Mando's Strategy Director does SXSW 2017... Wonder Woman and Game of Thrones are part of my job, right?

Wonder Woman and Game of Thrones are part of my job, right?

Turns out it can be pretty cold in Austin some days, but if ever someone could bring warmth to a room it’s Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist at Canva and formerly of Google and Apple. I defy you to Google search him and come up with an image that doesn’t depict him as one of the happiest people on the planet. In our first session of the day he was interviewing the legendary social psychologist Bob Cialdini on “The art of Pre-suasion”. The combination of Guy’s disarming interview style and Bob’s utterly masterful insights was intoxicating… easily the best (and most directly applicable) thing I’d listened to in years let alone at this conference.

Although a lot of the material felt like it should be obvious, the reality is we’re too often guilty of ignoring the science of persuasion and do this at our cost. Bob brought this to life with exceptional examples and hard data (no #alternativefacts here!) that were a joy to experience. The topic strayed into the election and his casual breakdown of the techniques used to great effect during the campaign and afterwards was jaw-dropping. My last bullet point before I gave up writing simply reads “Just wow.”

I’d completely given up on the SXSW app by this point, relying solely on word of mouth recommendations and so it was through this serendipity that I ended up in a session entitled “They're Going to Hate This & Think I'm Full of Shit.” In stark contrast to Bob Cialdini, Michael Nieling shunned all data and instead gave a deeply personal and powerful account of his inner critic and the anxiety that has both defined and driven him over many years as a creative, business leader and family man. Unashamedly plying the audience with alcohol before his talk as a pre-suasion tactic to get us on side, he also brought us his extremely profound and profane take on success, including a motto that may need adapting before we bring it into general use with clients! The vulnerability and humour was a great antidote to some of the more serious talks, and in a random coincidence it was nice to find he is another fellow ex-zoologist working in agency-world.

The contrast among options continued throughout the day. At one point when planning yesterday I was seriously facing the prospect of deciding between seeing former Vice President Joe Biden talking about cancer, or the Game of Thrones cast members talking about season 7. Somehow that didn’t seem remotely strange here until reflecting on it later. #SXSW I guess.

In one of the breaks I tried a great VR experience Google had set up around the upcoming Wonder Woman movie release and their Tilt brush experience. While a lot of VR tends towards the hyper-realistic or fantastical, this simply allowed you to explore three-dimensional illustrations of artwork created for the movie using Tilt brush by artists Wesley Allsbrook and Elizabeth Edwards.

My last session of the day turned serious as Kate Crawford reflected on “DARK DAYS: AI and the Rise of Fascism”. In a ‘post truth’ world it was compelling to hear how AI’s perceived neutrality is being utterly compromised by human bias in team diversity, training data and the ways we’re applying it to real world situations as critical as predictive policing and offender release decision-making. After a whistlestop tour of the history of the use of technology by authoritarian regimes, Kate looked at home data is being “weaponised” by the state to centralise power, demonise the ‘outsider’ and avoid being held to account for any issues. As private registries of data – with less checks and balances – become more pervasive then the potential for abuse and harm grows even more. Add into this mix entities that are intentionally built with the purpose of manipulate systems and you have a corrosive mix indeed.

Kate balanced the negative view with an urgent call to track how AI is being used within states and social institutions and highlight issues with structural bias and cultural preferences being ‘encoded’ into AI either unknowingly or deliberately, and has founded AI Now to focus attention on this.

Day two was a good day. Lots more going on and the talks I went to had definitely raised the bar. Tough one to beat so bring it on day three.

f you'd like to know more about my trip to SXSW 2017, get in touch via Twitter @mandoagency @jay_seal