Science Fiction to Science Fact: How Future Tech Can Deliver Human Value

At Interbrand we talk about brands as living business assets. What occurred to me while immersed in the incredible SXSW 2016 is that brands are evolving, and are not only living, but conscious—with a responsibility to understand the needs and values of audiences.

This is driven by individuals who now live at what we at Interbrand call the #SpeedOfLife. They demand brands deliver contextual experiences in what we refer to as micro-moments—the short spaces of time that people allot to any one interaction.

SXSW presents the opportunity to be immersed among the most disruptive trends, thinkers, and brands. With over 30,000 people attending SXSW Interactive, and 1,250 sessions, we knew we were in for inspiration anxiety when it came to selecting the most disruptive and educational sessions to attend.

According to SAP’s analytics, themes that trend at SXSW become mainstream within 24 months, so here are the movers and shakers from this year’s festival to help bring future scenarios to life.

Calculations that compute, for real people

First up is an increased excitement around algorithms: the application of formulas that calculate outcomes from big data. It was revealed that there is a crisis of confidence in the over reliance on machines to understand the information that our algorithms are looking for. While some businesses utilize algorithms to create beautiful simple experiences—think Uber’s super-sophisticated app—it is clear that we need to rethink the questions we need answered, not the answers we are looking for. For example, self-quantifying apps are not solving health challenges—in fact many cause more anxiety by answering the wrong questions, without individual context.

“Data can tell you ‘what,’ but it can’t tell you ‘why.’ Yet.”

People teaching machines the “Why?”

While delivering personalized experiences is a huge focus for brands, the potential of value exchange is clearly not fully understood. While Fortune 500 companies can hire scientists to analyze data, families and individuals are not data literate and don’t have that luxury. We need to get machines to understand data on our behalf. A really interesting debate in the “Big Data and AI: Sci-Fi Vs. Everyday Applications” session identified that in the future, we will see a collaboration between people and machines, who will learn from one another to overcome the fact that data can tell you “what,” but it can’t tell you “why.” Yet.

AI to “Cognification,” VR to “Virtuality”

Damian Ferrar VR SXSWThe natural segue from algorithms is to AI. The inspirational co-founder of WIRED, Kevin Kelly, talked us through the shift from AI to cognification, where AI will become a service and we’ll be able purchase IQ on demand from the grid. At the moment, AI capabilities are very narrow, and machines can only learn to do one thing very well. Google’s Deep Mind computer can beat the Go world champion, but it can’t play chess.

We have to mind the two significant AI gaps: common sense and reason. This is why brands need to integrate AI with caution, as there are huge challenges to overcome. But AI can help us be more innovative as humans, who are too often driven by plausibility.

Kelly also talked about Virtuality, which will see the progress from VR to AR (augmented reality) or MR (mixed reality). Although VR was prevalent at SXSW, Kelly told us that VR is no biggie—it’s been around for over 25 years; it’s already the training ground for AR. Virtuality will introduce the Internet of experiences that will be bought, sold, and traded.

The opportunity with VR is to leverage the fact that things happen to you, so we’re seeing a shift from “first person” to “you person” interactions. Given that tactility is at least 50 percent of an experience, brands must create multisensory experiences for their audiences, in which VR will become the most social of all social media, and the value of the experience will increase by the sheer number of people involved.

Trading human value for hard data

So, as algorithms, AI, and VR become more mainstream, Star Wars director JJ Abrams encourages us to consider a few challenges presented by the increasing reliance on technology to unpack narratives. Particularly relevant to brands, Abrams reminded us that the time it takes to get the story right can’t necessarily be improved by technology, especially in a world where we crave emotional connections. We have a responsibility to create experiences for audiences that are effortless, which is difficult if you rely solely on spectacle and technology.

Ultimately, people will give up information to fuel algorithms and relationships for value. But there has to be value exchange to encourage relationships that have longevity. So, in a world where brands are conscious platforms of open algorithms, we have to remember to deliver value in the moment, with context, relevance, and emotion.

Author, teacher, and theorist, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff, drove home the need to move quickly to embrace the opportunities of technologies that are reaching critical maturity:

“In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software, or you will be the software.” – Dr. Douglas Rushkoff

Executive Director, Brand Experience