News & Views

SXSW: Sunday's Sessions

by Contagious Team
Sunday’s presentations included scientist Stephen Wolfram's talk called ‘Injecting Computation Everywhere’ that was mostly a very impressive demo of his company’s new language and cloud-based services. ‘There’s been a Cambrian explosion in technology we can build,’ Wolfram said. ‘The better the tools one uses, the further one can get…You shouldn't need a brain-like AI to answer questions about everyday things.’ <>

The tools he laid out were designed to allow people to communicate with technology and link programming languages, thus creating software in much simpler ways, with near-instant APIs hosted by Wolfram’s Programming Cloud that could easily be deployed against many different types of simple application or smart object. Wolfram’s puttering ‘Oh dear’ moments as he conducted the live demo were generally excused as the audience began to understand the deeper implications of what he was suggesting: ‘The human defines a goal, then it’s up to the system to make it,’ he said; programming in a symbolic language he says makes it even simpler to create a vivid universe of things. 

In just a few lines of code he created an API that would serve a form that asked to choose a dog or a cat. The program then captured a photograph from a device (a tablet, in this case) and would have turned it into a version of the image as viewed by the dog or cat’s visual spectrum, had it worked. Wolfram mumbled something about not having the proper account permissions, but the audience got the gist.

‘One day there won't be lots of computers, everything will be made of computers,’ he said. ‘These languages we make become what everything is made of. Physics is a machine code for the universe, but we'll be writing the code above it.’

While Wolfram’s work is still very closed-source and a bit insular, the potential of a more natural way of processing data continues to be a lofty goal in developing the next generation of mega-distributed software, particularly with regard to the internet of things. 

American entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen used his slot to invigorate the audience about the positive change they could make in the world. Kamen showcased his work with Coca-Cola to develop Coke Ekocentres, providing drinking water in the developing world. Kamen urged the audience to ‘change the way we think about the allocation of resources’ explaining that the audience in Austin, Texas, ‘have the technology, vision, and courage to make a positive change very quickly.’ 

R/GA’s panel looked at Surviving a Social Media Meltdown. Neal Mann, multimedia innovations editor at the Wall Street Journal, spoke about how ‘brands are now in the publishing space - they need to be listening and understand what they’re publishing into’. This includes an understanding of the news cycle, and what events are appropriate to align themselves with.

The panel shared their social media misdemeanors and advised apologizing quickly for any mistakes, placing a team in charge of the social accounts who have jurisdiction and engaging individuals rather than an ‘angry mob’. Chapin Clark, R/GA’s MD copywriting and the voice behind the @rga twitter account, shared his hope that ‘brands get away from being always on  - it is more about being always relevant. Pick and choose your moments where you have a permission to talk.’

Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of genetics testing and research company 23andme shared her aim in her keynote speech that her organisation would allow people to ‘proactively manage their health and dramatically accelerate the pace of research’. Citing $2.7bn in healthcare expenses, Wojcicki showed how the US healthcare system makes money ‘when you’re sick, not when you’re well.’ As ‘so much money is made from inefficiencies in the healthcare system, it’s never going to change from within’ so 23andme allows people to take charge of their own data and gain greater knowledge about potential problems with their health.

Mark’s sister Randi Zuckerberg engaged House of Cards producer Dana Brunetti in conversation around the idea that we are all producers. Brunetti knocked established people from the industry for using platforms such as Kickstarter to fund their work, explaining the potential complexities, before adding as an investment 'they're just bad business'. Brunetti believes that he had an ‘opportunity to accelerate digital distribution’ by airing the popular series on Netflix rather than via a traditional TV channel. Brunetti believes five years from now TV as we know it will be dead, citing digital distributors such as Amazon and Hulu alongside Netflix. Similarly, social networks such as Facebook or Twitter could also act as distribution platforms. ‘If it’s not available on your device or you can’t stream it wherever you go it’s going to be absurd.’