We Explore or We Expire: SxSW Tech Briefing

“We explore, or we expire,” said astronaut Buzz Aldrin, of the Apollo 11 mission and one of the first two humans to land on the moon.

This simple sentence won over SXSW this year, the event in Austin, Texas which brings together some of the brightest minds in technology and innovation to collaborate.

In his keynote speech, Aldrin was talking about the push to Mars, but his speech and sentiment went wider – exploring how people and organisations are thinking and learning new ways to communicate, adapt, survive and flourish.

Virtual reality (VR) was everywhere, but there is still real debate about its real world application. In our view, VR is still looking like fun toys to promote films and event experiences. Smells a little like 3D TVs to us, and we know how that fad ended.

Does anyone really want to wear those headsets?

AI, however, is another matter. This was hot for the second year running and is being positioned as the next big disruptor.

Harley Davidson, for example, is using an AI tool to match audiences to its current database – finding customers who might be interested in purchasing a motorbike through machine learning. It attributes 40% of its sales in New York to this tool.

Disney’s R&D studio is using AI as a tool for storytelling across multiple digital platforms.

One speaker estimated that a 30-year grace period before AI completely takes over the workplace, calling for a push to design AI to augment rather than replace people.

This requires a clear distinction between AI (artificial intelligence) and IA, or intelligent augmentation.

AI is about reproducing human cognition and functioning autonomously, while IA is about supplementing and supporting it, leaving the intentionality of human operators at the heart of the process.

For brands, this is going to continue to be about making sense of complex data through machine learning, enhance and augment, rather than merely removing human roles.

Back to Mr Aldrin’s alma mater, NASA, which is working with Google to explore the application of quantum computing to artificial intelligence.

The space agency’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is using quantum computers to perform calculations that are difficult or impossible using conventional supercomputers, effectively becoming a quasi-AI.

The team aims to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult problems for space missions but also back on earth.

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