The New Future: Scary, Exciting, and Everything in Between at SXSW 2017

SXSW 2017 (copyright Doug Sisko)

This is my third year attending #SXSW, and this was a year marked by firsts and revelations:

  • All the general futurist trends (AVR, Apple Watch, AI) that I thought were somewhat bullshit are coming together into a new kind of convergence, and I’m both scared and excited.
  • I had a game plan to manage all the events and general hootenanny of the sh0w (win).
  • Despite the political turmoil, changes in the air, I was overwhelmed and inspired by the unity of openness and good cheer by folks all over the globe.

This initial article will focus primarily on my take from talking to a variety of folks at SXSW on the coming reality of the converging, interconnected, immersive web.

The Future of the Interconnected Web is Not Pokemon Go

So let me be honest, what I’m going to tell you didn’t hit me at first. What I’m about to tell you really crystalized from talking with a super smart toy designer and product manager flying back together to Detroit on Tuesday. It was further cemented seeing a former colleague’s thoughts on Facebook.

So here’s the punchline:

We are within three years of seeing the interconnected web which will challenge the divide between human and machine and our technology is advancing way beyond our ability to even make sense of it.

If you walked the interactive trade floor this year you would have seen Lockheed Martin, Home Depot, all showing up reminding you that they are relevant, innovative companies (yes, we have innovation labs!). Great, we get that (and I applaud), but Lockheed Martin, in particular, showcased their cognitive feedback technology that actively monitored your brain waves. This is to provide a cognitive assist, which means other technology will jump in to “help” you. So what’s the REAL big deal here, gang? In addition to an exoskelton product (also exciting, helping folks lift heavy items), they now have real, usable tech that reads brain states (the more transformative product).

Again, what’s the big deal?

We can electronically measure quantitatively your brain states as an input into our (web) application. Big deal (potentially scary deal).

We are seeing companies begin to use this technology to enable humans to do more, be enhanced to help in places like Amazon warehouses.

Think about this next, what do web and marketing like to talk about most frequently? Yes, personalization. Imagine, now your super-profile-in-the cloud (maybe maintained by Facebook, Google, etc.) has a profile of your brainstates.

So we talked about brain states and their potential collection, let’s tackle AVR next and see how we make the next connection in this convergence train.

An Immersive Experience: Augmented Virtual Reality

Flying back to my home of Portland, Maine, I had the privilege of talking to that toy designer at a well-known company (remember). We had discussed his experience of being in this immersive AVR device at the show that allowed him to fly like a bird. In addition to that, he had another experience that allowed him to go back in time with another “reality” that was programmed.

We had discussed the implications of this, for adults, for children, for our society. Simply put, we now have enough technology in place to drop you in another world if you are plugged into the device (with some expense). A world that makes you something else, somewhere else, and challenges how we even comprehend time.

So as I write this, I’ll be honest, this is the stuff of science literature, and not necessarily new (yes, I know). But do you know what’s new? The technology is actually here. And it’s getting cheaper, and our children are using it, and now how to use it…this is the next part.

Affordable Consumer Gadgets: Apple Watch + Google Glass

I don’t love the Apple Watch, I think its current utility is close to being a fancy Fitbit (probably says more about me). But I see it as the Trojan horse to normalize our usage of devices that we are actively, continuous connected to. It’s also an affordable consumer good. Let me provide you with a contrasting device that you all use to amplify my point and their difference.

The smart phone has enabled us to be connected to the Web of Everything, however, we still need to choose to pick up that device, making it what I call an episodic engagement device. The Apple Watch is always on and on you. I have seen colleagues who own these devices constantly checking their hand, as they are getting a feedback loop of stimuli from a wearable smart device.

The logical conclusion is to extend this continuous wearable technology to a visual experience as well, say a Google Glass (or future equivalent). You are now fully immersed with increasily affordable consumer technology.

The Smart Machine & AI: Predictive and Behaviorally Aware Applications

This last concept came out of a terrific conversation I had with a incredibly smart creative technologist from Accenture who was visiting SXSW for the first time from Sweden. We had discussed initially the interactive project process, how we need to build sites and platforms in an integrated fashion that involves designers, developers, analysists, clients in a non-silo’d fashion, stressing that we as technologists are building tools that provide interactive experiences. (I’ll drill down into that some other day, these are tools that are acted upon, and not just flat experiences that are analogs of the print world). But the broadest conclusion we came to was the truest “integration of the web” was the application of AI for the self-learning, predictive web device or platform.

This is the web application as a self-learning application (AI), that can predict what you want based on your state (see the brain inputs above) and know before you do what you want. This is now the integration of all this other technology we just talked about and now putting some degree of logic into, and logic that will grow learning using AI. We have given all these inputs and outputs of sensory experience its brain.

Parting Shots: How Far Away Are We From This?

I don’t think this is going to happen tomorrow, but I do think the way with the continued validation of Moore’s Law, it will be sooner than we all think.

The key part of this SXSW is we are seeing (and maybe more importantly, feeling) that these different technologies tracks coming together in a real way now, beginning to get a glimpse of a possible future. It’s happening, and quite quickly we could be seeing this convergence of a truly immersive experience with the web. In addition, we are seeing this through a model of the human + technology dyad, not one replacing the other, creating links, inputs and outputs between them to attain something new in this evolving digital world.

It’s close folks, very close.


The New Future: Scary, Exciting, and Everything in Between at SXSW 2017 was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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