SXSW - And another thing.....
I wrote my previous post too soon. After completing and submitting it, I went along to one last session of the day. It turned out to be a blinder. Sort of confirming my thoughts in my Day 1 post.
Joi Ito, director of MIT Media Labs, and Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, are both undoubtedly brilliant. The panel talk, entitled The Future of Making, didn't disappoint.
Of course I expected some discussion about some of the current trends around 3D printing and wearables, but what came as a surprise was their deep insights into the big sociological and even ethical challenges these new technologies raise as they reach maturity.
In the first section Tim Brown talked about the tools we use to become smarter. He described the work being done at Ideo that aims to make it easier for people to explore choices.
They demonstrated The Iteration Desk, an augmented reality sketching table that is able to understand your style of drawing and, if asked, can randomly generate alternative suggestions for marks you make.
Already we were into territory that raised more questions than it answered; is it right for a machine to make creative choices for you? Does this really extend your imagination or limit it?
The second section focused on discussing the next generation of sensory devices. Joi Ito talked about how wearables that currently sense your vitals are being superseded by a new, deeper level of sensing that captures emotions and subconscious responses in real time.
This sounds exciting right - a hotline to our own subconscious? But Joi was quick to highlight that this level of insight is at a very early stage of understanding. By using galvanic skin response devices, you have the potential to see reactions that your mind, in some cases, deliberately overlooks to maintain our social fabric. The potential is that your clever wearable always tells you the unfiltered truth like Ricky Gervais in the film The Invention of Lying. Would that really be a good thing?
The teams at Media Labs is experimenting with this technology in order to understand these issues and what appropriate uses there are for it. They demonstrated one experiment in which an autistic boy wore a galvanic skin response device while building a Lego model. It was possible to see his stress levels rise in real time as he searched for the right part, but fall again when his mum joined him to help.
The key takeaway from this session was when Joi underlined the importance of understanding and engaging with the debate around bioengineering. He described how 10 years ago at SXSW there would still be people who felt they didn't really need to understand the web. With bioengineering tech growing at six times Moore's Law, it could become more important to our lives in the next 10 years than the internet has become in the same timeframe.
To see what other people thought of the talk, check out #SXSWMake
Find out more about Tim Brown’s work and thinking on his blog
Follow James @jamesjefferson