If I had to summarise SXSW 2018 in just two words, they would be Data and Change. How to harness one and manage the other. In every single keynote, panel, and fireside chat that I attended, and I cast my net very wide, those two words would inevitably enter the conversation. Whether it was about AI-inspired creativity, or cryptocurrency’s use in entertainment, Lyor Cohen’s music keynote, or whurley’s keynote on quantum computing, the application of data to better prepare us for the challenges and opportunities future would come up. What was really fascinating was how each person, group, and industry was navigating those two elements in their own unique and complex way.
Full disclosure, I am no expert on quantum computer, but I believe it’s good to get uncomfortable and throw yourself into things that you don’t necessarily understand. At the very least, you’ll get a little closer to understanding other people and their passions, and that’s what we try to do in my field of communications planning. I learnt that quantum computer will be the next paradigm shift in computing. These computers infact will be able to run calculations and use data to produce far better models to prove events, such as climate change, to anyone who still denies it. I learnt that in 50 years’ time, we’ll probably have a general purpose quantum computer that can help us solve the problems of traffic and flight patterns and it will (hopefully) cure some of the diseases we face today. That all seems pretty good to me.
Shifting the focus from computers to AI, specifically how AI will Change the Future of Creativity. It was interesting to see how passionate the director and writer Nicole McDonald was in explaining how she sees AI as a tool that enables us to be more creative. Freeing artists of the aesthetic constraints of the Golden Ratio, and how it may one day reveal completely new colours and ways of seeing the world. If AI can do the heavy lifting on a lot of the tedious exploratory work, by sifting through the vast stores of catalogued imagery and data that exists, so that artists can accelerate their creative journey, then surely that is a good thing. Christoph Auer-Welsbach, partner at IBM Ventures added that with AI, you wouldn’t need to build up a bank of 10,000 hours of knowledge, that many of us assume is required, to be master of a craft. And that’s where I felt a sudden jolt of unease. My gut tells me that you need discipline to learn a craft. That to be great at anything means spending time truly understanding the subject in intimate detail. But perhaps that’s a signal of my own resistance to change and, just because it’s how I was taught and how I’ve lived my life, it may not be right for my daughter. Maybe, in the not-so distant future, rather like the Matrix, you’ll be able to plug in and download the essential knowledge for any discipline and begin to create like an expert. I’m all in favour of the democratization of creativity and, if the limitation of time is really something we can overcome, then I think I should probably be open to that!
An industry that has undoubtedly faced waves of change is the music industry and so Lyor Cohen’s keynote was a must-attend event. And boy was it electrifying! YouTube’s Global Head of Music shared his captivating story of the seismic changes that he has witnessed over the last 30 years and he explained that to have success in the industry, you must be three things:
1) A good listener
3) Open to change
What was uplifting was his infectious enthusiasm and honesty about the ups and downs he has been through. He said, ‘like all change, there is a period of painful transition’ and ‘fear and defensive play comes because people (labels) fear losing money’. It was his recognition that ‘change is the one constant in this business’ that ultimately led him to his current role where he is building a better ecosystem for musicians. Bringing diversity to distribution, working closely with labels to help them promote and break artists, and enabling direct to consumer access for artists and their managers. It was one of the most uplifting sessions that I’ve been to this week and yes, D-Nice’s sweet beats certainly helped to keep the energy levels sky high!
Moving from music to money and next up was Blockchain. It’s a topic that has been featured on a number of panels across Austin as people tried to explain what it is and why it’s here. In short, cryptocurrency is a reaction to our loss of trust in major political institutions. There’s discomfort with the way the global economic structure works (with a very small group of people determining the value of currencies), and people are increasingly concerned about how their data is being used by companies and government. At its most simple, it’s a shared account of what has happened, kept secure stored over a network of thousands of computers. You can’t hide anything or edit it, so it’s been dubbed ‘a machine for creating trust’. It’s still firmly in the early adopter phase and has yet to cross the chasm and become mainstream, but it’s going to change the way we do business in the not-too-distant future.
Data is undoubtedly the fuel for our lives and whilst we may not always know how to get the most from it, we’re all learning. I think if we can accept that we don’t have all the answers and, like children, approach problems with a spirit of play and figure it out together, well then the changes that data can bring could be rather exciting.