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Y&R's SXSW Takeaways 2017

Each year, art meets technology at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries, this year's conference featured panels, seminars, parties and live music. Topics ranged from artificial intelligence and chat bots to female leadership and social purpose, revealing future trends for brands and agencies to keep in mind this upcoming year. Here are Y&R's key takeaways from SXSW 2017.

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Y&R's SXSW Takeaways 2017

  1. 1. At SXSW this year the ‘hearables’ market was estimated to reach more than $40 billion by 2020. And Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa alone was estimated to hit $10B in the same time frame. Advanced computing has found new ways to liberate itself from the screen through systems that more accurately interpret voice recognition and natural language processing. And while devices like Alexa aren't exceedingly smart yet, what they are doing is training generations of people to speak to their devices. It also represents a significant leap forward for audio as a growing user interface. The movement reinterprets ‘mobile’ not just as a device you take with you — but rather, a more richly integrated and dynamic network that surrounds you and enables fluid communication with varied technology to augment daily life. ONE SCREEN, MULTISCREEN, NO SCREEN #YRSXSW
  2. 2. Following the 2016 election, news media faced yet another challenge: the distortion of truth. Tech played a major role in the rise of ”fake news.” But innovations in tech are also playing a key role in the efforts to combat it. At SXSW this year, Dan Rather spoke to a packed room about how the rise of fake news and distortion of truth is affecting the media. For instance, live tweeting has been abandoned by many news organizations due to the consequences of posting inaccuracies. However, in today’s digital age, the pressure to report quickly is often difficult to balance with investigating and corroborating claims. In response, reporters are making efforts to label stories published without full investigation — even if that means a longer headline. ClaimBuster is one company offering tools that can sift through mass amounts of text to fact-check claims. Also on the horizon are instant pop- up fact-checking bots on live TV. But as Rather reminded the audience, the bottom line remains: moral intent matters when it comes to the truth and journalistic mission. A lie is a lie is a lie. “ Dan Rather Former CBS News Anchor “ TRANSFORMING NEWS #YRSXSW
  3. 3. CONNECTIVITY AND ETHICS Great power comes with differentiated responsibility. As technology continues to expand the reach of brands, companies, and individuals, the call for ethical awareness was marked at SXSW this year. In his panel, Mike Godwin advocated for a proactive approach to protecting privacy — characterizing laws as fundamentally reactive. “People tend to think of one side of the equation: what threatens technology or what threats does technology pose. The law thinks of both, which is why it’s slow to adapt. But we also need to start thinking about both sides of this relationship,” said FBI General Counsel James Baker. Although digital technologies impose a new ethical framework, they also enable brands to build trust and transparency in new ways. Brands like Snapchat and Lyft have successfully challenged more established players by bringing ethics to the forefront. In our connected world, it is important to remember that humanity and technology are inextricably linked, perhaps now more than ever. #YRSXSW
  4. 4. Panels throughout the week were focused not only on the evolutions and opportunities across AI, but also on the risks. One issue of focus was the impact of computer bias and biased data sets. Shane Mac, CEO & Co-Founder of Assist stressed the importance of diverse hiring practices in tech. Speakers throughout the week agreed that creating more diverse and inclusive data sets behind AI and algorithms in the future was a key issue for companies. Without this, as technology evolves we risk compounding issues for underserved groups as biases become cemented in and persist throughout our computing paradigms. The conversation echoes the diversity gap across many industries, but carries even greater consequences as machine learning and AI technology accelerates and influences a connected world. In another session, Southeast Asia SapientNitro’s Melanie Cook summarized it well saying, “The most important question isn’t how to make super intelligence, or when will it come about. The most important question is, when it does come about, how do we make it do the right thing?” You need to have diverse perspectives when you create computers so they reflect humanity as a whole, not just one perspective. Shane Mac, CEO & Co-Founder Assist “ THE IMPERFECTION OF TECH #YRSXSW “
  5. 5. Chat bots designed to simulate human conversation have crafted an important space in a growing messenger and one-to-one space. Last year, the big four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Viber) surpassed the big four social apps in user count. Brands dipping into messaging face an audience of 2.6 billion users — something marketers should be mindful of when targeting these communities that have matured without them. One such opportunity is to reduce friction in the consumer journey. Bots can help consumers to interact with brands, find entertainment, or get things done without the use of an app… but venture carefully. According to Kik’s Laura Newton, 70% of chat bots are currently not meeting user needs or expectations. Newton warned that many marketers want to do too much, pursuing robust features to attract users. The reality is bots on existing messaging apps face fewer consumer adoption hurdles than new apps. She advised, instead, that bots should focus less on robustness and more on consistency in offering a reliable user experience. A BOT’S WORLD We believe that conversations will become the new user interface. “ Laura Newton Product Manager, Kik #YRSXSW “
  6. 6. Despite countless studies and widespread agreement about how much companies stand to benefit from diversity and gender parity, the issue has yet to see major strides in progress. Laura Jones, VP Strategy Director at Y&R BAVLab, argued that ”to move the needle on building female leadership, we need to amplify female voices.” In a world where visibility equates to ‘promote-ability,’ conferences and speaking opportunities are key to balanced leadership. But take, for example, SXSWi 2016; although attendance split 50/50 between men and women, women comprised just 38% of speakers. Citing common challenges such as logistics, time, fear and the confidence gap, Jones urged the audience to employ a push and pull strategy. Step one is being more aware of the issue; a reminder to be generous with opportunities — something both men and women, particularly in senior ranks, can do to spread speaking opportunities and visibility to rising talent. “The places we create in need to look more like the world we create for,” said Jones. GIVING FEMALE LEADERSHIP A VOICE #YRSXSW
  7. 7. “ Innovation is not a dark art. Self-driving cars and machine learning algorithms don’t build themselves, and websites don’t appear from the ether — these are things that humans do, with help from data. James Baker argued that people today need to immerse themselves in data: “Legislators and executives alike need to become more proficient with technology. You cannot just delegate. You need to hold people accountable by asking questions and understanding why they act the way they do.” For the FBI, failure to act on good data can risk lives. However, according to the CEO of Baobab, Maureen Fan, the way humans use technology is what guides innovation. “VR is at a good place, we just need to convince directors like Chris Nolan and James Cameron to use the tools that are out there… as long as there is compelling storytelling at the center, VR can transcend all mediums.” Context, discourse, and instinct make data actionable. Without these pillars of human thinking, we would be lost in a sea of spreadsheets. It is equally important to expand our potential through technology, and let data occasionally shake our core assumptions. Human resources are the greatest limiting factor, because the government is only as good as the people who go into it. We have the technology, but we need better people. James Baker, General Counsel, FBI “INSIGHT NEEDS DATA, DATA NEEDS INSIGHT #YRSXSW
  8. 8. The ultimate objective for VR is to transport the user into another world that can be experienced and interacted with through multiple sensory devices. For years (and many SXSW conferences), it’s been touted as the next tech breakthrough. Broadly, the hype has been disappointing as advancements have been limited use-cases like gaming. Chris Sacca, an early investor in Uber and Twitter argued that despite everything, VR remains one-dimensional: “VR deprecates every other sense we have - it is all encompassing and doesn't fit into our existing senses and lifestyle.” Integrating virtual technology with the physicality of the real world can create something that does not separate from the real world, but enhances our experiences within it. One example: John Hanke, CEO & Founder of Niantic Labs and Sam Gill from the Knight Foundation discussed AR’s power in reclaiming civic commons from the standpoint that AR allows cities and countries to engage audiences quickly, at scale, and at low cost. VR/AR AND THE POWER OF REALITY #YRSXSW
  9. 9. EMPATHY SELLS Authenticity is hard to convey, difficult to embrace, and impossible to ignore. In today’s connected world, people want to see their values and attitudes reflected in their brands and technology. Some brands have balanced authenticity and empathy on social media by encouraging people to use their pseudo-anonymity to be the best version of themselves. Imgur founder Allan Scaaf argued that encouraging vulnerability is the best way to create this meaningful connection with consumers. Community helps people feel they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and they’re more likely to feel understood. When brands think first as people, they can add value, create positive emotional experiences, and ultimately, spur action. Pamela Pavliscak, CEO of Change Sciences talked about emerging emotion-sensing tech, changing the way your devices respond to you. VR as a tool for empathy was, again, a major theme this year with brands and news media tapping into augmented reality and virtual reality to deliver more immersive storytelling. Brands need to balance inclusiveness and willingness to take on diverse ideas with a kind of protection that allows individual users to be vulnerable. Alan Schaaf, Founder & CEO of Imgur “ #YRSXSW “
  10. 10. Brands require rich personas that can distinguish them from the herd. This “tension” is born from having a clear purpose and being truthful about that purpose. The right kind of tension can be difficult to maintain, but it is often impossible to ignore. “Gawker embodies the adage that a principle is not a principle unless it costs you money,” said Gawker founder Nick Denton “People have a responsibility to share their values and ideals with the world, so I will never regret doing that with Gawker.” It may have cost him the website, but Denton gained something far greater: his sense of purpose has made him a powerful symbol of free speech. According to Bishop Paul Tighe, Director of Digital Communications for the Vatican, “Millennials are not disillusioned with tradition, they are frustrated with slick and shallow expressions of it. The digital world potentially brings people closer, but can also be polarizing. You bridge that gap be being true to your opinions, values, and beliefs.” Brands must stand for something. They may alienate or they may unify, but people tend to have greater respect for actions that are informed by principles. Truth can be polarizing, and true statements can be political, but truth itself transcends bias. It is what moves us forward.” Dan Rather, Former NBC News Anchor “ #YRSXSW PURPOSE & TENSION