My SXSW Hangover…Pondering the Implications and Future of A.I. & IoT

Lydia Fakhouri

Everyone knows SXSW is a blast. But for us tech geeks, there was more than just free beer to drink up. As my colleague, Katie Blair, covered in a SXSW post during the show, there were several notable technologies dominating the show this year, the two most exciting for me being in the fields of A.I. and IoT. Here’s what I discovered last week.

5222088196_db489a27c8_z.jpgSource: Michael used under CC license.

Your robot needs a spot on the couch, please…

As Katie pointed out in her post, the (dare-I-say cute) social robot for the home, Jibo, stole the show. But more important than what the truly incredible A.I. technology Jibo has sewn up into an adorable little housemate is the impact it could have on the mainstream consumer’s understanding of A.I. Many average consumers don’t realize that A.I. technology is quite as far along to do what Jibo can do. Which may be a problem, and not just for Jibo sales.

Now that A.I. and robotics are entering center stage of consumer’s attention, we should see them begin to question the implications of it more actively in the next year. In fact, in the midst of Jibo’s success, observant attendees may have noticed several panels dedicated to discussing the potential threat of A.I., from ‘Will AI Augment or Destroy Humanity?’ to ‘Robot Armageddon: AI, Jobs and Inequality’ and even Nicholas Thompson’s conversation-based session with Rethink Robotics’s founder, Rodney Brooks. And frankly, I was relieved to see this. While tech leaders like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have been extremely vocal about their concerns, it’s not quite on the average consumer’s radar yet. In fact, we spend a lot of time analyzing, thinking and discussing A.I.’s potential impact on humanity and how consumers perceive it for one of our clients, Unanimous A.I. As Unanimous can tell you, it is critical that we have a solution that makes us smarter but without sacrificing the human elements that make the world a better place, like compassion and empathy and of course, intelligence! If you’re interested, read more about it in The Next Web. Or Newsweek. Or Discover. I would love to hear any reactions to the ‘waggle dance’ in the comments section.

The foot bone’s connected to the…

Ok, maybe our feet aren’t “connected” to anything…yet. But in case you hadn’t heard, another huge theme of SXSW this year was IoT and connected everything. While there were several cool product announcements by many different vendors including Sony, the event that stood out to me the most was the Smart City Challenge. While I love that the show is tackling some very big issues that could be resolved by smart technology, I’m not confident we’re ready to move on from home to “smart-ifying” cities, as I don’t think the smart home market has fully matured – at least in the U.S. Many Americans have bits and pieces of smart home technology installed, but no one has truly been able to centralize everything – from lights to security to running water and more. Not even Google. In fact, I imagine many of these early adopters feel that they’ve just been given another gadget to tend to – not something that helps them make their homes better. This is important to acknowledge because now that we’re moving to “smart-ify” cities, we’re beginning to leverage taxpayer’s dollars. Think about the challenge at SXSW – the U.S. Department of Transportation gave a $40M payout to the winner. The bottom line is, SXSW showed us that there are some seriously compelling technologies out there aiming to make cities perform better, save costs, reduce pollution, and more, which is truly exciting. But I think these companies need to approach their messaging and marketing efforts extremely carefully if they want to get traction in a skeptical market. 

What else did you see at the show that you found most compelling or exciting?

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