The Robots Are Coming! All You Need To Know From SXSW

The Robots Are Coming! All You Need To Know From SXSW

If the likes of metalic objects being inserted into your brain give you the heebie jeebies, best look away now. In this guest piece about the SXSW festival in the States, M&C Saatchi’s strategy lead, Alex Roper, was locked out of a number of talks and thus subjected to a robotic demonstration. Here, he gives us the lowdown on the robots, but also a number of key things to keep an eye out for…

As the interactive audiences dwindle and the sound systems roll into Austin for music week, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s been talked about in the last 7 days at SXSW and what it means for the role marketers play in the world.

Data is still important and is becoming more a part of people’s everyday lives.

What was clear in a number of data sessions I went to, is that open data trumps big data. Owning lots of data about customers and their behaviours, doesn’t make it useful in helping customers.

Aneesh Chopra, who has been helping the US healthcare providers be more effective through openly sharing data on his Nav Health platform, challenged corporates to be even more open and collaborate with other big data sets to make the information invaluable to customers. He claims this helps build trust because you’re demonstrating you’re trying to help them make better decisions about how to use your service or about their lives.

Regulations are set to change in the US to give ownership of data to individuals. Alex Laskey, Co-Founder of Opower, said this means application and tech platform creators, like Green Button Connect, won’t need a company’s permission to use data to create their finance or fitness app experience. They’ll just need the individual’s permission.  It’s easy to see how this will fragment the service industry landscape even more quickly as it is the last big weapon of commercial war that big corporates have over the little guys.

The best applications to contextualise big data to make it meaningful to people was gaming. The intrinsic rewards of learning in this context are powerful. Alex Laskey also reflected on how his company used human motivators, like competitiveness, to guide people in changing their power use.

The takeout isn’t a new one – make any experience with your data start with them and their lives, their decisions and their place in the world.

The robots are coming, but humans still need to intervene to make things happen.

Despite arriving 40 minutes early at times, I still got locked out of a few marketing sessions, but it was a blessing in disguise (a tip for those going next year – have lots of back ups).

I scampered to the nearest session. It felt like I’d stumbled on to the set of Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall. It was my first robot moment at SXSW (and there were many to be had). I was introduced to a man who plugs his brain into a computer (via a socket in his head) to move his arms again. His name was Ian Burkhart. He was on a panel of scientists whose different companies all allowed them to collaborate using all of their data and ideas to help him move again.

You can see it all here.

The session was about putting hardware in people’s brains, like a micro-chip, and re-routing brain commands through a computer algorithm to decode them and tell the body what to do. The challenges ahead in making this a take-home tech are the same as using AI in marketing – we have to constantly intervene to make the algorithm better understand what Ian really wants to do.

Algorithms and marketing automation don’t make a brand mean more to a customer without top shelf creative story-telling. Helping people make sense of information and their world is still a critical role brands and humans can play. As Brian Solis pointed out while shamelessly and inspiringly spruiking his new book, our brains are still wired the same way.

You still have to make someone feel something for a memory to be created. This was typified further by a session called ‘Humans, Not Machines: Content is About Connecting’ – a panel ruthlessly pointed out that while the temptation to shortcut the customer experience by using analytics to target people might be strong, the best results come from combining that with instinct and real people crafting stories.

However I could also see how someone like Viv could eventually take on this task. Viv, like HAL from 2001 Space Oddessy, is being taught to think like a person so he can power all sorts of apps and devices all over the world. Dag Kittlaus, who created Siri, talked about how he is aiming to usher in the era of the personal assistant where humans and machines work together. Viv exists through Kittlaus’ belief that AI should be taught by everyone on the planet, not just Steve Jobs.

So with robotics going into people and robots becoming like people, it dawned on me, what does it mean when you can implant desires and ideas into someone’s mind. What will marketers be doing to motivate people then? Given most of us will be working for another 50 years, it doesn’t feel like an unrealistic question.

The takeout: man and machine are getting closer together, but for now, a man can still tell when a machine is interacting with them.

VR is scaling quickly and will be a mainstream form of content consumption once we all stop vomiting.

Some of my travelling party laughed when they heard about a segment on VR and data analytics. But if it’s well woven in with story-telling there’s a powerful tool to make data useful in guiding decisions. To foretell what life might be like based on a decision they make about money or health or power use by situating them in that new reality is a way marketers and brands can emotionally motivate people.

Hell, I saw how someone explained the entire chronology of the universe (all born of boring science, data and static exhibitions) to life in a hugely compelling way. Ricardo Casale worked with Museum of Tomorrow in Brasil to create an immersive story about the creation of the world. Watch it here. There were some clear rules he’s learned through experimentation. Keep a fixed horizon point so people don’t spew, let people know their role in the story ie; an invisible presence (which is the sort of things people had to deal with when cameras were invented) and set your priorities to keep the experience consistent – in his case, immersion.

The takeout: VR will be a great story-teller now that people can get their hands on it. You’ve just got to make sure you’ve got a great story to tell and you keep the execution simple and purposful.

Alex and other Australian planners will be presenting their insights at an Account Planning Group event to be held in April. Subscribe for updates here and Facebook.


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