More than 70,000 professionals from all around the globe headed to Austin, Texas for this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) to hear the latest tech news, trends and predictions for 2018 and beyond. Founded in 1987, SXSW is an annual conference for global professionals to network, explore and learn about emerging technologies through a packed schedule of panel discussions, speakers and feature sessions.
I had the pleasure of attending this year’s conference, and I was impressed by the calibre of speakers. Some highlights for me include Elon Musk warning us about the threat of AI on mankind, Melinda Gates talking about the need to diversify the workforce, and the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, stressing the need for major tech companies to be held more accountable for the spreading of "fake news."
Interestingly, regardless of the session type and speaker, four key themes stood out.
1. Artificial intelligence is here, and it’s here to stay
While AI has been a hot topic for a few years now, its importance within businesses has evolved from a nice to have, to a required competency. In fact, according to a Forbes article, 70% of CIOs are either using or planning to use AI in their organizations in the coming year. This is particularly relevant for us at Vision Critical because we recently announced the acquisition of assets from Aida, a startup business that applies AI to customer experience.
While AI is becoming more and more integrated into our personal and professional lives, it is essential to be aware of its limitations, the biggest being that it doesn't replace human intuition. Instead, AI should be used to help humanize tech and generate new insight and create associations with data sets.
2. Diversity matters in more ways than one
According to SXSW speakers, there are two critical reasons why diversity matters in tech. The first reason relates to breaking the glass ceiling, and ensuring women and minorities, especially within the tech industry, do more to drive the narrative. During a panel discussion between Stacy Brown-Philpot, Joanna Coles, Nina Shaw and Melinda Gates, it was stated only 2% of all venture capital funding goes to startups founded by women. Gates perfectly summed up the session by stating that “companies that can serve diverse markets will find unlimited opportunity.”
The second reason has to do with the constantly evolving tech. Our tech tools are only as good as the information that feeds into them. It is imperative your workforce is diversified to reduce the risk of bias in your technology. Aside from bias, the tech industry also needs to consider the ethical implications of the things it creates. Experts predict that AI will pass the Turing test by 2029 and surpass the learning of humans. Elon Musk raised his concerns that advancements in AI could turn out to be more dangerous to humans than nuclear weapons.
3. The “dress rehearsal is over” for mobile
Mobile is by no means a new trend, but it is a topic that needs to be taken seriously, particularly when targeting Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
With the reliance on mobile at an all-time high, businesses need to realize the hours a person spends on the internet has saturated. Brands need to ensure customers don’t cut down on the time they choose to interact with them. So what can you do to avoid this?
According to Ann Mack, director of insights at Facebook IQ, three-quarters of all mobile traffic will be through video in the next five years. To ensure your video stands out, however, the message and content must be clear without sound—according to Facebook IQ, 85% of all Facebook videos are watched without sound. When it comes to viewing visuals, the human brain can take in information 60,000 times faster than any other form of communications—a fact that further emphasizes the value of using videos to cut through the noise.
4. Blockchain is set to disrupt industries
Blockchain was the new “hot topic” of the week. With blockchain becoming increasingly more mainstream by the day, it is something we really need to get our heads around. In fact, more and more organizations are using blockchain today, including Kmart, Toyota and health organizations.
Fundamentally, blockchain is an online database that allows economic transactions (i.e., anything of value, such as cryptocurrencies) to be recorded and shared securely and reliably through special mathematical codes and functions.
Because blockchain eliminates middlemen, it is currently most advantageous for less economically developed countries. For example, rice farmers trying to sell their crop could use blockchain to get a greater cut of the money more quickly and without the hassle of going through traditional financial institutions.
Many SXSW speakers reiterated that blockchain is a space worth watching.
Final thoughts: Innovation
In a discussion run by Sandy Carter, VP at Amazon web services, she shared a study showing that 93% of Silicon Valley execs recognize the importance of innovation in growing an organization. Interestingly, 81% of these executives believe their organization isn't able to innovate.
During her session, 3 Innovation Superpowers Everyone Has But Isn't Using, Carter said there are four streams available to organizations for innovation: product, operational experience, client experience and business model.
Once an organization has decided which of these work streams they want to innovate in, the organization must follow three “superpowers”—Super Intelligence, Super Speed and Super Synergy. Super Intelligence focuses on the customer, whereby you should always have the customer in mind, to the point you are obsessing about them. Super Speed considers the need for team cross collaboration within your organization to deliver agile and diverse working. And finally, Super Synergy, whereby you build ecosystems and acquire third-party companies to help you deliver a better experience for your customers.
Carter’s presentation and many of the SXSW sessions I attended reiterated that the tech and business landscape is changing rapidly. To take advantage of new technologies like AI and blockchain, companies need to get closer to their customers. The hottest, most buzz-worthy technologies may be changing, but the need to understand your customers and their needs remains important.