Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Sabrina Riedel’s SXSW 2019 Wrap-Up

Advertising Agency
Melbourne, Australia
Clemenger BBDO Melbourne's interactive executive producer summarises her experience of the conference

“Creativity and Innovation require an environment of uncertainty. Uncertainty means we don’t know. Innovation starts when we get comfortable not knowing and we begin with a question” – Diane Quinn, chief creative officer at Cirque Du Soleil.

SXSW forces people with different interests and diverse backgrounds into the same space for a week. The intention behind it seems obvious – we don’t live in silos and technology influences art, art influences entertainment, entertainment influences technology and so on. This intersection is where culture is formed.

Our world has become too complex for one person or group to be able to hold the entire answer.

As the crowds in Austin slowly thin out, I walk away having found some pieces to this puzzle, my worldview challenged, and hopefully having enhanced someone else’s worldview. More importantly, I walk away with a lot more questions – better questions – which will keep me busy until in 12 months’ time, hopefully I can return to this forum again and contribute to the ongoing discussion.

There are a lot of people writing round-ups about SXSW, focusing on the trends and main themes. Some discussing the many ways in which the festival has become a platform for women to speak up and show how they quietly have been influencing the world. It feels good to be finally represented, although I wish more of the many men I interacted with this last week would have gone to even just one of the talks dealing with this subject.

Some write on the increased presence of government, being part of the conversation around responsible tech, and how much the community welcomes their presence. Some are writing of the many ways people now start actually using some of these technologies that were so vague last year.

Rather than focusing on these snippets of insight, I will share some of the questions I walk away with. They may be relevant to you, they may not. But as with all questions, they are worth asking.

AR and the mirrorworld

Magic Leap have been quietly working away on their hardware and started to show it off to journalists recently.

Turns out, Magic Leap is not a hardware company – they are not even a software company, they are in data. They are working on something they termed spatial computing – in short, the ability for a digital object to be able to interact with a real-world object, based on our real-world laws of physics.

For a virtual ball that’s thrown at a real-world rubbish bin to bounce off that bin, the system needs to not only know where the bin is located, but also what material it is made of, its density, and the sound it would make if the ball bounced off that bin in real life.

For this to happen, they need to create a very detailed full-size virtual replica of our real world.

Magic Leap has started to map our world and they are not the only one. Microsoft’s HoloLens maps the room you are in, Niantic’s Pokémon Go relied on virtual map overlays for its game. There are initiatives like Open AR Cloud that actively drive the development of open technology, where everyone else around the world can add to this map through their AR and VR applications. It’s open to all and once it’s built out enough, all AR will be spatially aware and will seamlessly merge with our real world.

The end result will be a virtual twin world to our own, where everything in this world will have a digital counterpart.

If the real world is the blueprint for this virtual world, how long will it take until the virtual world will influence the real world? Will brands need a presence in both worlds? Will we be able to buy goods in this mirror world, with digital currency? Can we get real estate in the virtual world even if someone else owns the same piece of real estate in the real world? What will this mean for us as humans? Will we end up with a digital counterpart of our own, that independently operates in this mirror world? If there is a virtual counterpart to us created by a software company – who owns the right to that virtual being? Is it us, or the person that holds the IP to the software? At what point will the virtual world become more real than the real world?

The realisation of the full scope of this is very far off, but the foundations of that world are being built now. We are all part of building this, as everyone that creates applications in AR or VR drives towards that future. What responsibility do we have as the designers of this world to be aware of where it’s heading and to make responsible choices?

Biometric data and privacy

We think of data capture based on the data a user actively provides – the information they type into a form, the trail they leave behind when browsing the web, the location they share when using Google Maps. We think of privacy as our innate right and something we own – an all-encompassing umbrella term that includes everything to do with us – our personal information, our action, our whereabouts no matter if identifiable to our own persona or as part of a big pool of anonymous data.

There is a whole new level of data capture – biometric data. VR headsets track eye movements and have the potential to measures heat / sweat in hands, facial recognition software measures our expression and as I found out at an excellent talk, heartbeats are now being considered the ultimate data set. Think about it – everyone has one, we can’t turn it off or hide it and it is unmistakably unique to every person. With the right tools each individual can be identified by that one biometric dataset we all have. And not only that – the heartbeat will also carry information of how the person feels – stressed, relaxed, angry? The potential is endless – it’s the perfect password, it’s a door into unique personalisation opening up targeting based on a person’s mood and state of mind.

But it also opens a question around privacy – I am not openly giving away my heartbeat, yet anyone can pick it up with sufficiently sophisticated technology. This makes it public data – but it’s incredibly personal data. And it’s something I can’t opt out on. How will we, as advertisers and as a society, choose to make use of these new biometric datasets? Is it an invasion of privacy? Are we holding on to a definition of privacy that in the world we live in seems outdated and long gone?

Life at 0°C

Why do companies suddenly change from embracing new ideas to rigidly rejecting them. What creates a culture that nurtures creativity and innovation?

Imagine a glass of water. It’s liquid – I can interact with it. Now change the temperature to below 0°C and the water all of a sudden is rigid, it froze. I can’t interact with it anymore. The water itself didn’t’ change – it’s still water. What changed is the environment it is in.

What if teams are just like this glass of water – either fluid, creative and innovative or rigid and stuck in their ways. And what if it was not about needing the right people to create the right culture, but about creating the right environment to enable crazy ideas – the perfect balance between structure and fluidity.

How do we as a society make sure we create environments for teams to operate at this sweet spot, at 0°C in order to tackle some of these new challenges that come up with emerging technologies? How can we do that at a small level – in our companies and industries? How can we do that at a larger level – in our cities and countries? Beyond that, how do we do this as a society?

“Creativity and Innovation require an environment of uncertainty.” came out of the session Cirque du Soleil gave when talking about how they reinvent what they do with every single show they create.

“Uncertainty means we don’t know. Innovation starts when we get comfortable not knowing and we begin with a question.”

If each of the 75,000+ people attending the conference this week walk away with even just one question they are determined to find the answer to, we are all moving in the right direction.

Work from Clemenger BBDO Australia
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Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission