From Robot Revolutions to Body Computing via Assange

Daniele Fiandaca is head of innovation at Cheil

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee proposing the idea that gave birth to the web, this feels an awesome time to be championing all things digital at SXSW. But in contrast to last year’s giddying first day, I can’t help but feel excited and depressed in equal measures by what I’ve seen so far.

First, the good news, and an incredibly thought-provoking session by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass on the oh-so-excitingly-named upcoming robot revolution. To illustrate the profound impact of the internet on the way businesses establish value, hear this: in 1990, the market cap per employee for the top 3 Detroit automakers (Chrysler, Ford and GM) was $30,000. Fast forward 12 years and this leaps to $6 million per employee for the Silicon Valley top 3 (Apple, Google and Facebook).

Clearly, much of this drastic change has been driven by possibilities opened up by the invention of the internet. Most exciting to me…what will be the new drivers for business over the next 5-10 years?

Robots about take over?

For Bass, the answer is a robot revolution that will fundamentally change the way we live and work and the roles of business and government. Exciting stuff, but Bass’ prediction that in 30 years smart machines (robots) will outnumber humans is also chilling. What will we do when the robots start taking our jobs?

From Robot Revolutions to Networked Humans, as Dr Leslie Saxon explored the notion of body computing. A true advocate of the value in unlocking human data for medical needs, Saxon believes we should consider selling the data we can deliver to health and pharma companies. For me, this raises interesting questions: Should we be paid for sharing our data? Is the quantifiable self going to be the new currency?

Assange’s reality

In keeping with the privacy theme – on to Julian Assange, sharing his views on the impact the internet is having on the government. His fundamental belief is that we are living in a world we do not understand and are in fact living in a fictitious representation of the world (red pill or blue pill anyone?).

Now that human society has merged with the internet, laws of the internet apply to human society, as well as governments, which Assange feels will bring out the best or the worst in them (let’s hope the former). Strong views, as expected – and whether it was these or poor sound quality that prompted some audience members to walk out remains a mystery.

To jump, then, from three profoundly groundbreaking talks into an advertising panel rehashing the same old ideas (doing cool shit, what makes an idea original) was somewhat depressing (note to self: consider avoiding panels).

With a growing contingent of British talent from advertising now attending SXSW, let’s not waste one single opportunity to talk about our industry’s long-term future and, crucially, what it means for audiences and brands.

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