Theme: Father-daughter conversation on the intersection of arts and technology.
Who: Ray Kurzweil and Amy Kurzweil
What: Ray Kurzweil, best-selling author, recipient of The National Medal of Technology, and a director of engineering at Google, in conversation with his daughter Amy Kurzweil, New Yorker cartoonist and author of the critically-acclaimed graphic memoir, Flying Couch (NY Times: Best of 2016). The two discussed their creative work, inspirations, and collaborations across disciplines, while speculating about the future of storytelling, the arts and technology.
What We Liked: Both Ray and Amy are well-known for their work and it was exciting for us to hear about their current projects. Amy discussed her new graphic novel "The Flying Couch." The novel is about three generations in Amy's family: herself, her mother, and her grandmother, a holocaust survivor. She spoke about how tragedy and comedy often go hand in hand. Turning the conversation toward technology, she spoke on how her work, unlike that of her father, will likely always be something that AI and computers have a difficult time with, because it is s much about contextual self expression.
We were treated to a VR trailer of Ray's upcoming fiction novel, "Danielle." The first work of fiction in his canon, "Danielle" is written from the perspective of a 15 year old girl. Ray discussed how soon AR/VR can allow us to experience other people's realities as the memories formed from a VR experience are formed in the same way as real-life memories. Of course, we were also treated to a few of Ray's famously accurate predictions, such as when autonomous cars will be a real thing (2029).
Takeaway: While we have heard a lot of discussions on the ethics of AI, it was good to muse on the potential and limitations of the technology.
Theme: How tracking technology is applied to our understanding of human behavior
Who: Michelle Segovia, Haipen Allan Chen, Marco Palma, and Steven Woltering of Texas A&M.
What: Decades of research have revealed that humans are not the rational, thoughtful decision makers they were once believed to be. Decisions are highly influenced by emotional reactions, affective circumstances and contextual events. Using state-of-the-art biometric equipment, researchers can simultaneously collect behavioral responses through eye tracking, facial expression analysis, neural signals, galvanic skin response (GSR) and heart and respiration rates.
What We Liked: The talk opened with a discussion of eye-tracking technology and how it is currently being tested to help children learn how to read, and help those struggling with the process by understanding how kids are perceiving word structures.
They then discussed how that same technology is being used to understand consumer behavior in stores. They found that people often still fall for the "29.99" vs "30.00" sales tactic because people tend to only glance at and consider the first digit of the price. The emotional reaction to that consideration is what leads people to believe they are getting a deal and drives purchasing.
Takeaway: The same technology that is helping kids overcome dyslexia is also helping us (and brands) understand how people buy stuff. What a time to be alive.
We spent some time exploring all the pop-up events around the convention as well. Of those, one that really stood out was the Sony Wow Factory. Inside, badgeholders are able to demo a plethora of new technologies. We saw a fun beer-related AI bot and some cool new AV technology, but what really blew us away was the interactive tabletop. The smart table was able to take images from any object and create animations from them, displayed on the tabletop. The demonstration shows characters from an open page of a regular Alice in Wonderland book interacting with a deck of cards. You kind of have to see it to believe it, and this video does a good job of helping with that.
We rounded out our SXSW experience by attending a fantastic party hosted by our sister company B-Reel Films and our good friends Working Not Working. The weather was beautiful as we sipped rum and grooved along to the Golden Dawn Arkestra. It was the perfect way to wrap our SXSW experience!