Selected SXSW lectures takeaways

As you may have read in another article we recently visited SXSW conference held in Austin, Texas. Our main goal for this event was actually exhibiting during the trade show but somehow I managed to attend few talks held there and I decided to share some insights from the best ones:)

The first was conducted by Amy Balliett (CEO of Killerinfographics), bearing an eye-catching title "The Visual-First Method: Boost Conversions Now".

The main idea of her talk was to show people how important a cohesive design strategy is when it comes to creating good infographics, and how important visual media actually is.

I really enjoyed the scientifical facts presented to support this idea --- I selected a few of them so you could get the idea.

  • The audience will read only 20% of the text when it's over 600 words.
  • 91% of the audiences will choose visual content over traditional form
  • The brain is wired to process visual information 60 000!!! Times faster than any other form.
  • Text paired with images improves understanding by 80%

Later on, she explained how to create a cohesive strategy, share it through the company and make sure that everybody uses the right materials. She discussed the use of specific forms (video vs images) for social channels and surprisingly, the video is not always the king:) For example, Facebook is so much flooded with videos that for some audiences it is actually better to come back to pure images as they are way less disruptive at this point:)

The last thing to remember from this talk is that at this point heavy usage of stock materials will not do the trick. That is why it's important to create "visual workbench" which will consist of original materials that can be used by the whole team.

They actually created an e-book that is probably worth checking out judging by the quality of the talk itself.\

The second talk was held by Bessie Lee (CEO of Withinlink) and its title was "How AI is Changing Advertising in China".

This talk was actually mind-blowing for me. Naturally, the thing that is drawing your attention here are the numbers. Just to give you a sample:

  • By 2020 China will have 20% of global data
  • 50% of AI-related fundraising took place in China.
  • 50% of new patents related to AI are registered there

Another thing that was pretty simple but changed a lot in my understanding of the AI market in China was stating an obvious fact. No other country in the world will have that much AI-potential as the markets are heavily regulated to avoid monopolistic approach. In China, people are used to the fact that government knows everything about them so they do not mind if there's another company that knows the same (or even more) as long as they will get something in return. And oh boy, they do get a lot in return.

Bessie showed examples like

  • AI used to control bus drivers to avoid accidents (successfully)
  • AI operated hotpot restaurants
  • Building a whole new city in size of Chicago that will be packed with all new technologies. All of that government funded.

And speaking about the government --- they actually do a lot to support this new trend. They have huge funding and support in a way that is really amazing. Currently, they are pursuing heavily autonomous driving as they see some salvation in this trend when it comes to huge traffic in cities.

They also have a huge talent pool and (as mentioned before) a lot of data which gives them the best potential to be a global AI leader.

But the topic was actually about advertising --- and this is where this monopolistic approach gives unimaginable opportunities that will probably never be available in Europe. The main example was WeChat which basically is a combination of all our social media and online services within one big company. I do not probably have to mention what possibilities are there if you have ALL THE DATA in one place and are able to use AI to connect the dots:)

I will not dwell on that, just watch this video, it's mind-blowing.

How China Is Changing Your Internet\ What was once known as the land of cheap rip-offs may now offer a glimpse of the future - and American companies

Another direction they are pursuing is creating smart homes. But it's not smart in a way that we imagine (some add-ons to current home --- IoT based) --- they are actually building homes that control themselves according to the user status. So imagine that the house will change the lightning, offer you drinks or order some things depending on the sensors that are somehow connected to your body. That is really smart, right?:)

Last cool example of using China big data potential is online research. They basically created a huge platform that gathers a lot of people to create focus groups that amount to millions of people --- that is the dream of every statistician:)

The third talk I personally attended was conducted by Poppy Crum(Professor at Stanford University)--- Empathetic Technology and the End of the Poker Face.

At the beginning, I had a bit of a problem with this one. It seemed a bit chaotic and I was not sure where Poppy was taking us with her thoughts. But soon (after like 10 minutes) I realized it's not because she doesn't have a plan or she doesn't know what she's talking about. It is quite the opposite. She had so many things to tell us that it took some time before the path was visible. And oh my, what a path it was:)

From my perspective, the most interesting part was about humans changing the way they perceive technology and the way we feel about the fact that it will know us better than ourselves at some point. She is actually enthusiastic about it and sees some kind of hope in this trend --- she defended how potentially frightening things may actually make the world a better place.

She claims that when machines will be able to capture neural and physical metrics they will be able to ensure that we will experience better lives.

An example from the past she used was Bach's music --- she said that he actually found a way to manipulate our brains to make us feel better --- a simple, yet somehow powerful example.

Another area that will be affected is our relationship with the spaces around us (our work, our homes or even transportation). A cool thing is that because of direct connection to each person technology will no longer have "one size fits all" approach but instead will be very much tailored to each individual needs --- which may be extremely important in all tech that is related to our health for instance. What's more, we will be able to predict a lot of illnesses way earlier than we are now because of big data and detailed feedback and also control our environment in a way that would be beneficial to our condition. Imagine that some kind of device (maybe even your phone) would be able to see the earliest symptoms of schizophrenia months or years before the doctors are able to now. Basically, personalized medicine and healthcare, in general, would be a great benefit to society.

Another really interesting part of her talk was about the sensors itself. So basically, what can be used to understand our feelings, emotions and current state?

  • The chemical composition of our breath!
  • In-ear sensors that can gather far more data than you would imagine (like cognitive load, stress levels or even gaze direction)
  • Voice analysis
  • Eyes analysis (through smart glasses)

As you see there are a lot of interesting topics covered and believe me, I just touched 40% of what she said:) The most interesting claim was said towards the end of the talk and it was about our personal freedom. A lot of people are afraid that giving away our data takes away our freedom at the same time. She claims otherwise --- because of the fact that machines would be able to prevent a lot of bad things from happening we will actually gain freedom we never had before (for ex. Preventing mental episodes).

As a summary I would also recommend watching one of her TED talks --- I think you will understand why it's exciting to think about the possibilities the tech may give us.

Unfortunately, the list ends here as my time was limited. I was actually a bit sad because the topics I've seen were really interesting and I truly hope that I will have an opportunity to visit this conference just as an attendee and be able to focus on the knowledge that is shared here:)