For the second of my reviews of SXSW I was struck by the importance of VR/AR/MR, this year it was much higher priority.
The VR Cinema was booked out. I had to wait 2 hours to have one of the experiences! – 11:11 by the SyFy Channel. It was an interesting example of how storytelling is becoming more gamified, with 7 linear, interlocking stories delivered inside a coherent universe and a challenge to find the last ship off a dying world.
There were other very different experiences such as an art piece based on the telegrams that were sent from the front in WW1 in which nothing could be written but only options crossed out. And an abstract environment created out of the words of a Bolivian journalist in the 19th Century.
What is clear is that the industry is exploring what boundaries can be pushed through the medium . There were talks on VR and the Law, Race and VR, Sexuality and VR and the now familiar ways that VR can build empathy. There were also explorations of how these technologies may impact humans moving forward.
Helen Papagiannis is an expert in AR and brought together these threads in her talk Augmented Humanity. She is exploring multiple AR delivery mechanisms not simply through sight but also taste, touch (haptics) and sound. And she saw it enhancing the capabilities of human beings much in the same way that Kasparov did the use of AI.
launched their AR glasses – not Augmented Reality but Audio Reality. The idea is that you can now experience truly immersive sound through headphones that respond to where your ears actually are. This isn’t Dolby Surround Sound, it’s sound delivery that changes just as it would if you were outside, heard a dog bark and turned to look for it.
It’s all signaling a move towards greater accessibility and immersion in the space. And a richer media world for us all.
This is the second of two posts about SXSW. The previous one looked at the experiential trends, you can read it here. This post is focused on the key tech trends. And there are 3 topics that kept coming up time and again:-
the implications of cars that can store and process information within the IoT,
the possibilities and the possible horrors of robot takeover
and VR’s move from fad to function.
Trend 1 – Smart cities, autonomous cars
Imagine driving to work and catching up on your latest book, or if you have kids catching up on sleep! And the ride is smooth, because there’s no stop/start, no congestion, instead you arrive on time, because the city you are driving through is smart and is managing the traffic.
Beyond that, you might have been slowed down at any point to avoid skidding on wet roads because other cars have been sending micro-weather reports to the Federal Government or to the Met Office.
Great, right? But cities and cars and governments are directly in relationship. And that relationship is raising questions.
For instance, if your car can send micro-reports about weather, it can send reports about how your car is driving. Or is that about how you are driving? And what does that mean for your privacy?
And how do you manage relationships between cars that are driving together on the same road? Do you trust them to give you the right information?
And what if a criminal decides to hack the stop signs that talk to your car and regulate city traffic stopping you from getting to vote?
What’s driving all this? IoT is established and becoming embedded in our environments way beyond tools like Nest. Manufacturers are pushing ahead, investing in AI and testing and selling autonomous vehicles. Cities see all kinds of benefits in cost reduction via things like lighting management and congestion or pollution management and government is playing catch up on policy and regulation.
No one had all the answers but the interest was intense.
Trend 2 – AI/Robot takeover
When you consider that Ford has just announced a $1bn investment in AI over the next 5 years and hotel chains like Crowne Plaza are testing a delivery robot you can see the AI and robotic services are a mainstream proposition.
There were 2 different strands to the discussion. The first was largely positive:
Amazon delivery drones on the street
Bill Ford talking about drones being released from F150s for search and delivery
Discussion of how to create sound for robots
A plea for school kids to be taught how to develop AI so that they will be able to come and study it and improve at a later date (Carnegie Mellon)
Conversations with robots in the Japan House
The second was way more cautious, almost fearful:
There are 2 other things we do not currently teach those developing AI systems – Ethics and Problem Solving. Yet they are essential to developing AI responsibly.
Implications of robotics and AI for the workforce are that ‘47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over…the [next] decade or two’ Fray and Osborne 2017
Likely to hit service and white collar workers – how do we conceive of what it means to be employed, have a job, to have self-respect and self-value etc?
The scenario that arises when an autonomous car has to choose between the safety of a crowd and the safety of its passengers
There were some great installations to explore the possibilities. IBM was there in force demonstrating the abilities of its Watson AI. I got a very wearable t-shirt based on a ‘conversation’ with Watson. There was also a system for monitoring the homes of the elderly so that they can live more independently. There was also an application that used AI to create new music based on your choice of mood or mix of styles.
There were also some ‘realistic’ robots you could have a conversation with, sort of and some creative projects exploring the use of AI in product design.
Undoubtedly the rise of robots is going to change our world. The creative classes and white collar workers have been safely insulated from the drive to automation that has decimated the blue collar workforce. The drive at SXSW was around both how that is managed and how we push towards a positive future.
Trend 3 – VR/AR/MR
It’s the cool new kid on the block and last year it was a strong emerging strand. But this year there was a whole room dedicated to VR experiences.Someone described it to me as VR finding it’s level, beginning to move from fad to function.
Many different players were there from NASA to Creative Industries Funding NL showcasing pro-social, creative and art projects in VR. There were also art installations in conjunction with for example the New Museum in New York using VR to immerse you in a different cultural experience.
And there was a lot of discussion about how it can work best. For instance, VR can be an isolating medium and we are innately social animals, so how can we best create social experiences with VR? Sony’s WoW Factory had a game played alongside/against 3 other players including motion, wind and digital interaction in the space. It was great fun and engaging to watch as well as play.
The key driver this year was the way that we may start to integrate technology into our lives far beyond looking at a screen. It is moving into a space where our life and our technology are almost inseparable. There are ethical and emotional consequences for that, but the SXSW crowd will certainly be there to explore and expose those way before the rest of us. That’s a comforting thought.
How much do you notice your environment? As a strategist at an experiential agency visiting a conference like SXSW is a busman’s holiday for me. Alongside all the talks and tech trends I am constantly observing experiential trends. This post is part 1 of a two part post on my experiences at SXSW 2017. Part 2 will focus on Top 3 Tech Trends at the conference.
Trend 1 – Colour me happy
Last year there was a strong trend for natural textures combined with high tech elements that were very often silvery or metallic. This year the naturals are still there but there was more colour everywhere. From post-it notes to displays, from lampshades to billiard tables brands were activating spaces with more attention to diverse colour palettes.
A great example was the Sony experience. The whole space was an owned temporary structure, designed to showcase tech. The build was very functional – lots of chip board and exposed scaffold. However, via clever use of coloured decals across dividing walls they brought a more structured and warm feeling to the space.
Great British House is another interesting example, coming from a different place. The UKDTI took over a bar called the Speakeasy on Congress and so they had to work within an existing aesthetic. The overall feeling was dark and traditional with lots of natural wood. So it was individual elements which lifted the space such as bright neon lights and spray painted lampshades in red,white and blue. The billiard table took the flag theme, and the walls were lifted with colourful participatory post-it notes.
The effect is informal, warm and unpretentious. It’s a development of the appeal to Millennials who love authenticity and the idea of being involved with brands at a more fundamental level.
Trend 2 – Keep it simple
If I asked you to predict future trends for next year how long would it take to answer? How much space would you need? What if I asked you how a brand experience made you feel? Most people find it easier to share short form emotional responses than dig deep into information and opinion. Trend 2 centred around finding creative ways to engage users directly, using analogue mediums. Post-it notes, flower markers in sand pits, writing directly onto walls and so on appeared in spaces as diverse as IBM, Dell and Fast Company.
The sense of something being crafted by a group, something less digital being therefore more personal seems to be what is driving this. The question stimulus was always around memory and emotion. That’s partly because it is much easier to respond to this than to have to give an expert opinion. But it’s also because it creates an emotional connection that drives a memory and above all brands at SXSW need to create a memory of relevance and modernity.
As a whole there was a sense of simplicity and analogue engagement across brand spaces which emerged out of these types of installation.
Trend 3 – Personalize
What do you take home from every conference? Swag! SXSW is no different. I got some very nice CNN shades for instance. But the main problem with swag is that it ends usually ends up in the bin or at the gym – or maybe on your kids. It’s not valued or valuable. This year brands addressed that by looking at ways to make their swag work harder through personal relevance.
Let’s start with IBM. Watson is an AI product IBM are pushing hard. It is an artificial intelligence combining data analysis with intelligent outputs to help with almost anything you can image. The IBM house this year was packed with partnerships from music creation software to home safety monitoring for the elderly and weather pattern analysis. This year’s swag was, like last year’s a t-shirt. Unlike last year’s this year’s had personal relevance, a pattern that expressed your personality as determined by Watson. After answering some questions the engine buckets you into one of 5 types I was a Mentor (most people at the conference were Mavericks or Dynamos with Mentors coming a close 3rd). As a result of engaging with Watson and IBM I have a t-shirt that is both meaningful and attractive. I might actually wear it outside the gym!
Less attractive but no less personally meaningful is this digital give aways from Great British House. A dress-up booth and some props combined with some fools produced the masterpiece you see here. A digital memento that I treasure…
Similar things were happening at CNN which took pics of you on a swing and created a gif in much the same way. And at Fast Company Ford were offering a digital selfie that showed you what an autonomous car sees when it sees you.
These gizzits are personal, more relevant than a key ring or waterbottle and of course fittingly digital.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair" - Charles Dickens
I'm the founder of the Tuttle Club and fascinated by organisation. I enjoy making social art and building communities, if you'd like some help from me feel free to e-mail me: Lloyd dot Davis at Gmail dot Com or call +44 (0)79191 82825