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SXSW Highlights - Day 2

March 13, 2017

Technology x politics - where it helps and where it hurts

Our first recap provides an interesting (and somewhat more sinister) counterpoint to yesterday's take on AI. 

DARK DAYS: AI and the Rise of Fascism

Theme: The darker implications of AI within the historical context of fascist regimes.

Who: Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research 

What: Kate discussed how recent years have brought extraordinary advances in the technical domains of machine learning and AI. Auto­nomous systems are already deployed in our most crucial social institutions, from healthcare and education to criminal justice and law enforcement. But as recent investigations have shown, there are hard problems of bias, discrimination and privacy when we deploy these systems with human populations.

What We Liked: As a counterpoint to yesterday's panel on AI + HI, this talk posited that AI is advanced enough that, in the wrong hands, could have huge implications for marginalized people of the world. AI algorithims are already being used in our vital societal structures and government, and along with image recognition, have already been used in ethically questionable ways. Much like the use of frenology and eugenics, AI can be used to oppress entire groups of people. 

Takeaway: The sophistication of our technology might suggest that AI can predict behaviors based on certain set of characteristics, but it is imperative that we take heed of the lessons of history to ensure that we don't employ AI to repeat it. 

Standing Rock Awakens the World

Who: Eryn Wise of Sacred Stone Camp, Clayton Thomas Muller of, Jade Begay of Indigenous Rising Media, and Sarain Carson-Fox of Vice. 

What: A panel on the never before seen unification of over 500 native tribes to protect access to clean water. This unprecedented movement was more than a resistance to a pipeline, it was a catalyst for the world to see that colonization is still alive and working ferociously to oppress Native Americans. It was also a moment where millions of Americans met the call to stand in solidarity with Native peoples and to learn what real allyship is about. 

What We Liked: We were particularly moved by how the panelists introduced themselves - each in their own native language. The upfront discussion of prejudices and the existence of colonial forces today and how that was reflected in the media coverage of the movement at Standing Rock was insightful and powerful.

Takeaway: Work to empower people to tell their stories instead of doing the telling for them. 

Space 360: Experience NASA Mission in VR/AR/Video

Who: Sasha Samochina and Veronica McGregor, Doug Ellison and Stephanie Smoth of NASA's Jet Propulsion Labratory

What: Space exploration has been the realm of robots and astronauts -- until now. NASA is using immersive storytelling tools like Facebook 360, YouTube 360, Google Cardboard and Microsoft HoloLens to convert mission data into shared experiences for people on Earth. 

What We Liked: NASA has been working in the 360 video sphere for over 20 years - they have been creating panoramas of their space missions since the technology was available. New technology has made it possible to share that content with the public. NASA being government funded means that they do not have a budget for marketing so they have had to get creative in pushing their VR/AR and 360 content - doing most of it via social media. Since they have begun sharing that content on social their clicks, likes, and impressions have more than doubled. NASA has also been collaborating with brands like Hololens and Protospace to to practice in virtual reality what they used to have to practice in costly IRL simulations. Further, the Virtual Field Trip collaboration with Google Expeditions has given the public access to some of NASA's most exciting missions.

Another interesting aspect of the panel was the way in which technology has opened up the possibility of making new discoveries on Mars. An AR tool called OnSite allows multiple NASA scientists to work together in an AR Mars environment simultaneously. Using this tool has already led to additional discoveries that may not have been made without it. 

Takeaway: Government institutions like NASA utilizing new technologies can provide access to science and knowledge to people it might not reach otherwise. 

You can check out all of our top top panel picks and their links here!

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