with my wife. She is a great business partner and I could not have done it without her.

It was right to start early. After the event is before the event. No time to loose.

It was right to give everything. You are never finished.

It was right to invest in content and great speakers.

It was right to support networking amongst our guests.

It was right, how we did marketing. I really do not know what worked well, but since we were sold-out, something had worked.

However we have areas to improve

Mistakes are made. I messed up the ticketing system internally. Instead of creating tickets for speakers, partners, media, team and paying guests; I sorted the tickets from business perspective (going after price). That made operations a bit more complex.

Additional I underestimated the amount of late ticket buyers and partners. Many people wanted to join, when we were sold out.

It is interesting to observe, that even you invite people every month for half a year, they “forget” to buy their ticket and then ask for it on the day of the event.

Some people do not read emails and then complain about lack of information. Do they expect I call them? Sorry, but we don’t have an AI for that yet.

We had a system with catering coins. The idea was to provide food and beverages faster. However it did not work out as expected. We won’t do it again.

Speakers were great but limited in depth. I have a long list of topics I was not able to cover. For 2018 our program will try to fix that.

Our target group was not narrow enough. We had a wonderful mixture of people (corporate CEOs ate lunch with Transhumanists), but for networking that was not optimal.

Rise of AI 2018 – learn how to apply Artificial Intelligence

What are our next steps? Preparation for 2018 has already started.

For 2018 we would like to grow to 500 people – again in Berlin. I will introduce a second stage for more depths.

Stage one will be for Artificial Intelligence Vision:

  • What is Artificial Intelligence today?
  • How to create ethical and safe AI?
  • Consequences from the Rise of AI for society?
  • Strategies and Use of AIs
  • Regulation and support of AI systems
  • Should AIs be allowed to lie?

Stage two will be for Artificial Intelligence Applied.

  • What is the progress in deep learning and transfer learning?
  • How do I build an AI?
  • How do I use AI in my company?
  • Use cases from experts, who have build AIs before.

In case you would like to joins us for Rise of 2018, then sign up at www.riseof.ai to get an early invitation and the best offers.

Following some impressions:

AI First – Artificial Intelligence Is Taking off in 2017

From online-first to mobile-first, we are currently entering the phase of AI-first. Artificial Intelligence is the consequence of an online, digital, connected, mobile, data-driven, computerized world. Let me explain why.

The 5 Main Drives for the Rise of Artificial Intelligence

There are five main drivers supporting the current Rise of Artificial Intelligence.

The more data the better for Artificial Intelligence

Nowadays almost everything is based on data. We humans measure, store and analyse everything imaginable. Every machine is based on data, with everything ultimately reducing down to a zero or a one.

The amount of data we produce as humans and machines is increasing every year. The more data we produce, the more of it we can feed into Artificial Intelligence systems. Why? Because we need it. The more data generated, the more complex our environment gets. Artificial Intelligence helps us to reduce some of that complexity.

Cloud solutions have started a process in which data is no longer stored on just one physical server, but is accessible everywhere at all times. This means the data can be harnessed more easily and used by other software, including AIs. Some call it the API economy, and even now Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication already creates more data than human-to-human communication.

Artificial Intelligence is embedded into hardware

Chips are the brains of computers and they are getting a lot smarter. Google builds its own AI chips, as do Microsoft and Nvidia. The special chips they create are suitable for running neural networks and other machine learning tools which can support smarter AIs.

Soon these chips will meet the Internet of Things wave. AI-strengthened chips will be integrated into mobile phones, tablets, cars, drones, vending machines, robots and TVs. We can expect an intelligence upgrade for electronic items.

Software becomes smarter and hybridized

Every day there are really smart people out there improving on tools to create Artificial Intelligences. We are also starting to see more and more hybrid systems which combine expert systems, machine learning, bots and deep learning.

Deep learning has been around for 15 years, but has only come to the public’s attention in the last 3 years. There are therefore still a lot of findings and research results to be analysed and applied to real-world problems.

Universities researching machine learning and cognitive systems are now getting more attention, funding, clients and applicants. The academic world is awakening from its hibernation.

It is going to be easy to build your own Artificial Intelligence

You want to build your own AI one day? Deepmind has opened their own open source lab. OpenAI offers Universe for training of AIs. Google also shares Tensorflow. You can also use Theano and Torch.

There are already plenty of tools and soon there will be even more. Day by day, creating, building and training Artificial Intelligence systems will become easier and easier until we reach a democratization of intelligence creation.

Capital follows the entrepreneurs into AI

Over the last two years we have seen a surge in AI companies. Not everything which is labelled AI contains an AI inside. Maybe 90% of the companies are applying machine learning, but they aren’t building a self-improving, cognitive system.

Nevertheless, the trend is very positive. And where the ideas are, the money follows. Americans VCs have poured billions of dollars into AI startups.

Google, Twitter, Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce, Facebook, eBay, Oracle – they have all recently purchased young AI companies.

Consequence of the Rise of Artificial Intelligences

New technologies always bring about change.

Four steps towards Artificial Intelligence

There are four steps for a company to reach Artificial Intelligence.

From Big Data to AI

Firstly, data needs to be collected, stored and analysed. This is outdated thinking and tells you something about the past.

Secondly, machines start to make predictions based on the data. These predictions help humans to make faster, easier and better decisions.

Thirdly, machines make predictions, execute them, measure the results and then change the inputs and constraints to optimize the output goal.

Fourthly, machines achieve automation. They are becoming motivated cognitive agents and are able to use their various learned behaviours to create new transferable knowledge.

Most (old-economy) companies are at stage one or below. They know they have data and start collecting it.

Many digital companies (ecommerce, mobile, gaming) work with their data and are often on stage two.

Google, Amazon, Facebook & Co are leading the applied AI fields. Some parts of their companies are on stage three.

Stage four will come. Some brilliant teams are working on it.

You have to train an Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence systems have to be trained. It’s no longer a case of programming them and thinking they’re finished. An AI is never finished. There is always more it can learn, get better at, improve and ultimately deepen its knowledge.

Modern AI is like a child. You have to teach the AI everything: how to understand text, how to watch videos, how to listen to audio or how to generate language.

Some fields are easier to learn, like computer vision. Other tasks are much harder, such as understanding text.

Artificial Intelligence is eating your business

The new wave of AIs, often implemented by digital companies and start-ups, will eat many smaller businesses for breakfast. AI is a horizontal technology. It is impacting many industries (logistics, automotive, pharmaceutical, insurances, media, manufacturing, retail), systems (networks, cities, states), companies and humans.

In general, AI achieves two things. It makes processes more efficient and it makes stupid machines smarter. A self-driving car is smarter than a human-driven car. Using the Google search algorithm is more efficient than going to the library.

A future with less human work

However, this leads to several challenges.

One challenge is that applied AIs will drive companies out of business, force political change and force individual humans to adapt.

The other challenge is that millions of tasks will be done by machines. New jobs will be created (e.g. machine trainers), and there will be less demand for human labour. Why? Because that is why we invent machines in the first place (watch my TEDx talk to learn more or read 22 jobs disappearing in future); so that they work for us.

Artificial Intelligence is neither evil nor bad. It is a tool we use to generate more wealth, more happiness and more health for humans on earth. But change is never comfortable. AI forces the human species to leave their current comfort zone.

AIs brute force experiences

So what else can we expect? AI systems are already developing their own languages and encryption methods. Other AIs are able to generate images and videos. There are plenty of exciting things coming to the market over the coming years.

We can assume that some technical problems will be overcome: unclean data, unstructured data, limited access to data and biased data.

Furthermore, machines struggle with high degrees of abstraction during their learning phases. Humans today still learn more efficiently than machines. To achieve similar levels of intelligence, we have to train machines with significantly more data. Google’s AlphaGo was only able to beat the human world champion at Go because the AI system practised by playing millions of games. Since AIs can learn faster and in parallel, they brute-force experiences.

Another academic challenge is to build cognitive systems which can generate transferrable knowledge. This means combining different modules of an (artificial) brain.

AI is good for humankind

Sure, there is more: AI-assisted teaching, the jobless future, income equality, personalized medicine, self-moving objects, personal assistants for everyone.

The wide application of Artificial Intelligence will lead to prosperity, lower energy costs, more mobility, free education, longer and healthier lives and increased luxury.

Currently, AI is a bit overhyped because Hollywood, Techcrunch and Journalists find it easier to write about AI than other topics. Nevertheless, the underlying trends are strong. AI won’t go away. We should look forward to and embrace it.

If you would like to have a full day of great insights into Artificial Intelligence, then join our conference Rise of AI May 2017 in Berlin. If you just like to talk, ping me via twitter. If you look for capital, then check out Asgard – human VC for AI.

7 reasons you should join us for Rise of AI 2017 – Artificial Intelligence conference in Berlin

Rise of AI is one full day to learn about the status of Artificial Intelligence, think about the future and discuss its implication for society. 7 reasons why you should join too.

Europe’s most exciting conference for Artificial Intelligence

We started small. First 20 people at cbase speaking about “Did Singularity already happen?“. Then 100 futurists met at hub:raum and spoke about “Rise of AI – The Singularity might be closer than you think“. Half a year later, 170 forward-thinkers came together at Betahaus for “Rise of AI – Human coexistence with Machines“.

Now we are hosting the third time Rise of AI (www.riseof.ai) for 350 guests. We organize an exciting, intellectual, inspiring and unique event about Artificial Intelligence here at Berlin. We invite the greatest minds to the Deutsches Technikmuseum to discuss, talk, network and understand.

7 reasons why you should come to Rise of AI

#1 Artificial Intelligence is critical

Currently everyone talks about AIs. But what are AIs? Elon Musks warns us, as well as Hawking and Gates. Do you understand what AIs can do today? Have you thought about the progress of AIs the next years? You should. It could be the last invention of human kind.

#2 Superhealth. Superhappiness. Superwealth.

Artificial Intelligence has influence on your health, your wealth, your personal happiness, your free time and your job. Are you only an observer and watch it rolling over? Or do you want to be active and influence the change!

#3 Strong content

We have invited really amazing speakers. Prof. von der Malsburg hat 50 years of AI experiences. William Hertling writes crazy-creative books about AI conquering the world (12 books you should read to prepare for Singularity). Dr. Trent McConaghy combines AI + blockchains and believes machines take over the world. Prof. Danko Nikolic is a brain researcher and does not agree with Trent. Joel will moderate the day. And even some members of the German Bundestag have signed up.

#4 Interactive program

Keynotes can be great, but knowledge goes only one way. Therefore we have organize AI-Topic-Leaders. These are small workshops, where you can discuss more current topics with experts. Accelerated Dynamics will show us some autonomous drones and AI-startups will give us demos of their products.

#5 Meet the speakers and network

I don’t like it, when after a talk the speaker disappears. Therefore our speakers will be at their tables and open for a more personal Q&A sessions. Use this opportunity to meet them.

Additional networking is key for us. There is plenty of time and reason to meet new people, learn, exchange ideas and make contacts.

#6 We have a mission

We (my wife and I) organize Rise of AI, because we have a mission. We want to educate about Artificial Intelligence. We wish, that AIs will help us humans to conquer the galaxy one day. AIs will make our lives better, longer and more convenient. Additional there are challenges and risks (from jobless future to superintelligence). We need to address them before it is too late. Therefore Rise of AI is a platform for interested people to meet, discuss and learn.

#7 Historical location to talk about the future

Where else do you want to talk about the future? The Deutsche Technikmuseum Berlin is a historical location, where the past meets the future. You can see the first computer (Z1 by Zuse) and other great inventions of human kind.

Deutsches Technikmuseum

Do you need more reasons? Then check out our speakers and our program.

If you would like to have a ticket, for the first 10 readers of this article I give you 50 € off. 

Rise of AI 2016 – Videos & Summaries

25/02/2016 we were host to Rise of AI – the Singularity might be closer than you think. It was a great evening with 100 invited guests from various fields: researchers, investors, thinkers, corporates, journalists and developers.

It was a pleasure to meet old friends and new faces. For everyone not able to attend, we have recorded the evening.

Introduction by Fabian Westerheide

What is the Singularity for you?
Why do we humans invent machines, which shall replace us?
What do we do, if we have nothing to do?

Ronnie Vuine – Intelligence Automation

It is hard to talk about singularity, if you can’t see it. For the last 300 years humans are riding the exponentiell curve of techno capital. Intelligences are necessary to manage complex system. Therefore technocapital leads to perfect intelligence automation.

Prof. Dr. Danko Nikolic – AI-Kindergarten

Danko is a brain scientists, who started to work on AI. He claims, that humans will not achieve human-like artificial intelligence near term, since we lack 9 billion years of evolutionary learnings.

Ehssan Dariani

Ehssan talks about social and economical impact of AI. He says, that change takes time and we need patience. In 20 years, the bottom 99 % will live like the top 1 % of today. Therefore billionaires need to pay more taxes, the unconditional basic income should be introduced and drugs will be legalized.

Jan Klauck

Jan speaks about integrating AI into society.

Panel discussion

Samim Winiger and the speakers talk about:

Do we need to understand the nature of intelligence to build AGI?
How will the world look like in 50 years?
How does technology influence policies?
What are the implications of the slowdown of Moore’s law?
What are the consequences of increasing automation for human jobs?

Contact us anytime

Get in touch with us:contact@asgard.vc