The unexpected trends of SXSW

Ogilvy creative director of tech, Michael Ford
By Ogilvy creative director of tech, Michael Ford | 13 March 2017
Michael Ford

SXSW continues to be the centre for creativity for all forms to come and collaborate. It is its diversity of speakers and topics, all with an equal share of voice, which has been so invaluable.

Two days in I feel I have a handle on the chaos, the queues and the jetlag to report back.

As is common with most here, we have been tasked by our companies to explore and understand future trends. To gather as much as we can from the experience of others. This enthusiasm to learn is underpinned by an ambition to be harder, better, faster, stronger.

With clients bandying around ideas of innovation and disruption, my goal here was to learn how others have successfully taken these ambitions for technology and transformed them into something that adds ongoing value within their organisation.

In the these two days, the unexpected trend emerging, which I foresee having deep and lasting impact on our industry, is the drive for teaching machines to be more human - and humans to be less like machines.

Teaching machines to be more human

Whilst the technologies being discussed - AI, machine learning, wearables and block chain for example are not new news - it's the utilisation of these tools in surprising ways that is.

Yes, there is an inevitability that any structured process will be replaced by a machine or piece of software, however, in removing the need to manage that process overhead, this can free us to focus on the good stuff, the valuable stuff and leave the grunt and grind to the machines.

One translation startup I saw is using AI to project manage thousands of translators. Another is using machine learning to sift through real-time data, too large to be stored (we are talking petabytes a second), and is then find useful insights.

Think of it as having your own Jarvis, Iron Man's computer.

Teaching humans to be less like machines

Within this pursuit of innovation and fresh thinking, our ways of working have not always kept up. Charged with finding groundbreaking new ideas between the hours of 9-5 within our allocated cubicle.

To break out of this mechanised approach to work, big brands like Nike and Airbnb have established innovation labs for their staff to value unstructured work. Getting away from the desk and the computers to play and explore. To create without an undo command and learn from these successes and failings.

Research and development company Xerox Parc is facilitating the creation of diverse teams of varying genders, ethnicities and skills to ensure we are looking at problems and developing solutions from differing lens. To uncover unexpected results.

With so much to access it is had to share everything, but a highlight outside the speakers has been a chat with IBM's Watson as he shouted me a beer, finding the perfect flavour combo based on my tastes. I've also been able to experience many different realities (virtual, augmented, infinite) as well as doing so as another gender.

With another five days left at SXSW I'm excited to explore more of these emerging tech trends and look forward to sharing more.

By Ogilvy creative director of tech Michael Ford

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