Okay. So first, I’ve got to say that I now get the hype. This place is incredible, inspirational, frustrating, invigorating, and very tiring.
After two days of no vegetables, breakfast today was granola and fruit, which was definitely a good choice. After wandering around the city (the conference is spread over the city across tens of official venues and literally hundreds of unofficial venues) Ben and I decided on before getting stuck into the conference we went to check out the lines and some of the key exhibitor sponsors stands, both of which were very big!
As my first session didn’t start until 11am I decided to have a look round the immediate vicinity of the Convention Center. Everywhere you look are household names such as Dell, IBM, Twitter, HBO, etc. taking over entire buildings for the eight days of SXSW. The most impressive from the outside was the IBM building. They had taken over an entire restaurant for a month, and transformed it into an interactive showcase of their Watson technology, which for those unfamiliar with Watson is an IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software as a “question answering” machine.
I’d heard of Watson and Cognitive computing (the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model) but never seen such a myriad uses. Again those not in the know Cognitive computing involves self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works.
Pretty cool stuff! In the IBM house they had numerous real life uses of Watson (including advertising – more on that soon) but the one that really brought it to life was when we built our own robot (TJBot) which allows you to connect to Watson in a simple and fun way. This tiny robot, built out of cardboard and powered by a Raspberry Pi computer has on board a camera, mic, speaker, wi-fi and you are able to talk to it, interact with it, but also connects to Watson services so for example you can tell it to take a photo of the room, and then uses the Watson supercomputer to work out what is in the room. I have one to bring back to the office so everyone can have a play!
We then wandered around some of the other exhibits – we saw a company called Carvana that has built a vending machine for cars. I kid you not. We also wandered by the American Gods area (new series coming soon from the genius book). They’d built a massive (20m high) buffalo with smoke coming out of its eyes. Again, I kid you not.
So, on to my fist proper session which was ” Beyond Fintech: Blockchain for Every Industry”. Again for the uninitiated a block chain is “a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of data records that are hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data store’s nodes. The most widely known application of a block chain is the public ledger of transactions for cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin” What relevance to digital media does this have, I hear you ask. Well, one of the most asked questions we get from clients is “how do you secure our data”. I wanted to look into ways that we could ensure that the data we use and store for our clients is being secured in a way that both us and our clients are under no illusion that it could be tampered with, changed or stolen. What this will give us is a humanized internet that ensures safety. With some of the world’s experts in block-chain on the panel it is plain to see that every industry from health, tech, finance, entertainment is looking at real life use cases for block chain, including advertising. More on this later…
So this was where SXSW is tiring and frustrating. After this session, it was a 20 minute walk to the nest session, which I really wanted to see which was about the future of the personalized web. The session started at 12:30, I got there at 12, but it had been full for an hour. Bugger.
So another 20 minute walk back o the Convention center for the Keynote, by a guy called Cory Richards. This was awesome. Inspirational, a little sad, quite funny, but also very relevant. In a nutshell Cory Richards after a difficult childhood took up mountain climbing, but then after nearly dying in an avalanche suffered PTSD which pushed him to drink and drugs but also doing riskier and riskier feats of endurance. He is most famous for being a world class photographer for National Geographic as well as documenting one of the very few ascents of Everest with no oxygen through snapchat and instagram.
He talked of the importance of authenticity and the fact that although people admire the beautiful photos he takes they engage and care more about the real images and videos shared through snachat and instagram. For me it really hammered home the fact that people using social media do what to engage with people and brands that are being authentic, and honest so when they see posts and updates from brands that are overly thought through and “optimized” it is easy to see through when compared to the real posts of their friends and the people they choose to follow…
More wandering around after the keynote. Popped my head into the SEO Meet-up, the Bots Meet up and the ANZ meet up which were quite cool, and made lots of contacts. Then wandered around the Dell house (very average) and then just when I considered calling it a day we stumbled upon a the “THE MUMMY Zero Gravity VR Experience”. This was super-cool and quite possibly the future of movie going. Briefly, IMAX had a shot a small part of the new Mummy franchise, now with Tom Cruise, with a 360 VR camera, so (after a 40 minute wait) we sat in these zero gravity pods (that moved with the angle of the camera), put on VR goggles and headphones to watch this scene and a short documentary on how they did it. It was amazing!! The most immersive cinema experience ever – full 360 views, 3D, and moving. Loved it!!
What a day! Got back to the hotel around 6pm shattered but very happy, and considerably more informed that when I woke up.
Highlight: IBM Watson
Low Point: Missing out because of the queues!